By Graeme Perrow
Your team has just traded for a player who is one of the best players in his sport, and has been for much of the last decade. We're talking about a lacrosse player who has the following credentials:
- NLL MVP
- NLL Championship (Rochester Knighthawks)
- NLL Championship game MVP
- MLL Offensive Player of the Year
- MLL MVP
- World Indoor Lacrosse Championship (Team Canada)
- Mann Cup (Peterborough Lakers)
- Mann Cup MVP
That's a pretty impressive list for any career. But consider this: those are John Grant, Jr.'s accomplishments in 2007 alone. Not listed here are his accomplishments in other years: rookie of the year awards (2), other championships (2 MLL, 2 Mann Cup, one World Indoor Lacrosse, one World Outdoor Lacrosse, one Heritage Cup), other MVP awards (2 more), and MLL Offensive Player of the Year awards (2 more). Guy's got more hardware than Home Depot.
So now this guy is on your team, and all you had to give up for him was a guy who has never played for your team in the first place, and you got for free anyway. Great news, right? Why would any fan be upset about acquiring such a player? Well, just ask Colorado fans how they feel about acquiring Grant last week. Not all of them think this was a great idea, in fact some are quite unhappy with the deal. Why? Because they don't think he's that good? Absolutely not. Nobody is arguing Grant's talent. It's because of a split second decision that Grant made back in December of 2006. Grant cross-checked Colorado defender John Gallant in the back of the head, knocking him out and getting himself a one-game suspension. Gallant was likely concussed – he was out six weeks and suffered headaches for a while – but luckily returned to the Mammoth. For Mammoth fans, this brought back a painful memory of the last game of Steve Moore's NHL career, before Todd Bertuzzi ended it.
Was Grant's hit a cheap shot? I personally didn't see it, but I can't imagine how a cross-check to the back of someone's head while they're walking away from you wouldn't be. Is Grant a goon? Not by a long shot, but I can't say he's the most sportsmanlike player I've ever seen either. We all know that lacrosse is an intense game played by passionate people, and passionate people sometimes make errors in judgement in the heat of the moment. John Gallant himself has said that he and Grant are friends and he's very much looking forward to playing together on the Mammoth, so he's forgiven Grant. It's easy to just say "Yo Colorado fans, it's been six years. Gallant only missed a few weeks and he himself is good with it, so just get over it." But that's much easier said than done.
Back in the early-mid 2000's (I can't remember exactly when it happened), the Philadelphia Wings were in Toronto to play the Rock. At some point in the game, the Wings' Dave Stilley and Toronto's Steve Toll started pushing and shoving each other and the gloves dropped. No more than a couple of punches were thrown before Stilley did something I had never seen before on a lacrosse floor and haven't seen since – he head-butted Toll, who instantly dropped to the floor. Stilley was booed relentlessly, and was tossed from the game. I don't remember if there was a suspension involved. Toll was out the rest of that game, but returned for the next game uninjured. To this day, I remember seeing Toll drop like he'd been shot. I remember the jaws of everybody in our row dropping open as we watched Stilley being dragged away. I remember the defiant look on Stilley's face, as if to say "Yeah, I went there, so don't fuck with me!" Ever since that game, the name Dave Stilley has represented to me the worst of violence in pro sports (well, up until Todd Bertuzzi grabbed it and hasn't let go). A couple of years ago I saw a picture of Stilley raising the 2001 Champions Cup in Toronto as a member of the Wings. The fact that you could see me in the background of the picture was pretty cool, but I couldn't stop staring at the C on his chest, stunned that he had at one point been chosen as captain of the Wings. As I read the tweets, blog posts, and message board postings about how ticked off some Mammoth fans were about the Grant trade, I immediately thought "Get over it, Mammoth fans". But then I wondered how I would have felt if the Rock had traded for Dave Stilley.
My first thought was "Well, that was different, because..." but then I couldn't think of how to finish that sentence. Both were cheap shots. Both could have caused devastating injuries or even been career-ending, but they weren't. Both players returned after a relatively short absence, and both continue to play well – interestingly, Toll played with Grant for five years on the Knighthawks and Gallant is now captain of the Mammoth and Grant's teammate. Both offenders were penalized and the incident subsequently considered closed by the league, the teams, and likely the players involved. But not the fans. The only real difference I can think of is that if Stilley were acquired by the Rock, it would have been a fairly minor deal, as Stilley was never a superstar. We could have still followed the Rock but hated Stilley, and it wouldn't have been that big a deal. Nobody would have cancelled their season tickets over it. But Grant is a superstar, and is expected to singlehandedly bring the Mammoth back to glory. If he succeeds and the Mammoth contend this year, it will be very difficult to cheer for a team led by a man you hate. Of course the other option would be to give up your lacrosse tickets. I cannot imagine doing this myself – I wouldn't give up my season tickets even if the Rock traded Colin Doyle for Dave Stilley straight-up. (Excuse me while I go and scrub my brain with steel wool for even thinking such a thing.) The only advice I can give Mammoth fans is to give it time and try to forgive, even if you can't forget.