Bob Buhmann was a champion. The Seaford native and MacArthur High School alum won three national collegiate lacrosse titles. But, it was the final one for which the goalie is most remembered.
After winning the 1968 and 1969 Junior College National Championship with Nassau Community College, Buhmann transferred to Cornell University. It was there that he made history. His 22 saves in the first NCAA championship game, held at Hofstra in 1971, led Cornell to a 12-6 victory over Maryland.
"That was the seminal moment in college lacrosse," said Mike Candel, a former NCC lacrosse coach and former Newsday sports reporter. "It . . . brought it to national attention. That moment was as important to college lacrosse as any moment since."
It was also the moment that many said defined the goaltender's life. Buhmann died Saturday of brain cancer in East Northport. He was 65.
The year 1971 was also significant for Buhmann as he, along with teammate and fellow goalie Bob Rule, were named All-Americans. It was the only time in college lacrosse history that two goalies from the same team were given the prestigious honor, Candel said.
Rule, who went to high school in Manhasset, was the established starter when Buhmann transferred from Nassau Community College. His arrival sparked an unspoken rivalry that wasn't talked about until the two met at a reunion five years ago.
"I knew how good he was," said Rule, 65, who now lives in Rhode Island. "His record at Nassau was 32-2. He came to Cornell and I was scared to death. I was afraid that if I screwed up, he would step right in and I would never get a chance to play. He made me a much better goalie. . . . I owe him a lot."
As the conversation at that reunion deepened, Buhmann revealed to Rule that he felt similarly, fearing he would be unable to play because of the talent ahead of him. The two struck up a deep bond, one that led to Rule and fellow teammate Glen Mueller arranging a trip to California in August, allowing Buhmann to see his two grandchildren before he died.
"That's the kind of thing you do for a teammate," Rule said. "He was pretty sick, but he talked about [the trip] so much afterward. It was something that was very important to us. That's the kind of friendship we have. He would have done the same for me."
Buhmann suffered from epilepsy for most of his life, according to former NCC teammate Terry Wallace, and hoped to write a book about playing lacrosse through it. But he never let his condition alter his jovial demeanor.
"I had just come home from the Marine Corps and had been wounded a few times in Vietnam," Wallace said. "I was having a very difficult time readjusting to society. Buhmann . . . was a very funny guy and provided so much laughter. He's the reason I was able to move ahead in my life."
Buhmann, who worked as an insurance agent, is survived by his son, Brendan, 33, of Walnut Creek, California; his daughter, Heather, 31 of Manhattan, grandchildren Cara and Michaela; mother Mary; sister Marybeth; brothers Michael and Bill; daughter-in-law Adrienne; and four nieces and nephews. He will be cremated and his ashes will be spread throughout the country by his family. There will be no formal funeral but, at his request, friends, family and teammates will hold a party in his honor. Details are yet to be finalized.