Dream season concludes for Pittsburgh Passion with IWFL title

After spending the last three seasons in the Women’s Football Alliance, the Pittsburgh Passion returned to their roots, spending the 2014 football season in the Independent Women’s Football League. In the season’s aftermath, it was the assembly of one of the most dominant teams in IWFL history.

Having emerged from championship weekend in Rock Hill, South Carolina as league champions, it was a fitting end to a season filled with many memorable moments. The road to the championship began with a 29-6 victory against the Carolina Phoenix on April 12, also the 100th game in franchise history, setting the tone for the season to come.

Triumphs against contending franchises such as the New York Sharks and Montreal Blitz helped the Passion jump to a 4-0 mark, quickly establishing them as the team to beat in IWFL circles. After defeating Carolina for the second time on May 17, the last three games of the regular season included a 21-6 win against New York, a 31-0 whitewash against state rival, the Philadelphia Firebirds and a 38-6 trouncing of Baltimore.

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Despite a convincing 41-7 victory against the Houston Energy, it was a victory well-earned. Of note, Houston entered the game with a pair of players from the US National Team that captured gold at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds; Alberta Fitcheard-Bryson and Dr. Jen Welter. Of note, the two also suited up for the Dallas Diamonds in the 2013 Women’s Football Alliance championship game.

The chance for fans in attendance to see Passion QB Lisa Horton line up against Jen Welter (who played at the linebacker position with the Energy), was an epic confrontation, pitting two living legends against each other. Of note, Welter made a remarkable mark on football history, becoming the first woman to play in a non-kicking position in men’s pro football.

Lisa Horton, who would be honored as the IWFL’s Most Valuable Player would also find her name in the headlines this year. Becoming the second woman to throw for 10,000 career passing yards, it was the cementing of her legacy as one of the greatest female quarterbacks ever. She would end the season as one of eight Passion players named to the IWFL First Team All-Stars.

For the proud Passion, Horton’s milestone would be part of many more exciting moments that defined the year. The victory against the Montreal Blitz (the defending IWFL Tier II champs) resulted in Amanda Haeg logging her 100 career reception. She would end her season by becoming the first player in franchise history to have 1,000 rushing, 1,000 passing and 1,000 receiving yards.

Passion players at a civic rally honoring their championship win. Players were also greeted by Mayor Bill Peduto (Image obtained from Facebook)

Passion players at a civic rally honoring their championship win. Players were also greeted by Mayor Bill Peduto (Image obtained from Facebook)

Another milestone in the game against Montreal was Horton establishing a career-high with 380 passing yards. Horton would also contribute to another special milestone, as wide receiver Rachel Wodjowski registered 2,000 career receiving yards in a victory against the Sharks.

By season’s end, the Passion recorded 278 points scored, while allowing only 24. In addition to four shutouts (tying a team mark), the Passion set a new team record with 26 sacks. This was complemented by Ciara Chic reaching the milestone of 1,000 career rushing yards.

In a city whose proud football tradition includes multiple national collegiate titles with the Pitt Panthers, and a Steelers franchise transformed by the Rooney family into a model organization, the Passion can now claim their spot in Steeltown’s sporting history. The team was even the recipient of a special honor as July 31 was officially declared Pittsburgh Passion Day. A rally was held to honor the team and featured civic officials such as Allegheny County Executive, Rich Fitzgerald and Pittsburgh’s Mayor Bill Peduto, showing a remarkable gesture of civic pride.

Their performance shall forever hold a place in the heart of Passion fans. A group of remarkable women playing in a remarkable time for the growth of the game, the 2014 edition of the Pittsburgh Passion are a once-in-a-lifetime team.

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#amanda-haeg, #ciara-chic, #lisa-horton, #pittsburgh-passion

WFA All-America Game provides Sami Grisafe with final curtain call

The 2014 edition of the Women’s Football Alliance All-America Game served as a historic backdrop. Competing on home turf at Lane Tech Stadium in Chicago, minutes away from Wrigley Field, where Sami Grisafe once sang the Star Spangled Banner, the legendary quarterback graced the gridiron for her final game.

Fellow First Team All-America selections from the Force included Jeannette Gray, and three members of the offensive line; Jamie Menzyk, Tami Engelman and Dawn Pederson. Tight end Kelsey Casey led the group of Chicago players selected to the Second Team, joined by the likes of Amber Kimbrough, Angel Smith and Elisha Okrey.

For the hometown fans, a preferred ending would have included Grisafe and the Chicago Force competing in the WFA National Championship Game. Having led the Force to a commanding victory over the Dallas Diamonds to claim the 2013 title, the city of Chicago was bestowed the privilege of hosting the game in 2014.

August 2, 2014: Grisafe in action with the National Conference All-America team. (Photo credit: Nadine Redd)

August 2, 2014: Grisafe in action with the National Conference All-America team. (Photo credit: Nadine Redd)

Leading the Force to the 2014 National Conference championship game, Grisafe and her team were one win away from appearing in their second consecutive title game. Although a national title on home soil would have been the fairy tale ending to Grisafe’s astonishing career, it does not diminish from a career in which she established herself as the greatest female field general in the WFA’s history.

