The last professional athlete I will ever look up to retired today. Don't get me wrong, there are still some that I respect for what they do on and off the field, but John Tavares is the last athlete I adored as a fan before working in sports media.
John Tavares was a superstar on the lacrosse field without really looking like one. He didn't have the size or the speed, but he still managed to do amazing things when the ball was on a stick. Whether it was the behind the back goal that he scored to win the 1992 MILL Championship or the hidden ball trick he used to score in the 2008 NLL Championship, Tavares's awareness on the field is unmatched.
The only thing more remarkable than his skills was the longevity of his career. Tavares played 24 seasons in the National Lacrosse League, all with the Bandits. That is every season of the team's existence dating back to their inaugural year in 1992. During most of that time he also played every summer in Ontario in small arenas with concrete floors. That is about 20 years of playing indoor lacrosse from January through August, and the physical toll that comes with it.
We already know that Tavares's number 11 will hang in the rafters of the First Niagara Center, joining two of his teammates from those early championship teams. It will also share the rafters with another famous number 11 in Buffalo sports history, Gilbert Perreault.
I think Tavares deserves another tribute from the organization he spent 24 seasons playing for. A statue in the plaza outside the arena to remind fans of the nights Memorial Auditorium would shake from the noise during that 22-game winning streak during the early years or when 18,000-plus would scream his last name when prompted with the question, "Johnny Who?"
Banditland will, at least, still be able to see their hero on game nights this year. Tavares will just be standing behind the bench instead of sitting on it as he joins Troy Cordingley's staff. The offensive coaching position became open about a month ago when Dan Teat informed the Bandits he wanted to spend more time with his family. Now the man who teaches math to students in Oakville, Ontario will be teaching men the game he knows so well.