On this week’s episode of New England Lacrosse Journal’s “Chasing The Goal” podcast, hosts Kyle Devitte and Jack Piatelli welcomed Cornell legend and NLL team owner Mike French.
French was part of the Cornell lacrosse team’s most historic run in the 1970s. Teamed with historically impactful players Eamon McEnaneany, Dan McKeasey and Bob Hendrickson, French helped Cornell go undefeated to win the NCAA championship in 1976.
He amassed 104 points that season and is currently 20th all-time in NCAA history in total points.
French went on to play professionally in various incarnations of indoor box leagues before joining the ownership ranks of the Philadelphia Wings and the New England Black Wolves. He is now an ownership partner with the Albany FireWolves and continues to be a fixture in the professional indoor lacrosse scene.
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This podcast is sponsored by the University of Nebraska High School and the NCAA. For more information on UNHS, visit highschool.nebraska.edu/nelj. For more information on the NCAA championships, visit https://www.ncaatickets.com/sport/mens-lacrosse.
Jack Piatelli: Mike, what’s so impressive to me is you didn’t play varsity your freshman year at Cornell. I had a brother who played hockey at Harvard the same time you were actually at Cornell, and I remember those days, they actually had JV teams. In 1974, you had 94 points, in ’75 you had 97 points and in ’76, you had 105 points. So you had a total of 296 career points in three seasons, which is absolutely insane.
Mike French: I had some really good teammates. You know, it was interesting because I was very fortunate to start my first varsity game and play every game from there on out. The interesting thing is that we didn’t have all the long-stick midfielders so we were playing both ways. I actually faced off a lot of times for Cornell back then.
So the game was a lot different; you didn’t have as many specialty players. The odd thing was is that we had really good players that supported me and that resulted in me obviously being successful in terms of points and all that kind of stuff. Even more interesting is that our team was really so good. We never lost an Ivy League game. You know, I think we lost a couple of games in my career. But our goal was to get out in the third quarter. And that would give all the other guys a chance to play. What it really did is it really helped to develop our team’s chemistry. So putting all the points aside, you know, if you have all the right ingredients, it makes it a lot easier.
Kyle Devitte: You lost four games in your time at Cornell, which is ridiculous even by today’s lofty standards. You mentioned that your attitude towards playing wasn’t really like, “Oh, I need to get my points.” You wanted to be with the team and you want to have the win. I think that holds true for a lot of Canadian players that make it down to the states and play in college versus some of the more flashy ‘iso’ dodging American offensive players in particular. Is that just the difference in the culture between guys that are hockey players and box players versus guys that come in and play lacrosse that play other sports in the states? Or is it something else?
Mike French: I think partly it’s because most of us play minor lacrosse, minor hockey, and it’s really not for your school; you’re playing for the community. I was sponsored by super test gas stations, you know? In your small area you play an awful lot of games. I think that there’s not as much practice per the number of games you play. And I just think that the scoring isn’t really for a lot of people. I wanted to be a team captain. You know, because that made me feel like my peers respected me and my coaches respected me. That was much more important than winning the scoring title. Much, much, much more important. There’s a lot of players that I think are like that.
You mentioned Paul and Gary (Gait) were very good friends of mine. They had a monumental impact on lacrosse as well. When we were preparing for the 1982 World Games, which were in Baltimore and I was the captain of that team, we tried to get all these schools to help us get practice time. The Canadian government was funding a lot of the cost, so we’d pay to stay and we wanted to use fields; we wanted to get an exhibition game. We couldn’t get any exhibition games, obviously in Canada, because teams didn’t want to go there. All the club teams were down here.
So, we approached Roy Simmons, and this was when Syracuse was getting stomped by Cornell by 15 goals a game — they were not a powerhouse. The long and short of it is, Coach Simmons put us up, helped arrange games for us, and was unbelievably supportive. He didn’t have any bad taste in his mouth. He wasn’t really involved with the national team. But he did that for us. And I remember Bobby Allen, who was our coach, saying, “Coach, there may come a time in the future where I’m going to pay you back.”
You know what that was? That was a phone call about these two twins who were playing in Victoria, British Columbia, and saying, “You’ve got to come, come and take a look at these two kids.” So, ultimately, Gary and Paul and then Tom Marechek — they looked at one school: Syracuse. You know, things happen for a reason, but I think a lot of the reason that Syracuse became so successful was because Roy Simmons went out of his way to help the Canadian national team.