The Making of a Big League LAX Junkie
by Jeff Beer

Thirty-five bucks. I don't know.

"I don't know."

There was a decision to be made and damn it all if I could make it.

"The thing is, will I drink enough anyway to cover the cost of this?" That was the thing.

Blair was getting impatient.

"Of course you will, this is a non-decision and you're turning it into buying a new car. Get it. Don't get it. Who cares. Let's go, we're gonna be late."

He was right. We had exactly fifteen minutes before we had to leave for the Air Canada Centre and here I was trying to figure out if it is the proper decision to buy this pocket flask.

The question really wasn't if I wanted it or not. Of course I wanted it, flasks are great for sporting events, and amusement parks, winter walks, summer walks, church, funerals, baptisms, tobogganing, the beach. You get the point.

My dilemma was whether it was a responsible purchase for a so-called adult such as I. I think to myself, would any everyday citizen be doing this? Would my dad do this? Would a priest do this? It would seem I had the decision-making skills of a toddler in a candy store.

"Y'know," Blair interrupts the decision process. " I have whisky at the apartment so really all the booze money goes to that flask, the booze will actually be free - for you."

Sold.

"Sold."

Everyday citizen? Who cares. My dad? No, but who cares (less emphatic than the former). A priest? Not a good measuring stick - I wasn't fondling the cashier, just trying to make a purchase.

Alright, we're out of there and I have a brand new shiny flask ready to be filled and enjoyed with ten minutes to spare before we depart and meet the rest of the crew at Gate 1 of the ACC.

* * * * *

Usually a trip to the Air Canada Centre is a result of somehow getting hold of free Raptors or - even less likely - Leafs tickets. Needless to say, this trip was not made very often. But on this night I was headed down with a full paid ticket waiting for me. I hadn't suddenly lifted myself out of the doldrums of semi-employment, no - I was on my way to a professional lacrosse game.

The Toronto Rock was about to face the Washington Power in the National Lacrosse League (NLL) single-elimination semi-final playoff match. Now at the end of their third full season in Toronto, the Rock has been a surprising success in this city - known for its apathy towards anything non-Leaf/Raptor/BlueJay. It's the little things that have brought the team, and subsequently the league, a high level of respect among sports fans. Little things like the average salary being $10,000 (US) with the majority of players holding down day jobs. Ass-kicking action combined with high scores and cheap tickets ($10 - $35) make lacrosse the ideal sport for Johnny Lunchbox and family.

Before the game had even started the crowd was starting to roar - like a wild herd of boozed up jungle beasts - these people wanted action, and they wanted it now.

I shuffled to my seat and began to drink the first half of my beverage, making room for the sweet nectar. As I excitedly untwisted the flask cap and begin to navigate its tip to the open bottle of cola - the lights went out.

Shit.

"Shit."

"What?"

Shim was sitting beside me and he couldn't see, nor understand, my sudden dismay. Suddenly there was a roar and the familiar opening riff to AC/DC's 'Thunderstruck' filled the air. I was hooked.

The ACC erupted - 19,000 spectators, most drunk as Turkish sailors, were on their feet as the home team ran onto the field/floor/playing surface/whatever.

Before I knew it I was half done my cocktail and the home team was up by two goals. The music never stopped and neither did the fans. Between the crushing hits and flashy goals on the floor, along with scantily clad cheerleading nubiles - known as the Rockettes - roaming the stands, fans didn't have a chance to get bored or disinterested.

The Rock were looking to defend the back-to-back championshipsóchampionships that have helped them average more than 15,000 fans every home game this season. This will prove to be the team's first money-making year, after losing more than $500,000 in their first year, and nearly breaking even in their second.

According to League officials, the secret to many of the franchises' success and stability has been cross ownership. For example, the National Hockey League's Ottawa Senators have interests in the Ottawa Rebels and help to promote the team, while the Bufflao Sabres have a stake in the Buffalo Bandits.

