Editor’s Note: Welcome to the first ever Deep Pockets! Please welcome the legendary Flip Naumburg to LAS! Flip will be writing a couple columns each month, where he offers up his thoughts on the game. Each post will contain modern and old school references and stories, and since Flip has seen SO much lacrosse since he picked the sport up in the 60s, each post should be better than the last! We’re excited for Flip to get up on the soapbox, and share his perspective. It may be controversial at times, but it’s always going to be honest and passionate. And that’s a promise, from both Flip and us!
Recently Connor Wilson from LaxAllStars.com approached me about doing a sort of editorial or column for the LaxAllStars web site. He called it a “Soapbox” for Flip Naumburg. I call it Deep Pockets. Connor is a friend, and truthfully he is more than a friend because he produced a documentary video about me. From the time I met him, my feeling was that Connor ‘grows the game’ of lacrosse in many great ways. We, he and I, have talked about lacrosse, the sport, the game, and the future of it on many levels. I probably did most of that ‘talking’.
HEY YOU, GET (up) ON THE BOX!
He got my attention with the “Soapbox” idea, though, no doubt. I try to think (to myself) that I am not that opinionated, but the truth is that perhaps I do ‘fit’ best standing on that soapbox, because in my life I have shown a multitude of ‘boxes’ that I do NOT fit in. I also think that if I said to someone close to me that I thought I was NOT really opinion driven, I think that person would actually burst into laughter, but, at the end of the day, philosophically, BEING RIGHT is not what I am going for. Clear observation and objective thought is the way I try to gain understanding. I also have some “My way or the Highway” thoughts always lurking.
So Connor says the first post (this one) should be an “intro post”. Well, I love to write, but when it is all about ME, I admit that I get some big time ‘writer’s block’. I will try. Here are a collection of short stories that begin to explain who I am, or at least, who I think I am!
I THINK THAT I DID NOT FIND LACROSSE, but rather, lacrosse found me.
I fell in love with lacrosse a long time ago. I started later in life, but I think I had a stick by the ninth grade or so even though my first love every spring was still baseball. When I first saw lacrosse being played I think I couldn’t take my eyes off the field. The game had all the speed and excitement anyone (me, for example) could want. Lots of goals were scored, but still ‘they’ played intense defense, too. Violence was there to be had by all, not just big dudes.
There was a time when I played baseball and I also carried a (wooden) lacrosse stick that my lacrosse-playing friend hooked me up with. I took it everywhere I went. You really had to pick them (sticks) out back then (in the 1960’s) carefully. They (sticks) really were all different. I found myself playing around with the solid rubber ball and my lax buddies more and more, and I loved to watch lacrosse games A LOT. The ‘team’ part of the game seemed so critical to success and that definitely pushed a button for me. So many different sorts of roles were there for different kinds of players. I was drawn, too, by the fact that really any position on the field had major star possibility in any given game.
How cool is that?
NEVER FORGET YOUR FIRST ‘FAMILY’
I made it all the way to DIII lacrosse in college, at Colorado College, and truthfully that was perfect in my mind. I wanted to play intercollegiate sports in college. I had to. I got my degree, but I majored in lacrosse for sure, and just as surely with a minor in ‘Family’. I actually majored in Anthropology, and I guess it is ironic that I learned more about the power of family being a part of lacrosse ‘family’ than I did studying cultural lineages and other, more real anthropological family science.
HEY, DOC (Doc Stabler, that is)
I fell for the whole stick thing quickly as well, as I always liked crafting stuff. Pockets just pushed my buttons. I had pocket passion, and I was lucky in college because my coach, Doc Stabler, had all the lacrosse sticks left over from the 19th century I think, so being in his basement was a bit like being in Utopia for me, albeit it all cat gut and leather and wood, things that no longer exist. I started Rock-it Pocket in 1987, but I started learning in Doc’s office in the 70’s, surrounded by his boa constrictors and gila monsters.
The first of my lacrosse patents was issued in 1990. Later, Warrior approached me to design the first head for that new company that was just stressing out Brine and STX, the two companies who had their own way for a long time in lacrosse. Warrior was the young ‘bully’ who showed up in the early nineties. I’m all in (or was), and I have been a part of R&D in lacrosse with a few different companies over the years.
One of the first things I did upon college graduation was to build a monster stick out of wood that was exactly (more or less) 4/1 scale of a lacrosse stick and you could sit in it, a chair. It took a lot of sand paper, but stringing it at the end while lying on my back on the cool concrete floor was one of the great joys of my life.
