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Rochester Griffins - Forgotten Teams of Lacrosse History
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Rochester Griffins – Forgotten Teams of Lacrosse History

Rochester Griffins: We Hardly Knew Ye

They were the champs, then they were gone. After the inaugural season of NLL action in 1974, the Rochester Griffins were World Champs. Through the season, they were at the bottom of the league in attendance and interest. Owned in majority by Pittsburgh Penguins operators Tad and Tom Potter and led on the floor by Buffalo Sabres winger Rick Dudley, the original team had a heavy NHL influence.

Alongside Potter, local professional soccer team owner John Petrossi of the Rochester Lancers would serve as minority owner. The group focused on Rochester as a home location for the team citing the lack of exposure to field lacrosse in Pittsburgh compared to Rochester and its surrounding areas. [1]

In its home debut against the Syracuse Stingers a crowd swelled over 6,000 for a Griffins win. Like the neighboring Stingers, crowds dwindled through the 40 game season. By the time the playoffs rolled around, the attendance was falling below 1,000. Reports from the time accuse the lack of community engagement as the reason for the decline in attention. With a Canadian-focused roster, the team trained north of the border and allegedly were only in Rochester for games.

Out of the Rochester Griffins existence came one of the greatest box lacrosse descriptions of all-time.

“The box game combines the best features of outdoor field lacrosse with elements of basketball, hockey, soccer and thermonuclear holocaust.” – Ron Reid of Sports Illustrated, covering the 1974 NLL championship series between the Rochester Griffins and Philadelphia Wings. [2]

The Griffins finished the inaugural season 22-17-1, 8-4 in the playoffs, to earn a spot in the seven game title series with the Philadelphia Wings. Griffins would close out the finale with the Wings after six games. You can watch the full game for yourself below.

Although Dudley was the star of show, scoring a team-high 81 goals with 28 assists and a whopping 181 penalty minutes in the 28 games he played, he wasn’t alone on the floor. The roster included six national hall of fame inductees, including offensive weapons Jan Magee (49g, 56a), Kevin Parsons (53g, 70a), Dave Wilfong (78g, 38a), six-time Team Canada defenseman Tom Phair on the backend, American lacrosse legend Bill Tierney for eight games, and six-time Minto Cup champion Merv Marshall in net. Marshall was not only known as one of the best ball stoppers of his era, but also as an offensive threat. In more mobile equipment than today’s goaltenders, Marshall (65a) was known to push the ball in transition with his teammates. Brian Wilson (40g, 74a) was another hot stick for the Griffins helping to lead their run-and-gun offense. 

Another Canadian Lacrosse Association Hall of Famer led the team behind the bend. With experience as a founder of the Ontario Lacrosse Association, Morley Kells helped establish the NLL and lent his hand as a coach for the Griffins. The accomplished lacrosse player found himself in a role as creative director for Hockey Night in Canada before focusing on lacrosse for a matter of years. After a tremendous contribution to the game through his service, Kells turned to a career in politics. Kells was twice a Progressive Conservative member of the Legislative Assembly of Ontario from 1981 to 1985 and from 1995 to 2003. He was inducted into the CLA HOF in 1976.

After the first season the operation was packaged up and sent south to become the Long Island Tomahawks. The Potters sold the Griffins to Detroit Red Wings owner Bruce Norris who envisioned Long Island as a proper market for box lacrosse.

Rochester Griffins Roster – 1974

  • Barry Bartlett
  • Rick Bisson
  • Brian Bowman
  • Gomer Conner
  • Rick Dudley
  • Bill Foote
  • Graeme Gair
  • Al Gordaneer
  • Charlie Henderson
  • Bill Hoculik
  • Ted Howe, Jr. – CLA HOF
  • Brian Keegan
  • Carl Krebbs
  • Jan Magee – CLA HOF
  • Merv Marshall – ON HOF
  • Larry McCormick
  • Glen Neuman
  • Kevin Parsons – CLA HOF
  • Tom Phair – CLA HOF
  • Len Powers
  • Ray Rostan – IMLCA HOF
  • Bill Tierney – USL HOF
  • Joe Timpson
  • Gary Van Shagen
  • Paul Warden
  • Dave Wilfong – CLA HOF
  • Brian Wilson

Rochester Griffins: Lacrosse History

Via Justin Skaggs,

Hey guys, Justin Skaggs here. Lead stick maker at Skaggs Wood Works and curator of I’ve been collaborating with Lacrosse All Stars to bring out some limited edition old-school NLL designs. These are teams that don’t exist anymore. And today, we’re going to give you the Rochester Griffins.

This is Lacrosse History.

The debut of the NLL happened in the summer of 1974. There was a significantly lower amount of teams than what we’re used to today, and unfortunately, most of them didn’t survive. Some of them didn’t even survive the initial season, such is the tale for the Rochester Griffins. This fact is made even more interesting because they actually won the championship. They beat the Philadelphia Wings in Game 6, which, by the way, we actually found that game on YouTube, so we’re gonna put the link (above).

So, even though they won everything, they still failed to bring in the crowd that kind of justified their existence for Tad and Tom Potter, who owned the team at the time. The Potters owned the Pittsburgh Penguins, and they were already talking about moving the team before the season closes out. But, the Potters sold their vested interest to the Red Wings, so the Red Wings were like, “no brainer, we have to move this team and get a bigger crowd,” so they moved the team to Long Island, where it was rebranded, and the championship Griffins, who only got to play one single season, were no more.

I wanna bring this back real quick and tell everybody to watch that game, because I found it online and ended up sitting down for an hour and a half and watching the whole thing. John Grant, Sr. (Philly) is in that game, you can hear his name every five seconds. It’s a real blast, and also, I really love this project. We have a bunch of videos on the history of lacrosse, specifically box lacrosse, and we go through the NLL quite a bit, so if you want to learn more about that, I suggest you check out our previous Lax History videos.

Credit [1] and [2] for digitizing the game’s history to share with the community. For more on the Rochester Griffins and the teams of lacrosse’s past, dive into their archives