Paul Rabil has been the face of professional lacrosse for more than a decade. And on a rainy Saturday afternoon on Long Island, in the stadium he once called home when he was a member of the New York Lizards, Rabil became the all-time scoring leader in professional outdoor lacrosse when he recorded six points for the Cannons Lacrosse Club in their game against Chaos during the Premier Lacrosse League’s Long Island weekend at Hofstra’s Shuart Stadium.
Rabil, the co-founder of the PLL, along with his brother Mike, had three goals and three assists in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, giving him 647 points in his 14-season career, according to the PLL, to break the mark of 643 set by John Grant, Jr. Rabil passed Grant, Jr. with his second goal, which came with 5:14 remaining in the second quarter and gave the Cannons a 5-4 lead.
Rabil’s achievement wasn’t enough to save the Cannons, though. They lost 14-10 and fell to last place in the eight-team league with a 1-4 record. Their frustration showed at the end when the teams got into their second altercation of the game and Rabil got into a confrontation with Chaos defenseman Jack Rowlett — who wears Rabil’s signature uniform No. 99. Chaos defenseman Jarrod Neumann held Rabil back in the fracas.
Afterward, it was clear Rabil was bothered by the loss, but he understood the significance of his personal achievement.
"It’s been a long road to get here,’’ he said. "A really long road. I remember my first game in New Jersey, as a Boston Cannon. I scored one goal, in the third quarter, and it was pretty pedestrian. And then, in my first game at home with the Boston Cannons, I scored four in a half. And I was like, ‘OK, this style play fits my style.’
"It’s just about being relentless,’’ he said. "There are a lot of athletes in any sport that have that desire to be great. But to accomplish it takes a lot of relentless work, and it takes a lot of perseverance, and pain.’’
It was actually the second time that Rabil has broken Grant, Jr.’s scoring record. He did it first in 2018, in the same stadium, as a member of the Lizards, surpassing Grant, Jr.’s then 541 point total. But Grant, Jr., who had retired in 2017, came out of retirement in 2019 and re-took the all-time scoring record, before retiring again in 2020.
At 35, Rabil is enjoying a bounce back season after what was clearly a down year in 2020 when he had one goal and four assists in five games in the PLL’s COVID-19 bubble season. His 13 total goals this year (12 one-pointers and one two-pointer) lead the league, and his 19 points are second to Smithtown native Rob Pannell, the former Lizard, who has 20.
Rabil attributed his underwhelming performance the last two years — the first two years of the PLL — to his struggle to find the proper balance between being the driving executive of the new league, and one of the league’s elite players.
"I was building the league with Mike and our operational team at the PLL, and trying to balance playing,’’ he said in a telephone interview with Newsday last week. "We’re trying to reach a place of normalcy around the complexity of what I do, which is spending a lot of time in the office, and thinking about the business, while also trying to spend as much time as I can, physically and mentally, on my play.’’
Rabil said he believes being traded this year from his first club, Atlas, to the Cannons, has helped his resurgence, and he hinted there might have been times when his position as the league’s co-founder and frontman made it hard for him to be seen by his Atlas teammates (and perhaps coaches) as just another player.
"I probably tangled some wires there on my previous team, in Atlas,’’ he said. "I don’t think there was a full level of comfortability and trust. And I’ll raise my hand in my participation in that, should there have been any.’’
With the Cannons — the team that joined the PLL this season from MLL after that league merged with the PLL in December — the team he played for the first seven seasons of his pro lacrosse career, Rabil said having teammates like 38-year-old defenseman Brodie Merrill and newcomer Lyle Thompson have helped him feel more comfortable in the locker room.
Rabil said the PLL is working on a few things as the league moves forward and expansion in the near future is a possibility. Long Island would be a candidate to have a team, he said, if and when the league changes its current tour-based model to a city-based model.
"There’s a world where some of the staple teams in MLL history are also a part of our future expansion plans,’’ he said. "Certainly, the markets where MLL had been for 20 years were ones that we want to continue to be in.’’