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It's halftime at the 1983 NCAA lacrosse championship game. Rutgers Stadium is baking in 90° May heat. Syracuse trails Johns Hopkins 8-4, and in a soft, authoritative voice Orange coach Roy Simmons Jr. orders his players to stay on the field. He doesn't want them to get cool and comfortable in a locker room. He wants them to stay out in the glare and the heat of the sun and the score. "Here's the crowd and here's the scoreboard," he tells them. "There is no sanctuary."
In the press box, his father, Roy Simmons Sr., the sparky 82-year-old former Syracuse coach, has been all but hiccuping with excitement. He hollers. He rants. He curses. He clouds the air with smoke from his briar pipe. "I hope that damn Indian gets hot," he snarls, referring to Syracuse goalie Travis Solomon, a full-blooded Onondaga.
Roy Sr. approved of the stratagem of keeping the team out in the sun during the half. And while the son is benign and analytical, the father is mightily exhortatory. "You've got to be mean to be a good athlete," he says. "And you've got to be a sore loser. That stuff about losing gracefully is a bunch of crap."
The Simmonses have a heavy psychological investment in this game. The old man, who's in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, had been an All-America defenseman on Syracuse's last championship team, in 1925, and coach of the '57 squad that went undefeated but came in second to Hopkins in the national standings; there was no NCAA tournament then, and a coaches' poll decided that the Blue Jays, who also were unbeaten, played a tougher schedule. Roy Jr. was an All-America attackman on that team. Last season was his 13th as coach of the Orange, but his first with a team that made the finals. The closest he had come was a loss to Hopkins in the semis in 1980, when one of his players was Roy III, now a Syracuse assistant coach.
As the second half begins, Syracuse falls behind 12-5. But Roy Jr. sticks with Solomon in goal. From the end of the third quarter, Solomon gives up only three goals, all of them impossible-to-stop deflected shots. Syracuse shocks Hopkins into submission with nine straight goals and wins 17-16.
Roy Jr. has won the national title that eluded his father. They embrace in the locker room. "Good game, Slugger," says Dad. They're united in the common bond of victory for Syracuse, but there could hardly be a greater difference in the character and coaching style of these two men.
The old man seems the embodiment of the total athlete of a generation or two ago: pure of heart, noble of spirit and hard of muscle, the Grantland Rice hero. Amos Alonzo Stagg recruited Simmons to play football for the University of Chicago in 1920. He had been a sensational tailback for Hyde Park High, the Cook County champs of 1917. At Chicago, he was captain of the freshman team.
But during Thanksgiving break in 1920, Simmons went to see Hyde Park play the Michigan champs in Lansing. His alma mater was losing 7-0 at the half, and Simmons went to the locker room and put on the uniform of one of the Hyde Park players, Mush Smith. "What the hell," he told the coach, "the damn team is quitting out there. Lemme go in and wake 'em up." He did. He ran for 85 yards and scored the TD that set up the final 7-7 tie. "It was a crazy thing to do," he says, "and it changed my life."
When Simmons got back to Chicago, he was a front-page story as a ringer halfback. Stagg was chagrined. "Son," he said, "you're the only boy I know who would do a thing like that. You've got too much school spirit."
But the administration didn't see it that way. Simmons was kicked out of college. So he hopped a train East to find a school with spirit to equal his own. He eventually rolled into Syracuse and played for the Orange freshman team. It was his second straight season as a frosh.