Contrary to his comments after the Premier Lacrosse League championship, Matt Rambo did not wear any sunscreen. Despite the scorching glare Sept. 21 in Chester, Pa., he remained cool under pressure. 

The PLL MVP, Attackman of the Year and Championship MVP seems to shine when the spotlight is the brightest — especially near his hometown. 

"> Philly Special: Hometown Boy, MVP Matt Rambo Saves Best for Last | USA Lacrosse Magazine

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Matt Rambo celebrated with his Whipsnakes team after he sank the game-winning goal in overtime of the PLL championship game.

Philly Special: Hometown Boy, MVP Matt Rambo Saves Best for Last


Contrary to his comments after the Premier Lacrosse League championship, Matt Rambo did not wear any sunscreen. Despite the scorching glare Sept. 21 in Chester, Pa., he remained cool under pressure. 

The PLL MVP, Attackman of the Year and Championship MVP seems to shine when the spotlight is the brightest — especially near his hometown. 

“He always wanted to be in the mix in the big moments,” said John Tillman, Rambo’s coach at Maryland. “It wasn't selfish. Some guys shy away from it. Some guys get intimidated and nervous. Matt had the self-confidence that whenever there was a tough moment, he was happy to take the shot or make the play.”

Tillman watched from the shade on the far sideline as Rambo, the Tewaaraton winner and Maryland’s all-time leading scorer, nailed the game-tying and winning goals to lift Whipsnakes to a 12-11 win over Redwoods in overtime. His heroics came in front of 12,556 fans, including nearly 150 family and friends for whom he set aside tickets at Talen Energy Stadium. Thirty-three miles separate Chester and Glenside, the Philadelphia suburb where Rambo grew up.

Tillman struggled to contain his emotions as the memories of his former Terps playing in College Park came flooding back. There was Kyle Bernlohr standing on his head with 16 saves. There was Jay Carlson “doing what Jay Carlson does,” and scoring a goal off a deflected pass. “There were Terps everywhere,” he said. 

That was by design. The PLL shaped its rosters to benefit from the built-in chemistry of players who were familiar with each other from their college or previous professional lacrosse experiences.

Tillman chose not to wear any Whipsnakes apparel, despite the fact that he could count 17 Maryland alums on the club’s active roster. That wouldn’t be fair, though, to the only former Terp on Redwoods — Joe Walters.


“There is no one else I would want in front of the cage going downhill than him." - Whipsnakes coach Jim Stagnitta on Matt Rambo


Walters scored with 1:36 left to put Redwoods ahead 11-10. The goal capped a 9-1 run that started with less than three minutes to play in the third quarter. 

“It feels like you have no control at that point,” Whipsnakes midfielder Drew Snider said. Still, the team never lost hope. It helps when you have “one of the best players in the world,” as Snider called Rambo. “He has a combination of strength, speed, really good vision, and he can shoot the ball. You put all of those together, and that's something not many people can do.”

Rambo and Snider were roommates during the second half of the season and often hosted card games of Booray. Snider learned the game, popular in NBA circles, from his friend and NBA veteran Spencer Hawes. While Snider cited Joe Nardella and Jay Carlson as big winners, Rambo was always a steady loser. 

“I’m the worst,” Rambo admitted.








Whipsnakes saved some of its cards for the championship. The Whips held onto a play that worked the night before in practice at Penn. While coach Jim Stagnitta said the play doesn’t have a name, Snider calls it “14 counter.” He often runs it as the coach at his alma mater, O’Dea High School in Seattle.

Down by one with 30 seconds left, Whipsnakes went all in. Snider flipped the ball to Rambo and then set a pick. Rambo found a hole in the Redwoods defense. He did the rest. 

“There is no one else I would want in front of the cage going downhill than him,” Stagnitta said. 

Stagnitta coached Rambo during his first two professional seasons after he was drafted third overall by Major League Lacrosse’s Charlotte Hounds in 2017. Rambo posted 27 goals and 20 assists last summer, but Stagnitta could see at training camp in May that the 25-year-old lefty was ready to take the next leap. 

Rambo, who wrestled at La Salle College High School in the winter and played running back and linebacker in the fall, possesses an innate sense of how to gain leverage against his defender. He enhanced that ability playing for the National Lacrosse League’s Philadelphia Wings. Rambo registered 56 points during his first indoor season. 