During the 2014 campaign, Grisafe only played in four regular season games and managed to assemble another strong season statistically. Her best single game performance came in Week 1, as Chicago emerged victorious in a 70-0 whitewash of the Detroit Dark Angels. Of note, Grisafe went through the air against Detroit for 321 yards, four touchdowns, an 81.5 completion rate and a stunning 155.8 passer rating.

Although her 909 passing yards ranked seventh among WFA pivots, her 65.3 completion percentage ranked third overall, while her sparkling 113.9 passer rating placed her fifth. Averaging 45.1 points per game, the Force were an offensive juggernaut, second overall among all WFA franchises. Other statistical benchmarks included averaging 427.4 yards per game along with an astounding 175 first downs.

Jeanette Gray was the recipient of Grisafe’s passing skills, as she paced all WFA receivers with 42 receptions and 602 receiving yards, respectively. Ironically, Gray may be the quarterback who inherits Grisafe’s role as starting quarterback. In limited action, she completed 61.9% of her passes while registering 228 passing yards.

The week leading up to the All-America Game included another significant display of Grisafe’s talent. Shining in another unique spotlight, Grisafe proved why she is a highly talented singer and musician who earned six Grammy pre-nominations in 2013.

Serving as the opening act for Jill Sobule’s performance at Chicago’s City Winery on July 31, it was an opportunity for fans to witness the newest chapter in her musical career. As part of a new acoustic folk rock duo with Linsea Waugh, a former roommate at Roosevelt University in Chicago, critics have labeled their music as an amalgamation of many unique styles, while providing high energy.

Two days later, it was the final chance for Windy City football fans to see one of the greatest quarterbacks (male or female) in its proud sporting history. As the Midwest skies were adorned in bright sunshine, its shining light provided Grisafe with the chance to take flight for one final time.

In a game where the National Conference prevailed by a 24-7 tally, Grisafe entered the game in the third quarter. At the time, Grisafe’s presence was essential for a squad looking to build on a 12-7 lead. On the final play of the third quarter, Grisafe connected with Candi Thompson of the Tampa Bay Inferno for a two-yard gain

Starting the fourth, Grisafe orchestrated a drive that featured a long pass to another Inferno competitor, Marcelina Chavez. Weaving her way through the American Confernce defense, Grisafe would connect with a third different player from the Inferno, Sabrina Kelly. She would run in Grisafe’s short pass to daylight as the National Confernece boasted an 18-7 advantage with 11:04 left.

While the continuation of her magnificent musical career ensures that Grisafe will continue to capture the hearts and minds of sports and music fans alike, her tenure as an athlete represented the beginning of an empowering era for women in sport and culture.

Whether it was serving as the field general for the Force or for Team USA in the march towards two gold-medal efforts, Grisafe will one day be part of the mythology that defined the early years of female football, akin to Walter Camp in college football and the likes of Red Grange and Jim Thorpe in pro football.

As the Force and the WFA now look towards 2015, there is no denying that the game loses a certain dimension and complexion with the absence of Grisafe. She was more than just an ambassador for the game and a symbol of courage for female athletes to declare their gender preference without fear. Her status as a cherished teammate, leader and role model are attributes that not only define her as a Hall of Fame worthy player, but as a Hall of Fame quality person.

#2014-wfa-season, #candi-thompson, #chicago-force, #dawn-pederson, #jamie-menzyk, #jeanette-gray, #marcelina-chavez, #sabrina-kelly, #sami-grisafe, #tami-engelman, #tampa-bay-inferno

Dr. Jen Welter adds to female football legacy with appearance in IWFL Title Game

In a year that has seen Dr. Jen Welter’s football career grow by a quantum leap, football fans at Rock Hill, South Carolina were ecstatic at the opportunity to see this legendary player in action. Suiting up for the Houston Energy, she competed in the 2014 edition of the Independent Women’s Football League Tier I title game.

Joined by Alberta Fitcheard-Bryson, who played alongside Welter with the gold-medal winning contingent at the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships, it provided Houston with a fighting chance. As a side note, the two competed with the Dallas Diamonds in the 2013 Women’s Football Alliance national title game.

Competing against the undefeated Pittsburgh Passion, it was part of a remarkable showcase in female football. In addition to the complement of the IWFL All-Star Game, the weekend events were comprised of two other championship games. Including the Founders Bowl (the Tier II championship game), a 31-14 for the Madison Blaze over the Baltimore Nighthawks, fans were also privy to the third annual Legacy Bowl. The Carolina Queens would gain their third straight Bowl win with a 28-22 triumph against the Minnesota Vixen.

Over the last few months, Welter has established herself as more than just a sporting hero and an empowering role model for women. This highly educated, determined and distinguished individual was transformed into a pop culture icon. As the first woman to compete in a non-kicking position in men’s pro football, Welter’s tenure with the Texas Revolution captured the hearts and minds of sports and non-sports fans alike.

