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Of course, statistics alone can't account for this popularity. "What makes Paul and Gary so good for the game is that they're imaginative," says Simmons. Like Bobby Orr, who revolutionized the defenseman's role in ice hockey, the Gaits are constantly reinventing their sport. They have an advocate in Simmons, who takes an innovative approach to the game. As he puts it, "I preach fantasy and dreams."
"There are a lot of coaches who don't allow kids to do anything but the old-fashioned stuff," says Simmons. "You know, 'You put two hands on the stick to pick up a ground ball. You throw it over your shoulder. Defensemen are not allowed to bring the ball over into the offensive end of the field.' We actually practice having defensemen do that because I think it disrupts the other team. If it works, you do it."
The Gaits routinely use in games the sleight of hand and stick that players fool around with after practice. "[Without the Gaits], you might see one behind-the-back pass a game," says Syracuse midfielder John Barr, a freshman, who in high school had posters of the Gaits on his bedroom walls. "With them, it's one a play."
Because wizardry of this order is more easily shown than described, Simmons gets out some game tapes to demonstrate. He replays his favorites:
?The Alley-Oop: Paul lobs a high pass to Gary, who is cutting across the mouth of the goal with his back to it. Gary leaps with his stick extended high over his head and snags the ball. As he descends, he whips the ball between his legs and into the goal.
?The Back-to-Back: Paul makes a behind-the-head pass to Gary, who fires a behind-the-back shot into the net.
?The Air Gait: This is a move that in two years has become part of the sport's mythology. In lacrosse, as in ice hockey, the playing surface extends behind the goal. One difference, however, is that in lacrosse the crease, which is 18 feet in diameter, completely encircles the goal. Also, nobody but the goalie is allowed to set foot in the crease. As a result, until 1988 no one had ever made a direct attack from behind the crease, so when Gary circled behind the goal during a quarterfinal game in the NCAA playoffs that year, Penn goalie John Kanaras saw no immediate cause for alarm. Suddenly, Gary charged the back of the net. His last contact with terra firma occurred just outside the crease. As he hurtled past the goal, Gary reached his stick around the goal and deftly whipped the ball in. He touched down inside the crease, but it was no violation because the play had ended when the ball broke the plane of the goal.
Though such derring-do has established Gary's reputation as the more flamboyant of the two, it was Paul who pulled off the Air Gait this year, against St. John's. The brothers share virtually the same imaginative assortment of moves. "He's got a big outside crank," says Gary, "while I like to get in close to shoot." Otherwise, the differences between them are few. The Gaits each stand 6'2", but Paul weighs some eight pounds more than his brother's 197.
"These guys are big for this sport," says Simmons. "They have the size of defenders and the speed of small attackmen." They do almost no weight work. When Simmons asked Paul if he knew where the weight room is, he said, "That's the room the loud music comes out of, right?"
The Gaits did not set out to change the game of lacrosse. At Claremont High in Victoria, B.C., they were all-province rugby players; Gary also made the all-province basketball team. But lacrosse was their undisputed first love. They first picked up lacrosse sticks at age four, and while they were not immediately the terrors of their Mini-Tyke Lacrosse league, they persevered. They painted a 4' x 4' box in the shape of a goal mouth on the brick wall of a neighborhood school. Then, to the dismay of the teachers trying to work inside, they took shooting practice day after day, developing pinpoint accuracy. The bricks nearest the corners of the "goal" disintegrated under the steady barrage. "You hit the same spot long enough, it will get weaker," says Gary with the certainty of a scientist who has thoroughly explored a subject.