The Rock seem to have a decent ownership team behind them as well - President Brad Watters, the son of Maple Leafs exec Bill, assembled a motley group of investors to buy a piece of the Rock, including NHL players Brendan Shannahan and Tie Domi, and Major League Baseball honcho Paul Beeston.

If only the beer and food prices were brought down along with the tickets, this would be heaven. The flask is empty. I'm thirsty, but a large $10 beer was not figured into my game budget. Luckily the decision process is blurred by the booze so I somehow talk myself into buying me a beer. With the thirst taken care of my focus was back to the action on the floor. Washington had tied the game and there were only minutes remaining. Shim would not stop yelling - the suds had changed his earlier chant of "Go Rock Go" to a more emotional "Rocky! Rocky! Rocky", then wondering aloud "Where's the Rockettes?"

Oh for shame.

By the last two minutes the whole place was on its feet yelling for blood. The game was tied when - bingo, bango, sugar in the gas tank - the Rock score with 50 seconds on the clock. The place exploded. People were jumping around like we all won the lottery. I high-fived Blair. I high-fived Shim. I high-fived the Shamoo-sized man painted blue and red behind me. Oh glorious victory, let us sip from your hallowed cup. The feeling of euphoria was quickly transformed into unbearable pressure on my bladder.

Twisting and sliding through the mad throng, I made my way down the stairs and into the hallway. I found myself floating, moving along with the flag-waving pack of hyenas screaming and dancing their way to the exits. Luckily I was able to wrangle myself loose to duck into one of the full-to-capacity restrooms. Men nodding victoriously at other men, each acknowledging the triumph of sport they had just witnessed - now waiting in line to urinate.

After escaping a bizarre urinal experience (on my left - man humming victory song; on my right - man shaking and moving as though he was wrestling a circus snake), I found the crew patiently waiting for me by the escalator.

The home team had won. The crowd was happy and sauced. The night was young. A positive sporting experience for all. The Rock was to host the Philadelphia Phantoms for the Championship the next week.

* * * * *

It ended up that the Rock lost their bid to three-peat the next week, by one goal. The Phantoms had proved too much for the mighty Rock. Perhaps this was a good thing. The team was accepted by the city, the fans would be back next season. Why not spread the wealth and let someone else win for a change? It'll be - as they say - good for the league.

There have been a few bold announcements regarding the NLL this spring. The first being that the League will have three new franchises starting next season, with two more looking to join soon after. The Calgary Roughnecks, Vancouver Ravens and New Jersey Storm all join the existing nine teams in the league. NLL officials are also looking to establish teams in Montreal and Edmonton in the near future.

An expansion draft will take place on June 15th, with the free agent signing period beginning June 18th. While this will spread talent thin across the League, officials aren't worried due to the talent-rich Canadian Junior leagues and NCAA in the U.S.

The league believes the expansion draft may help distribute some players around the league closer to their home townsósome Rock players fly in from as far away as Vancouver for each game.

This is all good, especially for Canada. Unbeknownst to many Canadians, we dominate in lacrosse almost as much as we have in hockey. This league, and the people who make it work, have added a piece to the Canadian sporting landscape that many fans have been missing: An alternative to the money-grubbing, whiny freakshow that has become such a part of big money sports.

"How can people relate to players making $6 million a year for playing a sport?" Brad Watters asked the Toronto Star. "That's a big plus for us. The fans see that. I'm from Whitby (Ont.). I've got a cop on my police force playing on the team (Dan Ladouceur). How can you say that in any other professional sport?"

Pro lacrosse gives fans great entertainment at a reasonable price, allowing us to watch home town athletes kick the living shit out of each other; action and excitement, all with the comfort of a $10 seat and a frosty beverage.

As for this fair-weather fan, I'm looking into some season ticket action for next season. Now where the hell did I put that flask.....

Jeff Beer is anxiously awaiting next year's NLL season. And so is his local liquor store.




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