April 25, 2007

’77 Lax Squad Honored

Print More

This article appears in the 2007 edition of The Sun’s annual Freshman Issue.

In 1977, Jimmy Carter was sworn in as President of the United States, Annie Hall and Saturday Night Fever hit theaters and the men’s lacrosse team went undefeated and won its third NCAA Championship. 1977 was the second year in a three-year stretch in which the Red won 42 straight games and two National titles. This past Saturday, a number of players from that team were honored during halftime of Cornell’s 10-6 victory over Princeton.
“We have a record that we won 42 games in a row,” said Christopher Kane ’78. “To do that, all non-scholarship athletes, to beat players that were on scholarship, is really the greatest thing I took away from it all.”
Cornell started its historic run during the beginning of the 1976 season by beating Adelphi, 24-8. After those 42 straight wins, the Red lost the 1978 Championship, 13-8, to Johns Hop­kins.
[img_assist|nid=23161|title=Legendary.|desc=Bonnie McEneaney ’78, wife of deceased player Eamon McEneaney ’77, holds the 1977 National championship plaque at halftime of the Cornell-Princeton matchup.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=69]“The [game] that stands out in my mind the most was when we lost in 1978,” said Robert Katz ’78. “That was a tough one, to say the least, but I think it put everything in perspective, and I wish we could play that one over again.”
During the 42-game stretch, there was a multitude of memorable games, including a 16-13 double-overtime victory over Maryland in the 1976 NCAA Championship, which was the first time in tournament history that two undefeated teams met in the title game. Despite being down 7-2 at halftime, Cornell rallied to win.
“I remember our halftime talk about how much we loved each other,” said Daniel Mackesey ’77, who was the goaltender on the 1976 and 1977 squads. “Lo and behold we came out and won that game, and that was surely one of the great games of all time.”
Another unforgettable game was a regular season matchup in 1977 between Cornell and Johns Hopkins, in which the Red squeaked out a 12-11 win.
“There were about 18,000 people in the stands,” Mackesey said. “It was in midseason, and we were behind in that game 7-1, but we came back and won 12-11. Now, the reason we were behind in that game 7-1 was because our goalie stunk, and that was me.”
“You know how they storm the basketball courts now?” said former coach Richie Moran. “Well, picture 16,000 people coming onto the field. It was unbelievable.”
During that time period, Cornell had an immensely talented squad. In 1977, for instance, the Red had nine All-Americans and five first-team All-Ivy selections.
“Every game, [opposing teams were] gunning for you, so we couldn’t take any team lightly,” said Robert Hendrickson ’78. “We fortunately had a team where almost anybody could score.”
“Everyone came to play and brought their ‘A’ game, especially when we would travel to other places,” Kane said. “It was a hostile environment, to say the least.”
During that period, as it continues to be today, the team had a family atmosphere, and the players were very close to one another.
“We were a very spirited group, a very competitive group, but a very happy group,” Moran said. “You probably could have made a movie out of our bus trips.”
Despite the well-attended reunion, some players were not able to be present at the gathering. Eamon McEneaney ’77, a three-time first-team All-American, died in the World Trade Center on September 11, but his wife Bonnie McEneaney ’78 was able to attend Saturday’s tribute.
In the 30-year period between 1977 and the present, there have been some noticeable differences in the game of lacrosse. Many players credited the size of the current players.
“The game hasn’t really changed,” said Gary Malm ’77. “The only thing that has changed is the size of the guys out there.”
“We joke about that all the time, whether our team could actually compete with the guys who are playing now,” Katz said. “We think we could stay with them. Everyone else tells us that we wouldn’t have a chance.”
Over the years, one thing that has definitely changed is the sticks that the players use, as there has been a switch from wooden to plastic.
“In the 1970s, we used a lot of wooden sticks, although now they are using plastic, very easy to grasp,” Moran said. “I firmly believe we had better accuracy; we hit our target more. … Today, if you look at the stats, the goalies are making six saves, 10 saves. Where are those shots going?”
Without hesitation, the former players praised their current Cornell lacrosse counterparts.
“This year’s team is really special,” Malm said. “They play well together and they play as a team.”