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.