Shawn Williams is closing in on the NLL's all-time record for consecutive games played.
It takes a special player to be an ironman in the National Lacrosse League. During this current season, we’ve now seen one of the game’s best players tie the all-time regular season consecutive games played streak, only to suffer and injury and see his streak end one game shy of a new record. All the while, another veteran player quietly pursues the record, one game at a time, and just seven games from setting the new mark.
Barring an unforeseen circumstance, Shawn Williams’ name will be mentioned in the same breath as Cal Ripken Jr. and Brett Favre sometime later this year. With a string of 182 straight NLL regular season games under his belt, Williams is heading toward the NLL’s ironman mark for consecutive games played, a record currently shared by Colin Doyle and Steve Toll at 188.
Doyle could have continued his streak had it not been for a lower body injury suffered against Rochester on Friday that kept him from playing on back-to-back nights with a flight from Toronto to Calgary in between. More on how he spent Saturday in a moment.
Instead, that’s opened the door for the player known to his Edmonton Rush teammates as “Willy” – a 15-year NLL veteran and six-time All-Star - to reach the mark.
Williams said he wasn’t aware of Doyle’s absence at first when he arrived in Seattle on Saturday for the Rush game with the Washington Stealth. Then came the call.
“I just got off the plane when I got a call from my wife. She was the first to mention Doyle was out,” Williams said. “I knew it must have been bad.”
On Saturday night, Williams will lead the Rush into Pepsi Center for a matchup with the unbeaten Colorado Mammoth. Should he keep adding to the streak, Williams would tie the ironman record on March 10 in Calgary and break it one week later in Philadelphia.
Not that he’s looking ahead, mind you.
“I don’t think about the record,” said the 37-year-old Williams, whose run nearly ended in 2010. He suffered a broken arm during the summer and wasn’t cleared to play until four of five days before the first game of the 2011 NLL season in January. He missed all of camp save for the last practice – and was in the lineup on opening night.
However, he had one goal: Walking out on the field for his 14th straight season opener.
“I had my heart and head set on getting back for the first game,” said Williams, a physical education teacher in Whitby, Ontario, when he’s not playing the indoor game. “If you don’t have the bumps and bruises, you don’t feel like you’re in the game.”
Should he become the NLL’s ironman, it would simply be another milestone for Williams, something he’s become quite accustomed to reaching in 2012. Williams scored his 400th career goal in Edmonton’s 16-5 rout of Washington last Saturday. That’s left him 16 points shy of becoming the second player this season and sixth in league history to reach 1,000 for his career.
“I’ve been lucky. Lucky and fortunate,” said Williams.
Heading into last weekend’s action, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Doyle would add the title of ironman to a career that’s seen him win six championships, score more than 1,100 points in the regular season and 110 more in the playoffs. Doyle indicated he could have given it a go if he had to.
“If it was a playoff game I could have gone,” Doyle said.
For the first time since the 2000 season opener, Doyle was out of action and not sure what to do with himself. On Saturday he shifted from the role of team captain to that of a fan in front of his television – an admittedly difficult transition.
“It was first time I’ve ever watched a Rock game at home and it was tough, but the guys put on quite a show,” he said of Toronto’s 14-13 overtime win. “Seeing them battle but not being part of it was pretty tough. This was quite a different experience for me. Thank God for TSN and HD”, he said with a laugh.
He watched the first half with his wife and two daughters. The 9pm Eastern start was a bit much for them though, as the rest of the family went to bed at halftime. “That allowed me to really dig in watching the second half. It gives you a different perspective watching on TV. You see the importance of things that the coaching staff wants you to do in a way you can’t see them when you’re in the heat of the moment”, said Doyle.
Had Doyle played, he would have moved past Toll, who never missed a game in 12 NLL seasons while scoring 151 goals and amassing nearly 400 points.
Injuries never kept Toll out of action and he was never a healthy scratch. Game in, game out, Toll was always a presence until deciding to hang up his stick at the end of last season with Colorado.
“Closest I ever came to missing a game? I rolled my ankle in warmups once when I stepped on a ball. Took a couple of Tylenol and I was fine”, Toll recalled with a grin. “Even when you’re injured, the adrenalin carries you through games.
“But no doubt I was very fortunate. As I look back, it was kind of amazing that I never missed a game.”
All three men spoke of the tremendous pride they’ve taken in being in the lineup, game in and game out, and being the type of players that teammates know they count on.
“It’s great if you’re able to do this for as long as we have”, said Doyle, summing up the thoughts of the group. “It’s a pretty proud record to have, even more so than points. We’ve been playing hard and honest for so long and have been so lucky to avoid injuries. The consistency of being there for your teammates every game is part of being a player that the team can count on. It makes me proud. Saturday wasn’t hard because of a streak ending, but just missing my teammates. I would have loved to have been in that locker room with the guys to celebrate that win.”
As for Williams heading toward the ironman mark, Toll and Doyle are both fine with that.
“The amount of training he puts in and the type of player he is, he’s a warrior and wants to be out there,” Toll said. “Willy is one of my best friends in the game. The record couldn’t happen to a better guy.”
“Shawn has been a reliable production guy for his teammates for a long time” said Doyle. “It’s a great testament to the value we put on being there for our teammates”.
In a sport where players are superstitious, give Williams credit for openly talking about the streak. It might be on the minds of fans, but won’t be on his. “I don’t think about it. I’ll be out there looking to help my teammates earn a win.”
Just a couple of weeks earlier, another streak that could have challenged for the record ended as Toronto's Blaine Manning suffered a seperated shoulder against Buffalo. His streak ended at 162 games.
A list of the longest consecutive regular season games played streaks in league history (bold indicates current streak and team):
MLB: Cal Ripken Jr., 2,632 games (1982-98).
NFL: Brett Favre, 321 straight starts including playoffs (1992-2010).
NBA: A.C. Green, 1,192 games (1986-2001).
NHL: Doug Jarvis, 964 games (1975-87).