Jim Brown’s reputation as Superman in a football suit has never been equaled at Syracuse University for the past three decades—except perhaps by his equally extravagant reputation as possibly the greatest college lacrosse player ever. No one, experts said until recently, could ever compare on the lacrosse field with the onetime Cleveland Brown running back, an intimidating combination of power, speed and elusiveness. Now someone has—two some-ones, in fact. Gary and Paul Gait, 23, identical twin midfielders for this season’s undefeated Syracuse Orangemen, have been tagged the greatest lacrosse players ever, with no apologies to their illustrious predecessor.
As the NCAA championship play-offs begin this week, Syracuse, which has lost only one regular-season game in three years, is favored to take its third-straight national championship, thanks largely to the sensational Gait brothers. Gary, a three-time Ail-American, has scored 49 points (31 goals, 18 assists) this season and may break the national record of 193 career goals. Paul, twice an All-American, has racked up 51 points, including 27 assists, many of those dished off to Gary. Says Syracuse coach Roy Simmons Jr.: “We may run into a team that has one superior athlete who can try to match one of them, but we’re never going to run into anybody who has two players that great. They are a coach’s dream.”
Occasionally they have played so remarkably that even fans may have thought they were dreaming. Onlookers still marvel about the aerial maneuver known as Air Gait. In an NCAA play-off game against Penn two years ago, Gary looped around behind the six-fool-high goal and launched himself into the air, slung his stick over the goal and stuffed the ball into the front of the net. An eerie hush fell over the crowd. “They were all a little stunned,” recalls Gary. “I was wondering what was going on. The crowd had turned around to look at the replay in the press box.” Until recently, the only player ever to duplicate that shot is his twin, who did it against St. John’s this season.
The youngest of four children of Fred Gait, a building-supplies manager, and his wife, Diane, a secretary, the Gait boys started playing the Canadian version of lacrosse at age 4 in their hometown of Brentwood Bay, British Columbia. They were inseparable, and their mother remembers only one serious brawl, when they were 12. “I was told it was over a girl,” says Diane, who was divorced from the boys’ father in 1985, “but Paul says it was over a pool game. They had a big bout in the bathroom downstairs. We heard all this banging and there was blood everywhere. I made them clean it up.”
In 1984 the Gaits tried out for the Canadian national lacrosse team. Though they didn’t make it, the coach was so impressed he contacted his friend Simmons about the boys. Simmons vigorously courted the twins, and they were starting by the end of their freshman year at Syracuse; when the team lost to Cornell in the NCAA tournament that year, the Gaits felt responsible. “Gary came to me after the game and said, ‘I guess when you talked about the national championship, it didn’t hit us like the rest of team,’ ” says Simmons, now in his 20th season at Syracuse. ” ‘We see now, Coach, that it is a big deal and we’ll never let you down again.’ ” And they haven’t.
After graduation next year, the Gaits, marketing majors with an instructional lacrosse tape due out next month, may pass up the American pros, who pay a meager $200 a game, and go to work for a lacrosse equipment manufacturer in the U.S or Canada. Last August, Paul married Cathleen, 22, a waitress with whom he had been living, and Gary has a serious girlfriend, Nicole, 24, a flight attendant for Canadian Airlines International Ltd. But though they will maintain separate households, the twins plan to remain close to each other. “Paul tells me when I’m doing something wrong,” says Gary. “Then I’ve really got to think, because when he starts telling me something, I know there’s a problem….”
“And vice versa,” says Paul, giving his twin an assist—as usual.