At 30-year anniversary of Syracuse’s first NCAA championship, former players reflect on historic campaign
The 1983 Syracuse men’s lacrosse team had two uniforms: blue and white.
Leading up to the ‘83 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship, the Orangemen were slated to wear their away blue uniforms against Johns Hopkins. But the team had other plans. Sophomore midfielder Brad Kotz, who was later named the tournament’s MVP, remembers the players urging coach Roy Simmons Jr. to implement a new color style.
“We had never worn orange before that game,” Kotz said. “But we were the Orangemen, and it seemed only right to put on orange, like a tradition or something.”
Simmons called to Syracuse to see if orange uniforms could be delivered to Rutgers. The team’s wish was granted and it was presented with new, orange jerseys prior to the game. The players thought they were upholding a tradition with the new shirts. In retrospect — 30 years and 11 national titles later — they were starting a far bigger one.
The Orangemen would go on to defeat Johns Hopkins 17-16 in the title game to capture the first national championship in school history. That 1983 squad is remembered for breaking ground. Members of the team recall their championship fondly, and know their role in catapulting SU into the national spotlight.
“We had never experienced anything like that, not only as a team but as individuals,” then-sophomore defender Fred Cambria said. “It made us really start to appreciate the meaning of the word ‘team,’ because that is what that championship was all about.”
It was like something out of a movie.
Syracuse fell behind 12-5 in the middle of the third quarter and looked all but defeated. But then something clicked, something that none of the players will ever be able to explain.
It started with Darren Lawlor’s goal late in the third quarter. Then Kotz and fellow sophomore Tim Nelson, both All-Americans, put the Orangemen onto their backs. Nelson poetically quarterbacked SU’s offense while Kotz started winning every faceoff and scoring at will. The result was eight straight goals that ended with an exclamation point.
“When Randy Lundblad scored the goal that iced it I remember getting onto my knees and sliding at half field,” Nelson said. “I didn’t know what else to do, we shocked ourselves.”
It wasn’t that the Orangemen weren’t used to winning. They were 13-1 on the season before beating Johns Hopkins, and the program was known for churning out competitive teams. But the team was also used to playing second fiddle to the national prominence of programs like Johns Hopkins and North Carolina.
Heading into the 1983 championship game, Johns Hopkins had 39 championships, four in the NCAA. The Blue Jays were also celebrating the program’s 100th anniversary that season. Beating Johns Hopkins wasn’t just unlikely, it was unheard of.
Still, the Orangemen’s determined upperclassmen weren’t going to let the past dictate the future.
“We didn’t get the memo that we were supposed to lose that day,” then-senior defensive captain Jeff McCormick said. “Being a senior on a team with so much young talent wasn’t necessarily challenging. I just had to always let guys know that we could play with anyone, and I think we proved that.”
Three decades later, Syracuse has become a perennial NCAA contender like the Johns Hopkins team that was supposed to derail its title hopes. The program now has 11 NCAA championships and 27 final four appearances, having become a destination for the nation’s top talent.
“It’s not that we were angry being behind the Hopkins’ and UNC’s of the world, it’s just how it was,” said Derek Maltz Sr., a sophomore midfielder in 1983. “But what we did was huge. It allowed everyone to see what those inside the program knew all along. That Syracuse was one of the best lacrosse schools in the country, and is to this day.”
The elder Maltz walked onto the team in 1982 and his son, Derek Maltz Jr., now starts for an SU team that will vie for the program’s 12th title Monday afternoon against Duke. Thirty years ago, Maltz and his teammates carved out a path. Now they watch as another generation attempts to walk down it.
“To know that my son now has the opportunity to achieve the same thing I did is really special for me,” Maltz said. “Everyone deserves the feeling of winning a national championship. Everybody.”
All of the members of the team have gone down different roads since a rare collection of ambition and talent brought them together on the biggest stage in college lacrosse.
Cambria went into the entertainment business and won a National Sports Emmy for his work on the HBO sports documentary, “Assault in The Ring.” Kotz won two championships with the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League after graduating from SU. He’s since settled down with his family outside of Washington D.C., owns a small business, and runs a lacrosse program that his two daughters play in. Maltz coordinates various defense agencies in the Washington D.C. area.
Maltz, his former roommate Cambria, and Kotz met up in Philadelphia to watch SU’s 8-7 final four win over Denver on Friday. They’ll do so again for the title game on Monday.
McCormick founded Saturn Partners in 1994 and was recently named the executive producer of the movie Crooked Arrows. He will be celebrating his wife’s birthday during SU’s championship quest, and will obtain updates any way he can.
And then there’s Nelson, the team’s steady facilitator that refused to accept defeat. Nelson is currently the assistant vice president of advancement at Utica College, after serving as the men’s head lacrosse coach from 1999-05. He has been, and will continue to watch this year’s SU team from his couch.
Regardless of where life has taken them since winning it all together, they all see this year’s team the same way.
As the 2013 Orange head into a championship game of its own, they are predecessors to the success achieved 30 years ago, another symbolization of just how monumental that inaugural championship team was.
“I won’t say we’re the best team in SU history, but we’ll always be the first,” Nelson said. “The fact that I’ll always be able to say that, well, that’s nice.”
Published on May 26, 2013 at 1:46 pm