On a warm, breezeless July night in suburban Maryland, a football team runs drills on a high school field: 7-on-7, blitz packages, pat and go.
If you pulled over to take a closer look, you’d be surprised to see that the players beneath the pads and helmets are women. The 60 of us are members of the D.C. Divas women’s pro-football team.
We are mothers, professionals, students, all ages and races. Some of us fought rush-hour traffic to make practice in time; others packed a shower bag and change of clothes to leave practice a few minutes early to make the night shift. Some of the most feared competitors on the field might have their 6- and 7-year-olds in tow.
We spend eight months out of the year like this, running, lifting, sweating, hitting, hurting and bleeding for the game we love. And it’s all for the moment we will experience this Saturday, when we battle for the Eastern Conference championship against the Boston Militia.
None of us do it for the glitz or glamour. Our injuries—sprained ankles, broken toes, torn ACLs—may slow us down or temporarily take us out, but as soon as our bodies can handle it (sometimes even a little sooner) we get back out there.
We definitely don’t do it for the money. Our average salary is hundreds of thousands less than the average NFL salary (which amounts to roughly $0). Our manager, coaches and medical staff (one sports doc, two chiropractors, a podiatrist and a physical therapist) receive the same modest salary. And every day at least one D.C. Diva, be it a rookie or a nine-year veteran, is faced with the task of convincing a naysayer or non-believer that women’s full-contact football does in fact exist.
When the Divas won the 2006 World Championship against Oklahoma City, there were rings, but no parade. There were no endorsement deals, even though a candid shot of any player could easily be used as an Under Armour or Nike ad. But that didn’t take away from the glorious feeling of being on top. That year we easily defeated every opponent who crossed our path.
We had similar success in the 2007 regular season, but that, however, bred a sense of false security. When we lost in the first round of playoffs to a then-powerhouse team from the South, it left us all scratching our heads.
In 2008, the league got bigger, and the teams got tougher. We fought hard, losing no game by more than six points, but still only finished with a .500 average. The disappointing end to the season made us more determined, and at least a dozen players who swore that last year was their last year suited up again in 2009 to defend the Divas’ name and put D.C. back on top.
This year, we have a new coaching lineup that introduced us to an improved structure and a more rigorous work ethic. Our new head coach knew we had all the right weapons to be champions; we have a skilled quarterback, powerhouse running backs, lithe receivers, aggressive linebackers and corners who can backpedal a pass route better than most receivers can run it forward. All we needed was the will, effort and desire to get back where we deserved to be—among the ranks of the best.
So far it’s worked. We climbed back to the top in 2009, which is turning into our redemption year. We have regularly dismantled last year’s formidable opponents. When we played the reigning champions from Detroit, their coach asked the referees to “just call it” at halftime to avoid continuing the 35-0 slaughter that had ensued in the first 30 minutes. We beat both Pittsburgh and New York in all four match-ups by more than 10 points.
This weekend, one team still stands between us and another championship run, and that’s the Boston Militia. And the name fits; they are a conglomerate of three New England football teams and fierce competitors.
The Militia already started counting chickens by their trash talk that appeared in the Boston Globe and elsewhere around the Web.
I’m guessing they might reconsider when they see how bloodthirsty the Divas are for a win. In our minds, this is no chance encounter; the stars have aligned themselves in our favor to give us this opportunity to redeem all of last year’s ills. This game could’ve been against any other team; a different rating, an unexpected defeat or any other number of possibilities could have made us miss this opportunity. But now we have the chance, in one season and one fell swoop, to right every wrong and nullify every “what if” from seasons past.
Only time will tell if our road will continue on to Austin, Texas for the Super Bowl. Either way, I’ll be suiting up next season to do this all over again—hopefully with some new jewelry.
Jordyn White is a writer in Washington and plays linebacker for the D.C. Divas.