Playing for the entire season with the Revolution, Welter’s performance proved that women should not only pursue their dreams, but believe in themselves. Although she was not on the active travel roster for some of the Revs road games, her demeanor, maturity and team-first attitude were remarkable. Her 5’2’ frame resulted in approaching the men’s game differently, employing a willingness to learn, the sign of a character athlete. Despite the size limitations in the men’s game, meaning she could not be the go-to athlete she was in the women’s game, the support of team veteran Clinton Solomon contributed to maintaining her confidence and motivation.

Such a remarkable milestone was complemented by the opportunity to be the only female to compete in the Army Veterans vs. Navy Veterans Indoor Football Game. It was a proud yet emotional moment for Welter. Of note, her father Peter served as a medic during the Vietnam War. In addition to being the recipient of the Silver Star, he was bestowed with the Oak Leaf Cluster, Army Commendation Medal, the Air Medal, the Combat Bridge Medal during his military service.

Contested at the University of Pennsylvania Class of 1923 Arena , video footage of her tackle in the game became an online sensation. In the game, Army rallied from a 29-28 fourth quarter deficit to prevail by a 43-36 tally. As a side note, Welter would also make an appearance at a Philadelphia Phillies baseball game, even appearing on the dugout with famed mascot, the Philly Phanatic.

Considering that Welter was not part of the Diamonds roster this season, female football fans in Dallas could not help feel that the team’s complexion was different without her. Suiting up for Houston validated the hopes of female football fans that she would come back and play in the game that she helped to build. Emotions also ran high for the franchise as it was Erica Criswell’s final game.

Despite the fact that the Passion completed their undefeated season in storybook fashion with a 41-7 victory against a valiant Houston squad, the outcome is far from relevant. Showing loyalty to her football roots, it was an event that indicated Welter will eternally remain a hero in female football circles.

The true winner on this championship evening was women’s football itself. From the presence of two distinct yet highly amazing football legends gracing the gridiron, Welter and Lisa Horton, the long-time quarterback who reached the fabled 10,000 career yard passing plateau, it was a landmark event which may serve as the launching pad towards greater moments to come.

#2014-iwfl-tier-i-championship-game, #alberta-fitcheard-bryson, #houston-energy, #jen-welter, #lisa-horton, #pittsburgh-passion

Tackle the World captures the passion of female football on global scale

As a way of commemorating the one-year anniversary of the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships in Vantaa, Finland, an all-new expanded documentary titled Tackle the World…Tough Game – Tougher Women does more than just preserve a landmark moment in the game’s growing history. It perfectly captures the passion and emotions of self-confident female athletes, engaging in a remarkable social innovation that serves to propel the game towards a bold future.

Originally, the documentary ran in September 2013 at a movie theatre for the team. This was followed by a December broadcast on a local CBS television station. Currently, the expanded version only opens the window wider into a world of empowerment, sportsmanship and dedication where homage is paid to a group of pioneering female football players.

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Considering that the game continues to grow, the preservation of its events on film continues to be one of its most important elements. Whether it is photography or videography, the image immortalizes, resulting in a lasting visual appreciation of the game. As this superlative short film encourages the development of similar projects, it also preserves the spirit of players from the world over. Proudly representing their homelands and their athletic ambitions, viewers cannot help but feel a sense of pride from their accomplishments.

In the same spirit as world-renowned NFL Films, Tackle the World conveys the emotions of the players perfectly. Filmed by Rich Daniel, who also contributes to the female game as a member of the DC Divas front office, he uses the football field and the skies of Vantaa, Finland as his canvas. Chronicling of a world championship event, Daniel’s view behind the lens contributes to a visual masterpiece, praising the efforts of a group of women continuing to break barriers.

From the pre-game talk to the action on the field, the jubilation of triumph and the desolation of loss, no detail are overlooked as raw emotion fills the screen. The obligatory locker room speech only adds to the intensity of the documentary, which Rick Snider of the Washington Post perfectly encapsulates by stating that it is taken every bit as seriously as the NFL.

One of the most intriguing bits of footage comes when a player from the Canadian contingent loses her helmet after being tackled to the ground. For the astute football fan, it brings back memories of Hall of Fame men’s quarterback Steve Young, scrambling for extra yardage, looking fearless as his helmet soars through the crisp, autumn air after a bruising tackle.

In many ways, 2013 represented the game’s turning point. From its inclusion as an Olympic sport, to members of the Canadian team becoming football coaches, to the emergence of Dr. Jen Welter as a pop culture figure, these remarkable results in the aftermath of Vantaa are significant victories.

Such gridiron growth is akin to the rebirth of women’s hockey in the early 1990s, in which the documentary The Game of Her Life helped make the game part of the sporting conversation. Once hardcore fans stopped lamenting that it was women underneath the hockey helmets, choosing to absorb and appreciate the action on ice instead, suddenly, the quality of play was admired just as much as the male game. One cannot help but feel that the appreciation for female football will run parallel.

Action aside, the true substance of the documentary is the way it helps to celebrate the game. With Vantaa as the backdrop, the spirit of sportsmanship and friendship resulted in a sterling display of sporting solidarity and support. Making a solid case that the best is yet to come, it may serve as the greatest victory from Tackle the World.

#2013-ifaf-womens-world-football-championships, #tackle-the-world