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Attitude Era: The Bold, Brash Barrage are Back

This article originally appeared in the May/June edition of US Lacrosse Magazine. Don’t get the mag? Join US Lacrosse today to support the positive development of the sport.


n 2004, Major League Lacrosse moved the Barrage, one of the six original MLL franchises, from Connecticut to Philadelphia. It brought both professional field lacrosse and multiple championships to a city that at the time was long bereft of a winner.

What Barrage players remember most about those days, however, is the brotherly love.

“Keeping the guys together, going to dinner, making fun of each other, but when it came time to play, we were in it together,” goalie Brian Dougherty said. “You throw in five Hall of Famers, at least, playing together like that. We ran out of the locker room together, not getting introduced one-by-one but coming out as a team. It was us against the world.”

Good times wouldn’t last, however. The Barrage played the entire 2008 season as a traveling road show, playing home games in Virginia Beach, Dallas, St. Louis, Portland and Cary, N.C. After losing in overtime in the 2008 MLL semifinals, falling short of becoming the first team to win three consecutive championships, the franchise folded. 

Twelve years later, the Barrage are back, just in time for MLL’s 20th season, a milestone the league has celebrated with throwback content on its social media platforms. From old championship game highlights to photos of classic uniforms and media guides, MLL has positioned itself as the professional field lacrosse league with history and nostalgia.

"It was us against the world." — Brian Dougherty

When MLL decided in January to forego the franchise model in favor of unified ownership, ceasing operations of the Dallas Rattlers and Atlanta Blaze, it gave the league an opportunity to introduce a new brand in the Connecticut Hammerheads and bring back a cult hit with the Philadelphia Barrage.

 “It was really cool,” said Dougherty, who is from Philadelphia. “I’m not much of a social media guy, but they started running a ton of highlights from back in the day. We’re all still in a text message string, which is hilarious, but it was funny to get the hype for the Barrage. I was fired up for it.”

Even players from the franchise’s less successful days in Bridgeport were excited to hear the news.

“If you’ve ever played on a team in Philly, you understand the love and passion the fans bring,” said Jamie Hanford, who played for the Bridgeport Barrage as well as the National Lacrosse League’s Philadelphia Wings. “If you’ve ever played on a team against Philly, you understand the hatred. It’s a special town in terms of how they treat their athletes and their sports. They’re very passionate about it.”

The Barrage were the first MLL team to win back-to-back championships, have the highest playoff winning percentage in league history (.857) and are tied with the Outlaws and Lizards for the second-most championships in league history (three). The team included four National Lacrosse Hall of Famers in Dougherty, Roy Colsey, Ryan Boyle and Matt Striebel. Barrage coach Tony Resch was at the ceremony in Hunt Valley, Md. He could join them on the stage one day, as might other luminaries like Paul Cantabene and Kyle Sweeney. There were also brusque and vibrant personalities like Brian Spallina and Nicky Polanco.

The 2020 version of the team will be coached by Spencer Ford, formerly general manager of the Blaze. Ford played against the Barrage in the 2007 MLL championship game as a member of the Los Angeles Riptide, remembering how well the opponents played as a collective unit.

“At one point, we were winning that game. It was 13-12,” Ford said. “They came back and scored the next few goals. To run with a group like ours, their togetherness was unlike something I’ve seen in a long time. That comes from [coach] Tony Resch and the most winningest teammate in Brian Spallina. When you think of the talent and IQ of Doc and Cosley and Boyle and Striebel, for them to stay together, it was so cool.”

That closeness isn’t just noticed by the Barrage opponents, either. P.T. Ricci is an MLL veteran who grew up near Philadelphia, and while he didn’t enter the league until 2009, a year after the Barrage ceased operations, he became teammates with several former Barrage players. He noticed how close they were, even after they were no longer teammates.

“You can talk to anyone from that era, and they all lovingly refer to the Barrage as the ‘Gar-bage,’” he said. “I don’t know the backstory, but when they’d say it, their faces would light up. No matter how long they’re out of the game or they might not see those guys for 20 years, but when they see someone, they’re going to be right back there. Those are the kinds of teams I want to be on.”

