First-String Divas

Girls in underwear playing football. Nice.

There have been some strange stories in this space--stories that stretched (and often completely ignored) the traditional definition of sports journalism. Columns about wing eating and video games, columns about yoga with Mavs dancers and me watching TV. The fact that my check clears is either an act of charity or stupidity on the part of my bosses.

But if they fire me tomorrow--and who among you wouldn't lobby for that?--I'll leave contented. Because, finally, I'm doing some serious work. Some award-winning work--Pulitzer stuff, perhaps, but certainly the kind of journalism that will make my mom proud. I'm interviewing a woman named Amber Strauser. She's a courageous 23-year-old living on her own in Los Angeles, trying to make her way in a big, soulless city. She's telling me about how beautiful it is out in Cali, but also about how difficult it is to make an honest buck. She's telling me about all that, and about how she's decided to sacrifice her body and become a football player just to pay the rent. Her words are soft and measured, and I feel her pain--or at least I feel the pain that she'll feel when she gets around to feeling it. You feelin' me?

Right. It almost makes me wanna cry. So I ask her if she's worried about getting injured because, after all, she's young. She has her whole life ahead of her.

"No, I'm not too worried. I'm pretty tough," the intrepid Dallas native says. "I mean, there is a lot to risk--my friend sprained her ankle--but that goes along with the game. And for our safety, they provide us with helmets, shoulder pads, knee pads, elbow pads. And there's maybe some advantages for us. Because the guys, they have to wear all those clothes, and that could be heavy. That could be kind of an advantage for us, to not have clothes on. The weight of clothes could slow us down, so maybe we'll be faster without them. Plus, it might be hot out, and we'll be cooler that way."

I like the way she thinks, but perhaps I should clarify. I forgot to mention that Strauser is part of the vanguard--the LFL. That is, the Lingerie Football League. She and 39 other hot model types with bills to pay have agreed to strip down to their unmentionables and run, pass, punt and tackle each other, all in the name of football and our amusement. But don't think this will be some wussy league for pantywaists.

"Oh, no, we're going to be running into each other and sacking each other," Strauser, a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, assures me. "There will be lots of hands-on contact."

Bless her little heart. And Mitch Mortaza's, too.

Mortaza is the president of Horizon Productions Inc., the outfit behind the Lingerie Bowl--the other, better game that debuted on pay-per-view during halftime of the Super Bowl in Houston. He came up with the idea a few years ago when he was watching Tampa Bay play Oakland in the Super Bowl in San Diego. Shania Twain was the halftime act that year, but, unlike Janet Jackson, the prude refused to unleash a breast in the name of entertainment, so the fans left their seats in droves. Mortaza figured there had to be a way to keep people interested while the game was in intermission. And what better way to keep them locked in to a football game than to organize another football game? What better way to keep the fans enthused than to strip down some hotties and smear eye-black on them?

The man is a visionary.

But the genesis of the first Lingerie Bowl wasn't without complications. Mortaza and Horizon met resistance from hate groups. Well, some might call them women's rights organizations, but I call them hate groups. It got bad enough that Dodge, which had agreed to sponsor the Lingerie Bowl, decided against it. (When doing the research for this story, I came across a few pieces about how it all transpired. The headlines started with "Dodge to sponsor Lingerie Bowl." Then one read, "Dodge to rethink sponsoring Lingerie Bowl." Finally, "Dodge to pull out of Lingerie Bowl.")

But Mortaza and the girls were undeterred, and the Bowl, uh, went down. They got all sorts of pub, locally and as far away as England and Pakistan. (My favorite headline came from the London Free Press: "Lingerie Bowl to mix football, peep show.") They got so much feedback that Mortaza decided to expand the idea. In November, four LFL franchises will begin practicing for the next Lingerie Bowl: the Los Angeles Temptation, the New York Euphoria, the Chicago Bliss and the Dallas Desire. (Don't get too excited, though. William "The Refrigerator" Perry will coach L.A. and Dallas, and Lawrence Taylor will coach N.Y. and Chicago, but practices and games will all take place in L.A.) Horizon is also working on a reality television show that will bring the viewer "up close and personal" with the players by providing a behind-the-scenes look.

"We hope to have a deal done in the next few weeks," Mortaza says. Horizon nearly had a deal with Fox Television Studios for 10 episodes, but the Hollywood Reporter ran the story before anyone had signed a contract, and the Fox brass freaked. "That's the way it works. We're still in discussions, and two other television studios--we'll call them the top two and three, but we won't name them because it's too early--have expressed interest. If Fox is dead, then we'll move on. But we want to get something done soon."

Yes, soon would be good--if only for Strauser and the rest of the girls. The anticipation has to be killing them.

Even if the reality show doesn't become reality, the Lingerie Football League has other avenues to pursue. There will be two seven-on-seven games, both via pay-per-view, in December--L.A. will play Dallas, and Chicago will play New York, with the winners advancing to the Lingerie Bowl. Horizon is also working to develop a video game that will feature build-your-own players. (The rosters they distributed to the media came complete with the players' hometown, height and measurements--e.g., 34C-22-34--so that last bit about creating your player on the video game will be good fun.) There's also a Web site, www.lingeriebowl.com, where you can buy calendars, check out pictures of the players and purchase merchandise.

"Yeah, that part is going to be really cool," Mortaza says. "Two virtual models show you around and you can buy commemorative items, like last year's game ball. You can also get hats and shirts and tank tops."

Which isn't even the best part. The name of the clothing line is the killer: "Fourth-and-G...your last chance to score."

I'm not even making that up.

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