Brendan Fowler is Most Outstanding Player after being on top of his 'off' game

Brendan Fowler #3 of the Duke University Blue Brendan Fowler #3 of the Duke University Blue Devils tries to control the ball after a face-off against Brian Megill #11 of the Syracuse University Orange during the 2013 NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championship at Lincoln Financial Field. (May 27, 2013) Photo Credit: Getty Images

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept. ...

PHILADELPHIA - It was 20 minutes after the season ended, time enough for the Most Outstanding Player award to be announced, the nets to be cut down and many embraces to be exchanged.

Finally, Brendan Fowler took a moment for himself, lying flat on his back at midfield at Lincoln Financial Field, arms outstretched and eyes fixed on the sky.

What was he thinking?

"Unbelievable," the Duke junior out of Chaminade High School said after the Blue Devils defeated Syracuse, 16-10, Monday in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse final.

You might say that in light of a national championship decided largely by a guy in a limited but hugely important role unique to lacrosse. They call it "FOGO" -- short for "face off, get off."

Fowler does precisely that, taking faceoffs and usually quickly running off the field until the next one. In hockey, such a role would be ludicrous, but it makes sense in lacrosse, a sport in which possession of the ball is paramount.

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Exhibit A: Monday's final, in which Fowler won 20 of his 28 faceoffs, including 14 of 15 in the second and third quarters, when Duke took charge after falling behind 6-1.

On one hand, this came as no surprise, given that Fowler set an NCAA single-season record with 339 faceoff wins and won nearly two-thirds of the time.

On the other hand . . . Most Outstanding Player?

Coach John Danowski said one of his assistants, Ron Caputo, "joked a little bit before the game and he said, 'My vision is that Brendan's going to win the MVP.' We kind of laughed. And he was right."

Fowler, though, wasn't particularly surprised.

Could he ever have envisioned something like this?

"All the time," he said, smiling through smeared eye black that ran down to his chin. "I did. I always thought so. Maybe not everyone else, but I always could see myself doing this."

Fowler appeared at Danowski's doorstep as if by magic. The Duke coach had heard "from the grapevine" that he was headed to Durham, but without the knowledge of the school's lacrosse coaches.

So Danowski called Chaminade coach Jack Moran. "I said, 'Jack, I heard your faceoff guy applied on his own and got into Duke. Is that true?' This is like May of Brendan's senior year. And Jack said, 'Yeah, he hasn't called you yet?' "

The coach and future Final Four star did not meet until August of Fowler's freshman year.

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Fowler, a powerfully built 6-footer, also has backgrounds in wrestling and football. He broke his collarbone against Syracuse in last year's lacrosse first round but made it back in late autumn as a walk-on special-teamer on Duke's football team.

"He's not even with us in the fall," Danowski said. "Maybe there's something to that, that we don't screw him up."

Before Monday's heroics, Fowler secured a game-saving faceoff in the final minute of Saturday's semifinal after Cornell had stormed back from a 14-6 deficit to within 15-14. Duke won, 16-14.

Syracuse's inability to get hold of the ball became almost comical at times Monday. How many Orange faceoff men took a crack at him? "I don't know, three or four, maybe five," he said. "No matter who's out there, I just kind of stick to what I do and not focus on who's out there."

He said calmness matters as much as his technique. "I just try to stay cool and collected," he said. "I took almost 500 faceoffs here. I just go out there like it's any other one."

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Fowler showed promise last year as he was groomed to succeed graduating senior CJ Costabile as the primary faceoff man, but no one other than Fowler could have seen anything quite like this coming.

"We've had some good faceoff guys in the past, but I have never experienced this kind of player," Danowski said. "You're always waiting in a sense for the bottom to drop out. You're always waiting for him to have a bad day, a bad quarter, a bad second half. We're grateful."

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