They call him the Michael Jordan of lacrosse, and for Gary Gait, the nickname is well earned. Like MJ, Gait’s in the Hall-of-Fame. Like MJ, Gait’s won his share of championships; his share of MVP awards. Like MJ, Gait’s got the moves (see “Air Gait”). Like MJ, Gait’s come out of retirement?
“This is something in lacrosse I’ve never done before, so it’s new for me,” Gait said. “I’ve done almost everything else, but I’ve never come out of retirement before.”
It’s been three years since the lacrosse legend picked up a stick in a professional game. But a phone call from former Orangeman and current Rochester Knighthawks General Manager Regy Thorpe changed the status quo. The Knighthawks, in need of a new playmaker following the loss of John Grant Jr., wanted Gait.
“I thought (Thorpe) was crazy at first, and then I thought about it a little bit,” Gait said. “But more than anything I talked to my family, my wife and my kids and I was thinking (they were going to say) ‘oh you’re crazy to do that,’ but instead I got a response, ‘That would be awesome dad. Why don’t you go out and play? I want you to play. You gotta play.’”
So Gait will play. The Knighthawks acquired the former Orangeman’s rights from the Colorado Mammoth for Andrew Potter and two first round draft picks. Gait last ran with the Mammoth in 2005, coaching the team until 2007 when he left to take over the women’s lacrosse program at Syracuse. The all-pro was just that in every National Lacrosse League season he played, and is second all-time in career goals and points, earning his status as a charter member of the NLL Hall-of-Fame.
But that was Gait in 2005. This is Gait in 2008, and returning to shape is a hard task. The SU head coach plans on spending (and actually is already spending) between six and seven days a week in the gym for the next two to three months.
“I give him a lot of credit because not many people are willing to do that,” said Syracuse women’s lacrosse captain Bridget Looney. “He’s been working out pretty hard lately. Every time I’m in the gym he’s right there with me.”
And if you believe a giggling Looney, Gait might even have a few new tricks up his sleeve.
“I think he has a lot to offer,” the senior said. “Those guys might not be ready for what he brings to the field. He’s probably going to come up with some other new move, probably not the Air Gait because I don’t think he has the ups still.”
Not only has Gait been in the weight room, but he will be on the sidelines every time Looney and the Orange takes the field as well. Make no mistake, Gait’s playing again doesn’t mean he’ll no longer be coaching. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Gait plans on making every game and practice for a team he led to the Final Four last season. There is precedent for thosr expectations.
“All the players that play in the league have full time jobs,” Gait said. “This is what I did at the University of Maryland for nine years, and had very little conflicts. I expect this to help Syracuse Lacrosse more than anything else.” Gait won several NLL MVP’s in that ‘90’s stretch along with seven straight national titles with the Terrapins. He says the two schedules this time around will keep him from only two Rochester games.
But missed games for the Knighthawks don’t seem to matter too much for many fans. No more than three days since making his comeback, sales have shot up. The team sold 40 season tickets in the two hours immediately following the announcement of Gait’s return.
And by the way, while the comparisons to Michael Jordan grow stronger, there is one area where Gait will, unfortunately, always fall short. There will not be a second comeback. This one’s it.
“I’m pretty sure it’s only once,” Gait said.