By Joe Santoliquito
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 9/21/19
Matt Rambo was almost as exhausted from all the handshakes and the pats on the back as he was playing. His hands were cramping from the myriad autographs that he signed, yet, he waded into a pile of kids awaiting their hero outside the Whipsnakes’ dressing room at Talen Energy Field in Chester and signed more.
It took Rambo nearly an hour to get off the field on Saturday afternoon.
But once he was free of the fans, and the cameras, and the jutting digital tape recorders in his face, Rambo blasted out a guttural scream as he entered the mouth of his team’s dressing room hallway, “This is what I waited for! Let’s go!”
Upon entering the dressing room, the former La Salle College High School and Maryland star was welcomed with teammates’ chants of “MVP, MVP, MVP, MVP” and doused with flying suds of beer.
That’s what happens when you’re the star and you do things that stars are expected to do. It’s a rarity, regardless of the sport.
In the inaugural Premier Lacrosse League championship, Rambo scored the final two goals of the game, including the overtime game-winner that enabled the Whipsnakes to a 12-11 sudden-death victory over the Redwoods.
“I didn’t even know it went in, I really don’t remember it,” said Rambo, whose Whipsnakes staved off a late Redwoods challenge in which they came back from a 9-2 deficit.
“When (the Redwoods) came back, there was no doubting on our sideline. Everyone believed we would do it. I mean everyone. My guys believed in me and gave me that chance. When you’re in that situation, you have no other choice but to deliver. I love being placed in those spots.”
Rambo, who was named the inaugural Jim Brown Most Valuable Player of the PLL and is a recipient of the prestigious Tewaaraton Award for NCAA champion Maryland in 2017, pulled off a trifecta of sorts by being named PLL Attackman of the Year and the PLL championship MVP.
Rambo, also an assistant coach at Springside Chestnut Hill Academy and a former Duke’s LC standout, finished with a game-high six points on three goals and three assists in the title game.
“This was a great experience,” Rambo said. “I think what makes it even better is that came here, at home. When this (PLL) started, no one really knew what to expect. But the crowd was great and they saw a great game.
“Paul and Mike Rabil did an amazing job with this league this year. This championship game shows how serious we all took it and how important it was to win.”
On the opposite side of that was former Springfield-Delco and Penn State star Greg Gurenlian. He won 13 of 23 faceoffs and scooped eight groundballs and played a huge role in the Redwoods’ comeback.
“When these teams were created, that was the intention, to get guys that were already rivals,” said Gurenlian, who’s in his mid-30s and was built better than anyone on the field. “Hey, I’m here going up against guys that I’m 10, 12 years old than and I’m okay with throwing my body around.
“If you don’t give everything you have, it’s not going to be a fair fight. I don’t know any other way to play. I may try (playing in the PLL) again next year. I’ll have to ask my wife. I love it. This was a great game and it was a great way to end it.”
Gurenlian, known as “Beast,” had “retired” from the sport a year ago after his final Major League Lacrosse season – but convinced his wife to allow him to play another year with the new PLL.
“The misconception is that this was a glorified beer league and it wasn’t,” he said. “We took this game as serious as any professional athlete. Just look at the reaction of the guys who won this game and the guys who lost it.”