A column in the June 1 Sports section gave the incorrect attendance figure for the NCAA lacrosse final Monday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The attendance was 43,898. (Published 6/2/04)
A young Marine led the Midshipmen onto the field, waving the American flag more passionately than any male cheerleader charged with revving a university. Thousands of "Go Navy" yellow rain slickers stood in unison, some whispering "mission" and "destiny" in the intermittent rain.
If the afternoon was splotchy and gray at M&T Bank Stadium, the plot was not:
Hometown Middies and Patriotism -- Good.
Syracuse and Foreign Aggression -- Evil.
"I don't like being the bad guy," Michael Powell confessed after the Orange had come back to nudge Navy and win its eighth NCAA lacrosse championship Monday afternoon. "I'm used to being cheered."
The largest non-men's basketball gathering in the history of the NCAA championships -- 48,398 -- witnessed 10 ties, five lead changes and frenzied, bang-bang action on both ends. Ultimately, they watched Powell, the tournament's most outstanding player, weather a rough start before putting Navy away in the final moments of a taut thriller.
He had five assists, three fewer than the entire Navy team. He had the eventual game-winning goal with a minute left. Blame Powell, that diminutive stick-and-ball senior, for ruining one of the more endearing sports stories of the spring -- the one about an American military academy trying to claim its first NCAA title in 40 years, in a stadium up the road from Annapolis.
On Memorial Day.
Powell had to understand what this meant to all those lacrosse lifers serving overseas, hooked-up via satellite on their aircraft carriers.
"Some people took it a little too far," Powell said.
So, the final wasn't Syracuse 14, Allied Coalition 13?
"We weren't playing to beat our country. We weren't playing to beat the Naval Academy. We didn't view it as something unpatriotic. We viewed it as a national championship game."
Don't you just hate kids who see the forest through the hyperbole better than the adults?
Powell was trying to say there is sports and there is life, and to draw any great parallels further than that cheapens the event. Some of the Navy players will undoubtedly end up in the Middle East on battleships in the months and years to come, and their bid to win will be looked back on fondly.
But Stars & Stripes aside, this was about a riveting lacrosse game that brought the stadium to its feet for much of the second half. It had Powell, flinging passes on the nubs of his teammates' sticks.
It had Navy forging ahead 12-11 with 5 minutes 40 seconds left, on a goal by a guy named Clipper Lennon, who had scored but three goals all season. It had the Navy goalie, Matt Russell, somehow playing with a separated shoulder until the pain became so great he walked to the sideline to have it popped back in place. The last eight minutes, freshman Colin Finnegan took over for him and tried to stave off that relentless Orange attack.
Powell tied the game at 12 with 3:37 left, finding his best friend Brian Nee in a seam right of the goal crease. First Powell tried a rush at the right side, then went back toward midfield, circling like a point guard settling down the offense. He feinted left and found Nee, who flung it past Finnegan, a plebe who had not played since April.
Nee returned the favor with a minute left, finding Powell for his 47th goal of the season. When Ian Dingman scored 20 seconds later for Navy, the crowd rose again. But within seconds, the yellow-slickered mass began to sense the Midshipmen's wild run was over.
Powell portrayed the villain well, using a three-inch radius around his eyes to cake on eye-black, that nasty substance athletes use to block out the sun.
Powell simply wanted to look meaner than his 5-foot-10, 165-pound frame, which is slight for Division I. Either that, or he really admires Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson.
He walked into the postgame news conference with strawberries all over his elbows and forearms, resembling a grimy mechanic who came up for air in between oil changes.
He comes from good stick-and-ball stock. His two brothers, Ryan and Casey, were Syracuse all-Americans before him. At halftime, Powell became only the fourth player in lacrosse history named first team all-American for a fourth straight time, which is two more years than a former 'Cuse midfielder named Jim Brown (1956-57).
How's this for disturbing Mids symmetry: The last time Navy advanced to the title game in 1975, the Midshipmen also beat Penn and Cornell and lost in the title game in Baltimore to a team with a four-time first-team all-American -- Maryland's Frank Urso.
Unlike Urso, Powell was the aggressor from the north, part of that Big Orange Machine, sticking it to the Mids and everyone else in American lacrosse. Again.
Eight national championships, 22 straight Final Fours.
Even John Desko, the Syracuse coach, said half of him was pulling for the Midshipmen, who had gone 6-7 the year before.
"Coming into the game, we had three things working against us," Powell said. "One. We were playing in Maryland. Two. We beat Johns Hopkins in the semifinals. And Three. We were playing against Navy."
Up the road from Annapolis.
On Memorial Day -- the day the four-time all-American and his team flipped the script.
"To end my career, scoring the winning goal in the national championship game," Powell began, "I mean, Hollywood should buy that."
No offense, kid, but the Mids might pass.