Tim Goettelmann has heard the professional athletes' cliche, "I would have played for free." In fact, he has used that very phrase to describe how much he loves playing lacrosse. He just had no way to realize how true it was until he actually did it.
Goettelmann decided against retiring after last season with the Long Island Lizards because he had a higher goal. This year, his 10th as a star attackman in Major League Lacrosse, was different because he donated his entire salary to Cohen Children's Medical Center of the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System.
Granted, he is not on LeBron James' pay scale. The Lizards are a part-time gig. But Goettelmann's lacrosse salary does have a comma in it, and two numbers to the left. $12,000 is $12,000 in anyone's pocket, especially someone who has a house in Garden City, a wife, two young daughters and a third child on the way.
It became the most enriching season of his life.
His visits with sick children and their families were packed with emotion, every bit as much as his final home game at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium last Saturday night, during which Goettelmann set the MLL record for most career goals.
"Everyone knew I was going for it, so they were doubling me and tripling me all game," he said this week from his office in Manhattan, where he is a wholesale insurance broker for Hartan Brokerage. "I guess they didn't want it broken on them."
But then in the fourth quarter, he found just enough daylight to score three consecutive goals to seal a 16-11 win over Toronto and clinch a playoff spot. "They stopped the game and gave us a TV timeout," Goettelmann, 32, said. "At the end of the game, they gave me a Gatorade bath. I was really excited."
None of it would have happened if not for the decision to play one more year. "I've been playing lacrosse on Long Island forever," said the man who scored a game-high three goals in Manhasset's first state title 15 years ago. "And I wanted to give something back. I felt like I've been blessed. I'm blessed to have healthy, happy kids."
A friend suggested to the big, bruising attackman, known as the Monster, that he visit the Cohen Center. "He and his wife came over and they were so touched, they broke into tears," said Kevin Dwyer, senior vice president and chief development officer at North Shore-Long Island Jewish, who added that he has known Goettelmann "since he was a baby."
"He is as humble as can be," Dwyer said, noting what a boost it has been to have witnessed the formation of Monster Kids - the organization Goettelmann formed with his buddy, former Manhasset All-America Dan Denihan. The latter, Dwyer said, has a child who recovered at the Cohen Center.
Goettelmann (rhymes with "gentleman") said it was impossible not to be humbled when he went home and read "Where the Wild Things Are" - acting out all of the characters - to young Emerson and Stella, after having been at the children's hospital.
"We talked about lacrosse, we talked about what they like to do. They didn't know what lacrosse was, they definitely didn't know who Tim Goettelmann was," he said. But they did like the Lizards' mascot, Spike. "Those are rough, rough times for those families. They get done from work at 3 o'clock and bring dinner there . . . "
He did the best he could to ease the burden, scoring goals and raising money for special programs such as a visit from clowns. This season has been so good for him that he might come back for another.
Who wouldn't have liked the scene last Saturday? The Lizards' coach presented the prized ball from the record 248th goal to Goettelmann's wife Lisa, who handed it to their younger daughter. "My one-year-old gets it," the record-holder said, "and just throws it."
It was a nice, healthy throw.