Seaman glad to show Syracuse stars the gate

Ken Rosenthal

March 27, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

Tony Seaman calls last May 26 the happiest day of his life.

He already was married.

He already had two kids.

Allow him to explain.

"I watched them walk off the field," the Johns Hopkins lacrosse coach recalls, his eyes sparkling. "I just said, 'That's it, they're gone, goodbye.' "

Which players so inspired his enmity?

Those evil twins, Paul and Gary Gait.

May 26 was the date of the last NCAA final, the date of the Gaits' final college game at Syracuse. Seaman, then at Penn, sat next to his best friend, Princeton's Bill Tierney. Together, they rejoiced.

It was a watershed moment indeed. Syracuse won its third straight NCAA title behind the most dangerous twins this side of Schwarzenegger and DeVito, but equality was restored.

Ding dong the Gaits were dead.

Or at least out of eligibility.

Seaman recalls all this as he explains the personal significance of Hopkins' 18-12 victory at Syracuse last Saturday. Oh, he'd rather talk about his new team, his new challenge, but this other topic is unavoidable.

He was 0-9 against Syracuse in eight years at Penn, and the Gaits only made it worse. They revolutionized their sport, antagonized their opponents -- Penn most of all.

Five of Seaman's nine losses to Syracuse were by three goals or less, and the crusher was an 11-10 defeat in the 1988 NCAA semifinals on a goal with three seconds left.

The Gaits passed behind their heads, shot behind their backs. ("It's like having Magic Johnson," Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr. once said. "Only there's two of him.") Their sheer aura made Syracuse virtually invincible.

But now they're gone, and Seaman has moved on. Sixth-ranked Hopkins (3-1) became only the third team to defeat the Orangemen at the Carrier Dome, but Saturday's victory was meaningful in other ways, especially for its new coach.

The question Seaman still hears most often is, "Why would you want that pressure?" meaning the pressure of Hopkins, the enormous burden of directing perhaps the most revered program in college lacrosse.

The question was valid from the start -- Seaman, 48, was comfortable at Penn -- but after Hopkins' 15-10 loss to Princeton in the season opener, it seemed especially relevant.

Or did it? "I put more pressure on myself than any alum," Seaman claims. Why, he didn't even fret over losing to Tierney, the former Hopkins assistant who was offered the head coach's job before him.

He admits, "There are moments in the middle of the night when you catch yourself saying, 'My God, did I do the right thing?' " But he sees Princeton like this: The first game under a new coach against a ranked opponent. No big deal.

As for pressure, Seaman honestly believes the brunt falls on his players. "It's like being a football player at Notre Dame or a basketball player at UCLA," he says. "Everyone knows who you are."

Lacrosse is the school's only Division I sport, and the players are required to maintain academic standards on a par with the Ivy League. Seaman marvels at the way they endure, but it's all part of the Hopkins mystique.

That mystique is prevalent even at summer camps, where Seaman would notice high school players rushing to vendors selling Hopkins jerseys and shorts. That mystique, above all, is the reason he took the job.

The Princeton game changed nothing. Seaman's goal is weekly improvement, and the loss simply forced him to adjust. Rather than continue teaching his system in half-field drills, he shifted his focus to the big picture, to full-field work.

Still, Seaman says he still loses sleep at night knowing Hopkins took too many poor shots in that first game. Thus, he was delighted they scored on 18 of 41 attempts against Syracuse, when everything started to click.

Top-ranked Virginia (6-0) visits Homewood Field on Saturday, yet in many ways it's just another game. The college lacrosse world seems so much smaller now that the Gaits are gone, now that Syracuse (2-2) is mortal again.

Seaman still remembers watching last year's final with Tierney, and the perverse delight they shared as another of their friends -- Loyola coach Dave Cottle -- tried to contend with the Gaits.

"Everyone should have that treat of sitting there and saying, 'My God, what do I do?' " Seaman says. True, Syracuse lost eight of its top 10 scorers, including the Gaits. But Seaman concedes Saturday was "a little emotional."

"It would have been a little sweeter if 22 and 19 were still there," he adds, referring to the Gaits by their numbers. "But I wouldn't want them back to try it again."

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