Although there is currently a league called the National Lacrosse League, the first attempt at creating a professional indoor lacrosse league came in the mid-70s as hockey owners attempted to fill their arenas during the summer months with a sport which was similar to hockey.
Lacrosse in the 70s was virtually an unknown to much of the United States except for the Northeast.
Unfortunately, the league was not very successful with only the Philadelphia and Montreal franchises having any sizeable crowds in attendance. Some of the notable players were Rick Dudley, Doug Favell and Bruce Arena. Arena would achieve more notoriety later as the head coach of the United States National Soccer Team.
In the two seasons that the NLL was in existence, the teams were:
- Maryland Arrows
- Montreal Quebecois
- Philadelphia Wings
- Rochester Griffins (1974) became Long Island Tomahawks (1975)
- Syracuse Stingers (1974) became Quebec Caribous (1975)
- Toronto Tomahawks (1974) became Boston Bolts (1975)
Teams played a whopping 48-game schedule during the summer months. The playing surfaces were not artificial turf as it is today but mostly covered ice rinks as the game was played on the same size as hockey teams used.
Players were paid about $6,500 a year to play in the NLL and most of the players were from Canada where the sport was more successful than in the United States at the time.
The Rochester Griffins won the 1974 title by defeating the Philadelphia Wings four games to two. In 1975, the Quebec Caribous defeated the Montreal Quebecois in six games.
In one of the more interesting stories about the Philadelphia Wings, the Wings debuted in Philadelphia on Sunday night, May 19th, 1974. The Philadelphia Flyers beat the Boston Bruins that afternoon at the Spectrum to capture the Stanley Cup. While the city celebrated, stadium workers hurriedly flipped the building, laying the NLL”s wooden court over the ice for the Wings game that same night. Wings players made their way through the revelers out on the streets to get to the arena. An announced crowd of 12,841 turned out to watch the Wings beat the Montreal Quebecois 18-11.
When three of the six remaining teams went bankrupt before the 1976 season, the season was cancelled. Professional indoor lacrosse returned in January 1987 with the Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse League. Today’s NLL has 11 teams spread across North America to include the San Diego Seals which begin play next season.