Mikey Powell. My Favorite Athlete.
Who is the greatest lacrosse player of all time?
Everyone who loves the sport has an answer.
Was it Jim Brown?
Yes, the Jim Brown. Legendary Cleveland Browns fullback, Jim Brown also played Lacrosse during his time at Syracuse University. If you've heard the legends, you've heard about how his ability to run people changed the game. Literally. They had to change the rules because people couldn't compete.
Was it Gary Gait?
Known as the godfather of the fast paced offense, he brought style to the sport. He, with his brother Paul, introduced behind the back passing, and an electric style of play to a previously boring and overly strategic game. His 192 goals, including the "air gait", which is essentially a dunk, lead Syracuse to three straight national championships in the late 80's. His list of career achievements have their own wikipeida page. Not even kidding.
How about Paul Rabil?
Probably the face of the modern game, Paul Rabil is the LeBron James of professional lacrosse. Some love him, some hate him, but either way, you have to respect him and his wicked 111 mile an hour shot, the fastest ever recorded. Two national championships at Hopkins and helping truly spread the name of lacrosse, he has to be mentioned among the greats.
If Rabil is LeBron...
Then who's Michael Jordan?
Well... Ironically, Michael is Mikey.
And by that of course...
I mean Mikey Powell.
What makes Mikey the best? Well, his accolades read as follows...
He was a first team All-American all four seasons. He was, and remains to this day to be the only player in NCAA history to win the attackman of the year trophy all four seasons. Adding to that, he is also the only player to ever win the Tewaarton Trophy (Essentially the Heisman of College Lacrosse) twice. He is the all time leader in points at Syracuse, including 150 goals and 157 assists, and lead the Orangemen (Would be re-named the "Orange" in 2005) to three national championships, winning two.
But for me, it's more than that.
It's more than being just another legend in a long line of legends who excelled at the Carrier Dome.
It's more than being just another champion.
Mikey Powell is only 5'10.
He didn't have the height of Paul Rabil (6'3) or Gary Gait (6'2).
He wasn't 232 pounds of muscle like Jim Brown was.
And yet, he went out there, wearing that famous (or infamous if you're unfortunate enough to be a Hopkins fan) number 22 and made defenses and goalies look silly.
His ability to dodge defenders, and cut on a dime, made him impossible to cover.
And on the crease? He was brilliant. He was so shifty, so quick, that he left the most agile defenders hopelessly chasing air.
He had such a style. Passing or shooting the ball behind the back, doing flips on the field, switching hands effortlessly.
It was always obvious that defenders didn't know how to cover him, they just tried their best to contain him.
When Mikey Powell was a freshman at Syracuse, I was 8 years old.
I was an awkward kid.
I wasn't coordinated, my curly brown hair was impossible to tame, and I just couldn't seem to get any taller.
I was constantly being teased about my height, and despite my mothers insistence that I would hit this mythical growth spurt that all the other men in my family had, I felt hopeless.
So imagine my surprise when I saw this guy, this physically unremarkable guy, literally running circles around these giant athletes. It was like a light turned on for me.
He wasn't incredibly strong. He wasn't insanely fast. He wasn't remarkably tall.
He was just like me.
I realized that I wasn't limited to my height. That I wasn't less than anybody else, just because they grew up faster than I did.
Monday, May 29th, 2000. That was the day I truly learned that I could be whatever I wanted to be.
Over the next four years, my bond with Syracuse lacrosse became very strong, in fact, it's one that I hold near and dear to this day.
One year, for my birthday, I asked my mother to get me a poster of Casey Powell (Mikey's older brother), because they didn't have Mikey on the website and I wanted something, anything Syracuse to hang in my room.
So she, and my step-father, Scott left to go to Lake Placid, an annual lacrosse tournament in New York, and she said she would see what she could do.
My mother, a brilliant and caring woman, never ceases to amaze me with her ability to give heart-warming gifts without sacrificing the quality.
She chased down Mikey Powell at this event, and convinced him to not only sign a birthday card but to pose for a picture holding a sign that said, "Happy Birthday, Ryan" on it.
So firstly. My mother is better than yours. Sorry.
Secondly, the words that Mikey scribbled with his signature have stuck with me my whole life.
To this day, I don't know if my Mom mentioned that I was short, or if Mikey just wanted me, a kid he didn't know to have big dreams.
But for both reasons, the words hit me deep. Ever since, I've had big dreams for myself. Be a rock star, be a big shot lawyer... Be a successful online blogger?
But it goes back to that guy, that quick, exciting, 5'10 superstar from Syracuse.
He changed my life.
So. Are there guys who have accomplished more? Probably a couple, maybe.
Are there guys who were blessed with more physical talent? Definitely.
But did any of those guys change my life? No.
And they didn't win the Tewaarton twice either... Just saying.
A couple of years ago, I ran into Mikey at the Big City Classic, an annual set of games played at Metlife Stadium, the home of the New York Jets and Giants, and I was able to get his autograph.
And by ran into, I mean I saw him and then nervously tried to talk myself into talking to him for like 30 minutes.
And by talk to him, I mean I tried to stop my jaw from dropping long enough to get his autograph.
And by I tried to stop my jaw from dropping, I mean I nervously got his signature while avoiding eye contact and then ran away.
Yeah. I'm pretty slick.