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BANDITS FACING TOUGH TEST IN PHILADELPHIA 'PIT'

Philadelphia sports fans really have booed Santa Claus. They're loud, they can be obnoxious and they are always intimidating.

But the fans in the City of Brotherly Love are also the most loyal group in the National Lacrosse League. And the Buffalo Bandits (5-2) know what to expect tonight when they face the Philadelphia Wings (5-2) at the First Union Center (7:30, Radio 107.7 FM).

"If you can't get up to play before 15 or 16 thousand fans then you just shouldn't be out on the floor," said Bandits ninth-year forward Chris Driscoll. "I love playing there. It's just a vibrant place to play."

Certainly, it's not always a happy place to play for the opposition. The Wings are the top-drawing team in the league at 15,000 per game and 19 of the 24 biggest crowds in pro indoor lacrosse history have come in Philadelphia. The Wings are 3-0 on their own turf this season and never cordial hosts.

Plus, they're still upset about the 26-18 lathering the Bandits laid on them in Buffalo on Jan. 20. That was the most goals ever allowed by the Wings, who are the only franchise to accumulate more than 100 all-time regular season victories.

"I think there is a lot of deep-seeded desire to beat Buffalo," Wings coach Tony Resch said.

Three of the four worst defeats in Bandits history have come against the Wings, including last season's 22-11 pounding before 16,187 rabid fans. That crowd total is about twice the average the Bandits attract for their home games at HSBC Arena these days.

"They'd boo if a guy fell out of the upper deck and couldn't get up," said Rich Kilgour, who has been making the trip to Philly for 10 years now. "They're a tough crowd, but that's what makes them great. Their fans are such die-hards and they're very lacrosse-educated because they've had a team there now for 15 years. Aside from being among the most knowledgeable, they're also the loudest."

How about most obnoxious?

"Oh by far," Kilgour said without the slightest hesitation.

It's indoor lacrosse's version of playing at Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium -- minus the high SAT scores and with about 7,000 more people in the stands. When the opposition is announced to the Philly faithful before a game, each player is greeted by a rafter-rocking chorus of "sucks" after his name is called.

That's not all visiting players hear during a game.

"They have very low glass there and the fans are all hanging over," said Buffalo's Shawn Williams. "They're on you and you hear your name being called every second. They call you everything in the book. But I think it's a great place to play and it gets you plenty fired up."

"As a vet in the league you laugh at it and you actually learn to like it," said Bandits head coach Ted Sawicki. "But the first time or two you're there you can find yourself concentrating on the crowd. That's something you don't want to do."

The Bandits have enjoyed more success in Philly than any other visiting team.

They won their first Major Indoor Lacrosse League title at the Spectrum on April 11, 1992, beating the Wings, 11-10, on then-rookie John Tavares' sweet behind-the-neck shot in overtime.

They've twice spoiled championship banner raising ceremonies in Philly, winning on opening night in both 1996 and '99. Overall, they've won four of nine road in Philly. Not too shabby considering the Wings are 51-20 (71.8 percent) all-time at home.

"When you go in there they really have a sixth man. They have a sixth man like we used to have a sixth man in Buffalo," Tavares said, referring to the mid '90s when the Bandits -- not the Wings -- led the league in home attendance year after year.

"It's real loud and it always seems dark in there," Tavares said. "But as an opposing player, it gets me playing even harder. And I've found that's the attitude you have to take if you want to win there."

TOUGH TOWN
Records of opposing National Lacrosse League teams in Philadelphia:
TeamWLPct.
Toronto11.500
Buffalo45.444
Rochester35.375
New York412.250
Washington310.231
Ottawa01.000
Albany02.000
others515.250
Total2051.392

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