Make no mistake about it, Paul Rabil bleeds Ravens purple. But there were some times last weekend during the Ravens-Patriots AFC Championship Game that one of the most prolific talents in lacrosse today had a twinge for at least one close friend on the Patriots sideline.
How can one of the most storied players in the history of lacrosse in Baltimore history, leading Johns Hopkins to an NCAA title, think such things? Well, when you play half your season -- the outdoor half -- in Boston and count Pats coach, mega lacrosse fan and longtime Annapolis resident Bill Belichick as a friend and mentor, your loyalties can be a little divided, at least for a few minutes on a football Sunday -- but not for long.
"I am ecstatic for the city and for what this means not just to all the athletes who play here but for the shopkeepers, the vendors, the fans who are so good to all of us who have played at a high level in Baltimore," Rabil said this week while on his way to a University of Maryland hoops game. "This is such a hardworking town, and you see how much the players like Ray Lewis and the Ravens and what the Orioles resurgence means, and you have to be proud to be at least part of that tradition, it is great to be in the city even though I don't play here professionally right now."
Rabil, one of the most decorated players in the history of lacrosse (he was named 2012 MLL Offensive Player of the Year after setting the league’s single-season point record, scoring 72 points in 14 games and is one of three players in lacrosse to have won an MLL, NLL, World Championship, and Division 1 Championship in his career) is spending his first full indoor season as a member of the Philadelphia Wings.
However, he still returns home to Maryland during the week to help run his foundation and tend to his other business ventures which have helped make him the new face of the fastest growing sport in North America.
Part of that success in lacrosse has brought him to Boston for summers outdoors and got to have him spend some time around the Patriots and their coach, another man passionate about lacrosse from his younger days when his father was coaching at Navy.
"Coach Belichick has been a friend and a mentor for me for years and what he has achieved in his career is very special, so I always have nothing but the best thoughts for him," Rabil added. "However as athletes we know where to draw that line in competition, and that spirit of competition, especially at the level the Pats and the Ravens were playing at last Sunday, is what we all aspire to as athletes. End of the day, I couldn't be happier for Baltimore and its fans and like all of them, I can't wait for Super Bowl Sunday."
As a sport, professional lacrosse is still looking to break through in the mainstream at the professional level with both the indoor and outdoor games.
At the grassroots the game, for both boys and girls, is seeing unprecedented growth outside of its traditional home in the Mid-Atlantic states, with more and more high schools, clubs and now colleges adding programs in the Midwest and the Rocky Mountain states.
The sport has had some crossover stars in the '90's, but none who could deliver a fan base that loves the buzz and will be drawn into the game.
Many feel Rabil, with his socially conscious style, amazing athletic skill, strong business savvy, and rugged good looks could be that guy, and his endorsements, which make him the sports' first million dollar athlete, seem to bear that out.
Be that as it may, right now he is content playing in Philly, spending weeks when not practising in the Capitol district and rooting for the Ravens.
"You see how they have captured the city with their strong work ethic, everyone is drawn to them, from elite athletes like Michael Phelps to the guy on the corner," he added. "They embody this city and as an athlete, they help me push myself to be great as well."
It's a fun time to be in the city, even for one of its legendary but still rising young athletes who first tasted success there and now watched the goings-on very closely, even from rival cities like Philly and Boston.
Friendship with a legendary coach is one thing; remembering your roots is another.