In spite of our lack of championships, Buffalo’s major league sports teams have seen some of the top athletes in the world wear our uniforms – Jim Kelly, Bruce Smith, Pat LaFontaine, Chris Drury, and most recently, Terrell Owens. However, there is a major-league team in an up-and-coming sport that has brought a championship to Buffalo – actually, the team has brought us four. The Buffalo Bandits are the local entry into the National Lacrosse League (NLL), and the all-time best player in the NLL is Buffalo’s own John Tavares.
Talent runs in the Tavares family: his nephew, the other John Tavares, was the number one overall pick in the 2009 National Hockey League Entry Draft, going to the New York Islanders. The younger Tavares credits his uncle with helping him develop many of his skills, both on and off the ice.
Tavares has played his entire career with the Bandits, having been acquired in a trade in October 1991 in which the Bandits sent Brian Nikula to the Detroit Turbos (of the then-Major Indoor Lacrosse League) for the Bandits’ inaugural season in 1992. The Toronto native wears #11 for the Bandits, a number made famous here by another career-long Buffalo athlete, Sabre Gilbert Perreault.
Tavares owns the three major regular-season scoring records in the NLL: goals (671), assists (749), and points (1,420), scored in 226 career games (as of 2009). He was the first player in NLL history to have 500 goals and 500 assists, and in 2009, at age 40, shared the league lead for regular-season goals with teammate Mark Steenhuis (51).
While all these statistics prove that Tavares is an awesome athlete, he’s more than that to us fans. In these days of highly-paid athletes, which Tavares would be if he excelled at football or baseball for example, lacrosse players really do play for the love of the game: as an up-and-coming league with little revenue from an all-important TV contract, players are not paid much, causing the players to have additional full-time jobs (Tavares is a math teacher at a Catholic school in Mississauga, Ontario); they also have to pay out of their own pockets to get to games and practices as many live out of town. Most importantly for the fans, Bandit players are often found at downtown restaurants after games, socializing with fans, and are some of the most personable athletes you’ll ever meet – probably because they’re just like us.
I remember being in college, working for a local grocery chain, when I found out our superstar lacrosse player (Tavares) was doing the exact same thing. That put the game – and the player – in a new light for me, and it still helps me identify with this sport more than any other.
Sources: John Tavares (lacrosse),” wikipedia.org “NLL Stats: John Tavares,” nll.com