DESPITE THE skepticism of the sport's purists, the Major Indoor Lacrosse League, entering its fifth season, is beginning to look as if it's here to stay.
The Baltimore Thunder, which plays the first of its five home games at the Arena Dec. 29, already outdraws the Blast and the Skipjacks (the Thunder averages 10,000 per game) and expects a sellout crowd for the opener with Detroit. An added attraction that night is the Gait twins, Gary and Paul, the former Syracuse University All-Americans who are rookies with the Turbos.
Says Thunder general manager Darrell Russell, who is to be sworn in Friday as a judge in Baltimore County:
"The old National Lacrosse League in the '70s only lasted two years. We have franchises today that are enormously successful. Philadelphia sells out every game with 17,000 at prices comparable to ours [$14.50 and $12.50]."
Russell says the current Thunder team is the best he has been connected with. One reason for that is goalie Jeff Gombar, who may be the best in the league. Gombar, like the Gaits, grew up in Western Canada and played box lacrosse exclusively until he went off to Whittier College in California.
"I played against the Gaits as a teen-ager," says Gombar. "If you think they were great in field lacrosse, wait until you see them indoors. This is their game."
* As Maryland prepares for its Independence Bowl game Saturday with Louisiana Tech, a burning question comes to mind. Where in the world was Mark Mason all season before he emerged as the Terps' best running back in the finale against Virginia -- probably saving coach Joe Krivak's job, by the way?
For the record, Mason was on the scout team -- running opponents' plays in practice. What a waste of talent. Against Virginia the guy ran, in little more than half the game, for 116 yards and two touchdowns, including a 59-yarder. The Maryland players say they're not surprised that Mason was so brilliant against Virginia. Remember, this was a Maryland team that, until the end, had no running game. The offense was quarterback Scott Zolak.
* Tell me also, please, how Dunbar High and Wake Forest product Muggsy Bogues can be playing so well for Charlotte -- he's fourth in the NBA with an average of 10.9 assists per game -- but was a bust with Washington.
When the Bullets let Bogues go in the expansion draft, all you heard was that Bob Ferry had made a mistake drafting a midget No. 1. And don't justify all this by saying the Bullets are a better team than Charlotte. They're not. The Hornets, in their third year, have more wins at the moment than the Bullets.
* Nobody goes into coaching for the job security, but coaching the wrestling team at Navy is as close to it as anybody's going to come. Since the sport was started at Annapolis in 1908, the Middies have had only five coaches. Three of those stayed more than 20 years (John Schutz, 1908-09, 1912-38; Ray Swartz, 1938-60; Ed Peery, 1960-87). The present coach, Reg Wicks, has been aboard since 1987. By contrast, since 1986 Navy has had three different football coaches (Gary Tranquill, Elliot Uzelac, George Chaump).
* This year's Army-Navy football telecast was a four-hour extravaganza of tradition, patriotism and athletic competition. The game itself was enjoyable. CBS was clever in the way it wove current events (the Cadet with "Beat Iraq" inside his hat) and messages from our forces abroad with films of past Army and Navy Heisman winners. That game may do more for service academy recruiting than anything since "Top Gun."
* Speaking of the Heisman Trophy, this was the third straight year the winner -- BYU's Ty Detmer -- was unable to attend the live, televised awards ceremony because, of all things, he had a game to play. It's time for the Heisman folks to sharpen their timing.