BYE BYE, BIRDIE
I drove off more than one girlfriend with my (too much) passion for the game. Andrew (teammate) and I could send all our friends off to the bars as we would talk pockets and sticks well into the night. I carried my lacrosse stick on airplanes and tossed them in the overhead until I was like 35, and that was before you weren’t allowed to do something that might resemble terrorist activities. Now it’s “I have an artificial knee and I’m wearing suspenders”, and they pull me over and pat me down every time.
JUST SAY VAIL or EIGHT DAYS AT 8000 Feet
Perhaps my greatest lacrosse good fortune might have been to have, at a very young age, stumbled upon the responsibility of organizing and orchestrating the Vail Lacrosse Shootout summer tournament every year since 1973.
Plastic heads and the Vail Shootout are right next to each other on the lacrosse history timeline. We did not run the tournament early on as much as it just grew and needed to be tended. Along with my best friend for life and my teammate in college, Jim Soran, I/we loved uniting a Rocky Mountain setting with some of the best players and teams in the world. It grew, the staff grew, too.
I had opportunity to pick the brains of the best players in the world every fourth of July week because they were all right there next to me, in Vail. It helped me as a player and as a coach. Teams from Long Island did not play the same as teams from Baltimore, and neither did the individual players. I lived for and played ‘Masters’ stuff until almost 50, but that is another story.
I started coaching at CC right where I was right after graduation, and I coached here and there for a whole lot of years, most of my life, and mostly at the college Men’s level. I was at Pepperdine and UCSB early on. I also coached JV High school. The longest stretch was the 15 years or so that I spent at Colorado State in the MCLA. In eight years we brought home 4 MCLA National Championships to Fort Collins.
TELL IT TO THE JUDGE
From 1999 until 2006 at CSU we played in every single championship final game that was held in Division I of the MCLA, except for 2005. In 2005 we had the number one seed going into the tournament in Minnesota. That would be #1. It was perhaps our most talented team of that era, if not the easiest to coach. I withdrew us, or should I say I chose not to fight an academic blunder that we made that made us ineligible.
There are two academic checks during the lacrosse season in college. Players have to carry 12 hours of class for both checks. We made the first in March, but on the second one in late April there were two red lines. Two players had dropped classes and were below 12.. They know and knew better. If it had been the one, I would have fought it, and everyone knows we would have been allowed to compete. I chose to withdraw the team. Why? Because the other one of the two was one of our captains, and I am sorry but that will not do. I am big on leadership. So, I could say that we (should have) made eight straight finals appearances, winning four (maybe 5), but I do not care about that stuff (numbers).
If I had it to do again I would do the same thing. Some players weren’t happy with me after 2005. Some parents weren’t happy with me. Two really good players (at least) left CSU, and one of them actually transferred back to Division I. I think he still loves me, though. It seems harsh, but I felt I had to do it, so I did it.
I might not have gone through all that if it weren’t for the fact that they came back, and the so-called CSU “Vindication Tour” of 2006 showed perhaps the best overall leadership that we ever had and I do not mean just the captains. There was no lingering lamenting for 2005 as 2006 approached. There was new business at hand. There was balance in the leading (older guys) and the following (younger ones). They could always find their balance as a team.
We were committed and versatile so when something got a little broke it got a lot fixed more often than not. They truly did band like brothers and they won the National Championship like it was their job and they had fun together earning it, every step. I think that is how it is supposed to be. It was not easy, even in the last game, when we trailed by two with just a couple of minutes left. We had always been ‘there’ in that last game. CU had never been to a final. They were hungry, but even that close to the guillotine the Rammies snatched it away and really there wasn’t drama because it just happened very quickly, without hurry. We dressed in black in 2006. We never wore black before, and have not since.
AAARRGHH! Deep Pockets Ahead
When I was coaching at Colorado State my journal was pretty much live, on line and constantly changing, a vibrant part of not only our team family, but I think lots of other teams were reading as well because it was on line. Lots of fun when I started to get letters from BYU wives, and they started calling us the ‘Pirates’ and we (CSU) ate it up like chocolate soufflé. It was amusing to say the least. At some later point I was informed that what I had been doing all those years (writing down what I think, but on line) was
actually something new, and it had a name, and it be “Blogging”.
I did not know I was a blogger until I already was one. Then I started looking at all these ‘blogs’ out there, and I realized that it is NOT what I do or did, so I do not know what to call this, but I do indeed think about it before I push ‘send’, you can be sure. At any rate I am just excited that someone wants me to write, so Connor, I accept this Deep Pockets challenge and I will try to do you proud even though I just rant and rave, and at times that is indeed not that pretty!