By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"You're gonna get killed."
That's what my mom said when I told her I was trying out for a women's professional football team. Not some pansy-ass flag football team, either. Full-contact football, played according to NFL rules with shoulder pads, helmets, the whole shebang.
She thought the idea was absurd. So did almost everyone I told. You, a 33-year-old shrimp who smokes a pack of Marlboro Lights a day and has been known to complain, loudly, about having to lug home a gallon of milk, playing professional football?
"No, really," I say. "I'm going to try out to be a professional football player."
They said I must be crazy. You'll get hurt, they said. Squashed. Nose bloodied. Laid flat. Knocked cold and sent to the emergency room. Dead.
I couldn't blame them. My 110-pound frame, all 5 feet 2 inches of it, doesn't exactly conjure up a gridiron image. Besides, women don't play football. Not in Texas, home of the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders and the Kilgore Rangerettes. The boys play ball. All the girls need to do is shake it on the sideline and smile real purdy.
Truth was, I thought the idea was absurd, too.
Initially, I had no plans to try out for the Dallas Diamonds, the newest member of the 4-year-old Women's Professional Football League. I didn't even know the WPFL existed until three days before the April 27 tryout at Birdville Stadium in North Richland Hills, the Diamonds' home field.
The Diamonds are an expansion team this year, joining the other 10 teams that make up the WPFL. The Diamonds will play in the American Conference against six teams, including the Alamo City Battle, the L.A. Amazons and the two-time reigning WPFL Champions, the Houston Energy. There are another five teams in the National Conference, including the New England Storm, the Missouri Prowlers and the Wisconsin Riveters. The season begins August 3 and consists of a 10-game schedule, followed by the playoffs.
The April 27 tryout, the second of three open to any woman 18 or older, represented a rare chance for area women to enter the hallowed realm of Texas football. To me, it was simply an amusing story. I logged onto the Internet and loaded the Diamonds' Web page, www.dallasdiamondsfootball.com. I guffawed at the sight of the team's logo: a gigantic sparkling rock planted in the middle of a capital D. How appropriate. Dallas women love big rocks, slipped on their fingers or implanted in their chests.
I scrolled onto the team's message board trying to find out what type of woman would try out for the Dallas Diamonds. The other women had the same question. One woman, who described herself as 5-foot-4, 115 pounds and a size "one," was particularly virginal.
"I heard about the football team and have been debating trying out," she said. "The reason for all the debating is that I am quite a petite female and I have never played football, in fact I hardly even watch it, so I do not know anything, but it is in support of women's rights and sounds like fun, so I want to try it."
I thought, "This woman is my size. Not only that, she sounds like the type who used to play with dolls. I could probably take her out."
I never liked dolls. But I loved football. Once, when I was growing up in Milwaukee, I had a Miami Dolphins helmet. Actually it was a generic helmet, but I painted the Dolphins' logo on it sometime after Bart Starr became the Green Bay Packers' coach. Back then, my dad and I made a habit out of goddamning the television every Sunday. After the games, I would strap on the helmet. I also had an NFL-regulation-sized ball, which was too big for me to grip. I would just tuck it under my arm and run around the back yard, sidestepping imaginary defenders.
My dad also told me that when I was 3 years old, I used to dress up in another helmet and shoulder pads and try to play football with my older brothers. "They used to let you play with them," he tells me. "They were careful not to step on you."
I realized that my interest in football was more instinctive than I had thought.
It also occurred to me that I would have tried out for football if I had been a boy or, alternatively, if there was a league for girls. But there wasn't. I played tennis and basketball instead. When my high school started a girls' varsity soccer program in my freshman year, I quickly developed a taste for the slide tackle.
The memories made my dad chuckle, which explains why he didn't sound surprised to hear I was trying out for a football team. It may also explain why he was the only person who didn't tell me I would get killed. He just wished me good luck.
The weather is similarly bleak when I get to Birdville Stadium in North Richland Hills at 7 a.m. sharp. A flag-whipping wind whistles through the stadium, followed by the rumble of an approaching storm.