According to Dougherty, the nickname originated from muted fanfare and immodest accommodations. They embraced the second-rate conditions under which they competed. It strengthened and emboldened them.

“They won it in 2004, and it was like, they wouldn’t really practice, they didn’t have a great home crowd,” said Dougherty, who played in New York and Rochester before joining his hometown team. “The league was in between owners. They weren’t getting a lot of love. The hotel rooms, that stuff was all over the place, so they called themselves the ‘Gar-bage.’ I walked into it, and I was like, ‘Don’t call me garbage,’ but then, within a week, it was hilarious. We had t-shirts made. It fueled who we were as a team, that chip on our shoulder.”

Making t-shirts out of inside jokes seemed to be a trend for the Barrage players.

“Brian Spallina was our leader in the group text,” Dougherty said. “He said, ‘When you run out for your introduction, what song do you want? We’re making a locker room warmup mix.’ I was probably half in the bag, and I was like, ‘We Built This City.’ He puts it on [the mix]. We start winning. Now we have t-shirts. Those are things you can’t make up.”

The current Barrage roster is comprised largely of the players previously under contract with the Blaze. Philadelphia made two trades soon after the announcement of its return. The team sent Randy Staats and Bryan Cole to Boston in exchange for Ricci and three 2020 collegiate draft picks. Then, the Barrage traded Colton Jackson to Denver for Tim Barber, who won a championship with the Outlaws in 2016.

Ford, who put together the Blaze and is known as one of the best talent evaluators in the league, wants to recreate a roster that harkens back to the Barrage of old, with players who not only play with a chip on their shoulder but also want to be part of a family.

“It takes one talent, one person to start the fight. It’s very easy for the Philadelphians to get behind it and rally together,” he said. “With the Barrage, they wanted to inflict pain on their opponents, and they stuck together. Some had best friends and family members on other teams, but their family for those 60 minutes each week was their teammates.”

Helping to bridge the gap between the original Barrage and the current version, Ford made key additions to the coaching staff. He hired former Philadelphia players Dougherty and Kevin Keenan as assistant coaches, as well as Hanford.

Hanford said he jumped at the opportunity to be involved.

“Being with Spencer, playing with Doc, it seemed like the right fit and right time to do it,” he said. “When [Ford] told me the staff and where it was located, it made a lot of sense to give back to what we started in the day in the beginning of the MLL.”

Ricci is familiar with how close the old Philadelphia Barrage locker room was, and while he enjoyed being a member of the Boston Cannons, he is looking forward to teaming up with many of his new Barrage teammates.

“One guy who I’m excited about is Liam Byrnes,” he said. “He was drafted to the Florida Launch when I was there. We have a good relationship. We’ve exchanged texts since being on the Launch. He’s a Long Island guy, but he’s a guy I know the Philadelphia community is going to love. He’s a great teammate. All he cares about is winning and losing. 

“Another is Tommy Palasek,” Ricci added. “I have a healthy respect for him. Mark Matthews. Shayne Jackson, I had an opportunity to try and cover him. He’s really slick. David Manning, I coached [him] at Loyola for two years. It will be fun to reunite with him.” 

Philadelphia sports teams are known for having a certain type of toughness. There are plenty of examples: the Broad Street Bullies of the Philadelphia Flyers, the tenacity of Philadelphia Eagles safety Brian Dawkins or the time Philadelphia Phillies center fielder Aaron Rowand ran into the outfield wall and broke his nose to make a game-saving catch.

“My mom was born and raised there, and she is a pistol,” Ford said. “When you think about Rocky and the old Philadelphia Flyers, they play with absolute fight. They never give up. You think of the movie ‘Invincible.’ It’s one of those cities. In lacrosse, the strategy, the skill, the IQ has to be present, but the thing that’s very hard to do in the MLL because they see each other only a few times is to get them to fight for one another. That defines Philly in a nutshell. They fight for one another.”