THE AIR GAIT MOVE came in spring 1988, and not only catapulted Syracuse midfielder Gary Gait from the back of crease to the front of the goal, but also into his unofficial role as lacrosse's top ambassador.
It's been a great ride for Gait, a three-time All-American who won three national titles at Syracuse. He has been an All-World selection at the past three world championships and an All-Pro a record-setting 10 straight years in the indoor game. As an assistant coach with the Maryland women's team, he has played an integral part in the Terps' dynasty.
That's on the field.
Off the field, he travels to various camps throughout the country and overseas. He set a precedent coming out of Syracuse in 1991, when he, along with twin brother Paul, became the first two lacrosse players to get major endorsements, including Nike, Powerade and Coke. Now, Ryan Powell and Mark Millon have major endorsements.
But, at age 34, Gait realizes he can't play forever, and the game is due for a new ambassador.
No one, though, may ever transcend the sport like Gait.
Lacrosse will never be on the level with baseball, football, basketball or even hockey, but Gait has been the player with the most impact. If the new Major League Lacrosse stays afloat, a lot of the thanks can go to Gait.
Take a look around Homewood Field at the Bayhawks' next home game and notice some of the sponsors. Brine's Sports. STX. Warrior. Toyota. Anheuser Busch. Sobe. All the results of the Gait fallout. The league has enough up-front money for the next three years.
"He was the first player to make his living entirely off lacrosse," said Brian Voelker, the Bayhawks' head coach. "Even if he wasn't the coach at Maryland, he would make a pretty good living. That's the goal for these players, to make a living off the sport. Gary paved the road for them. He got sponsorship when no one else thought about it or thought it was impossible."
"I don't know much about the pro lacrosse league in the 1980s, but I don't think they had the money behind them," Gait said. "This league has the money behind them, and these people are seriously committed to getting the league to a level where it will sustain itself.
"The league knows that we're already going to bring in the lacrosse fans, but we've got to go after the non-lacrosse fan, the ones who see one game and make them come back. If this league is going to have new stars, it's up to the sponsors to create them. Fortunately, we have the sponsors."
Fortunately, lacrosse has Gait. Ever since his Michael Jordan-like slam-dunks in 1988, he has become the sport's most recognizable face. He appears at 15 to 20 camps during the summer, traveling across the country and overseas. Gait comes in contact with several thousand kids a year.
But he also has to find time to fulfill his endorsement obligations as well as play for the Long Island Lizards. Gait flies from Baltimore to Islip, N.Y., two or three times a week for practices and games. There isn't much time for a home life with his wife, Nicole, and two children.
"I love the game, love being a part of it," Gait said. "What I've tried to do is take my role seriously, and promote the game as much as possible, anywhere across the country. But sometimes you get a little tired, and you've got to take some time off to recharge the batteries."
Actually, for Gait, it's a month off. He rents a house near the ocean in his native Victoria, British Columbia, for the month of August.
"I don't think my wife likes my schedule," Gait said. "Making the decision to play in Long Island was a difficult one, something we both decided to give it a shot for one year because she wanted me to play in this league."
Gait might be slowing a little, but he is still the best offensive player in the game, probably the best ever. He has scored 16 goals and registered four assists while leading the Lizards to a league-best 5-1 record. The over-the-shoulder shots and passes are there, and so are the bump-and-grind moves and those long-range bombs.
But Gait knows everyone loses the battle with Father Time.
Several colleges have offered him head coaching positions, but Gait wants the right opportunity, possibly Maryland's men's job when Dick Edell retires.
"If he did retire, I would apply for the job," Gait said. "He is a great coach, and I think he'll be there as long as he wants to be. But everything is going well right now. Being the assistant at Maryland allows me to coach, do the camps and play in the pro league. I still can get out and see thousands of kids.
"It's been great fun playing lacrosse," Gait said. "The game has been good to me. I got an education at Syracuse, and I never thought I would be coaching when I was playing in my back yard, that someone would be paying me for it. Then all the endorsements, it's been an incredible run."
But it's not over yet.
"I would like to bring the young girls to the point where more of them are playing it in their back yards, like the boys," Gait said.
"How many more years do I have left playing? It depends on what is going on in my life. If I took a head coaching job, I would probably retire. But through it all, if I can look back one day and say I've made the kids enjoy the game of lacrosse through the way I played or through my style, then I would be happy."
Gait doesn't have to look back. He has already accomplished that.