“Those last two shots he stuck, those are box shots,” Stagnitta said. “There's somebody on you, and you find a little piece of net. I'm not sure he could have done that had he not had the opportunity to play box this year. That's taken his game to a whole other level."

Stagnitta said coaching Rambo is like coaching his son. “I want you to realize that this is why I push you so hard,” Stagnitta said as he hugged Rambo, right before getting doused with Gatorade. “This is what you're capable of doing.” 

Austin Pifani has known for a while what Rambo is capable of. The North Carolina grad and Atlas defenseman grew up less than a five-minute bike ride away from the Rambo household in Glenside. They became close friends around the third grade while playing for the Abington Lacrosse Club. Pifani covered Rambo during the 2016 NCAA championship game at Lincoln Financial Field. Rambo had three goals and three assists, the same stat line he dropped in the PLL championship, but UNC prevailed in overtime. 

“What you see is what you get with Matt,” Pifani said. “He's very open and honest. He's a fun-loving, but competitive dude.”

Rambo showcased that charisma this season thanks to the PLL’s “Mic’d Up” videos and focus on personality. “Chef Rambo” even demonstrated his cooking skills during a PLL vlog at his childhood home. The highlight of the video — besides Rambo’s school photo that his mom, Annette, proudly displayed — was Tucker. He’s the Rambos’ 8-year-old English Bulldog. He has his own Instagram account.




PHOTO BY KEVIN P. TUCKER

"Chef Rambo" and his life were the subject of a multiple videos from the league over the course of the season, which ended with an MVP trophy.


Recent posts feature Tucker splashing around in the shore break in Ocean City, N.J., munching on an ice cream cone and donning a black Whipsnakes t-shirt. The similarities to his “brother” are hard to miss. 

“Matt is Tucker,” Pifani said. 

The PLL even rolled out a “Chef Rambo” shirt during the playoffs that features a likeness of Tucker in a chef’s hat. Annette Rambo wore the t-shirt to the championship. Rich Rambo Sr. opted for a snake onesie, but shed it before the game, much like his son shed his pads after scoring the game-winning goal. 

If you want to see Rambo’s true character, Chaos goalie and Wings forward Blaze Riorden said, watch how he reacted after he scored in overtime. Rambo immediately sprinted toward the midline to “get his goalie” and hug Bernlohr. 

"He's Philly through and through," Riorden said. "He's gritty. He's tough. He doesn't complain. He's competitive, and he's got that Philly edge that definitely shows in his game. He's not gonna back down from anyone."

That included Redwoods defenseman Matt Landis. The two-time Schmeisser Award winner at Notre Dame, Landis shut down Chaos star Connor Fields the previous weekend during the semifinals in Harrison, N.J. The performance spawned the nickname Landis Island. 

“Bring some sunscreen,” Landis said on Instagram the day before the championship. His caption included three island emojis.

Although Rambo said he focuses on his game and doesn’t let that “stuff” get to him, his comments immediately after Whipsnakes cut down the net suggest the post offered an added incentive. 

“He said bring your sunscreen. I said I be chilling!” Rambo exclaimed in the locker room. “I’m staying on vacation, boy!”

Not exactly.

After the post-game celebration at the stadium and a party at Vesper Sporting Club that carried on into the early-morning hours, Rambo didn’t spend a lazy Sunday enjoying the title and watching his beloved Eagles take on the Detroit Lions. Instead, he took a 6 a.m. flight to Vancouver, where he joined Riorden and the rest of the U.S. team at the World Indoor Lacrosse Championship.

When Rambo returned home after the U.S. defeated England for the bronze medal, he took a picture of the “Welcome to Philadelphia” banner that greets travelers on their way to the baggage claim at the Philadelphia International Airport. He then posted it on his Instagram story. Pifani and Riorden often do the same and tag the other two members of the trio.

“It's a symbol to let each other know that we're all in the same city, because we're all on different schedules, so it's hard to keep track,” Riorden said.

The gesture carries an added significance for the hometown kid who’s now a professional champion and the face of the PLL.

“I know where I come from,” Rambo said. “Philly is such a big part of who I am. It’s the best city in the world.”