National Lacrosse League (1974-1975)
Born: February 11, 1974 – NLL founding franchise.
Died: February 1976 – The NLL ceases operations.
Arena: The Spectrum (17,007)
The Philadelphia Wings were one of the founding franchises in the National Lacrosse League (1974-1975), a mid-1970’s attempt to introduce the sport of box lacrosse to major arenas in the Northeastern United States and Eastern Canada.
The original six clubs were the Maryland Arrows, Montreal Quebecois, Philadelphia, Rochester Griffins, Syracuse Stingers and Toronto Tomahawks. Teams played a 40-game summer schedule between May and September 1974.
Culturally, the sport of box lacrosse shared a lot of DNA with ice hockey. Many Canadian players of the era also had experience playing lacrosse and several NHL players moonlighted in the National Lacrosse League to make extra cash during the summer. Wings forward Doug Favell was a goaltender for the Toronto Maple Leafs during the winter (and a former Philadelphia Flyer).
The NLL also attracted NHL owners and investors with NHL connections. Detroit Red Wings owner Bruce Norris owned the Toronto franchise. Wings owner Ed Tepper, a local real estate developer, was a personal friend of Flyers owner Ed Snider.
The Wings debuted in Philadelphia in remarkable fashion on Sunday night, May 19th, 1974. The Philadelphia Flyers beat the Boston Bruins that afternoon at the Spectrum to capture the Stanley Cup. While the city celebrated, stadium workers hurriedly flipped the building, laying the NLL”s wooden court over the ice for the Wings game that same night. Wings players made their way through the revelers out on the streets to get to the arena. But the lacrosse team was hardly an afterthought. An announced crowd of 12,841 turned out to watch the Wings beat the Montreal Quebecois 18-11.
Philadelphia put up the best record in the NLL in 1974, finishing the regular season at 27-13. They were also the most popular box office draw, claiming just under 9,000 fans per game. Larry Lloyd (82 goals) and John Grant (78 goals) finished #3 and #4 in the league in scoring, respectively. In a mild upset, the Wings lost the best-of-seven Nations Trophy championship series to the 2nd place Rochester Griffins in September 1974.
After the 1974 inaugural season, three of the NLL’s original six franchise shifted cities and the league was unable to attract new expansion teams, despite Wings’ owner Ed Tepper’s public pronouncement in January 1975 that the league expected to add new clubs in Cincinnati, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Kansas City. Philadelphia remained as one of the league’s few stable franchises.
The team itself was a disappointment in 1975, finishing in 5th place and out of the playoffs with a 21-25-2 record. Following the season, the NLL’s Boston, Long Island and Montreal ran into financial and arena problems. With only the Wings, the Maryland Arrows and the Quebec Caribous prepared to continue, and no expansion prospects in sight, the National Lacrosse League folded in February 1976, almost two years to the day after its formation was first announced.
In 1987, professional box lacrosse returned to the American sports scene with the debut of Eagle Pro Box Lacrosse. Among the league’s four teams was a Philadelphia club, which chose to revive the Wings brand name. The “new” Wings still exist to this day after more than a quarter century of play. They are the longest continuously operating pro lacrosse team in American history. One player – John Grant Sr. – returned from the original Wings of the 1970’s to see action for the new Wings. In later years, his son John Grant Jr.would also come to star for the Wings.
==Philadelphia Wings Games on Fun While It Lasted==
|1974||8/13/1974||@ Montreal Quebecois||??||Program|
|1975||4/12/1975||vs. Maryland Arrows||??||Program|