Diane Long a remarkably strong woman and inspiring football mom and wife

In an era when so many wives and girlfriends of professional athletes are either eye candy or unfortunate victims of drug abuse and/or domestic violence, Diane Long sets the gold standard as a strong, intelligent woman able to balance motherhood with a strong sense of responsibility. Along with Olivia Manning, the two may definitely be the first ladies among NFL wives.

Having devoted more than 30 years of her life as a football wife/mom, Diane Addonizio initially met Howie Long when the two were students at Villanova Univeristy. In June of 1982, she married Long, while embarking on a legal career. One of her first experiences as an NFL wife that exposed her to pop culture came in 1992. A trading card set titled Pro Line Portraits was released. Just like the 1991 edition, the 1992 cards would feature randomly inserted cards of player’s wives. In addition, some of the cards would be autographed. Adorned in a Raiders jacket, a smiling Long would be featured on a trading card.

Diane Long football card from 1992 Pro Line Portraits

Diane Long football card from 1992 Pro Line Portraits

One of her most emotional experiences as a football mom took place during the 2013 NFL season when the St. Louis Rams took on the Chicago Bears. Oldest son Christopher, a former second overall pick by the Rams in the NFL Draft, followed in his father’s footsteps, NFL Hall of Famer Howie Long, by playing at the defensive end position.
During their childhood, Diane had a license plate that read 3 Boy Zoo. It was not uncommon to find dirty socks and gum wrappers hidden throughout the home.

Younger by four years, Kyle was selected by the Bears in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Playing at the guard position, Kyle spent his Sunday trying to prevent Christopher and the rest of the Bears defense from stifling the Bears offensive attack. During the game, a scrap broke out between the two teams, as Chris, a former All-American at the University of Virginia pulled away Kyle in order to save him from ejection.

In earlier years, Christopher and Kyle would be fighting between each other. Of note, Diane made a stand early in Christopher’s life, advising him that if he continued to be mean to his brother, he would not be allowed to play Pop Warner football. Today, the younger Kyle is bigger, measuring in at 6-6, while Christopher is 6-3. The youngest son is Howie, Jr., born in 1990, currently an intern with the Oakland Raiders.

Even with her oldest son Christopher, selected over Glenn Dorsey by the St. Louis Rams with the second overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft, she still played a prominent role. Akin to hockey superstar Sidney Crosby’s mom Trina (who sat for one season on the CWHL’s Board of Directors), who provided him with moral support on NHL Draft Day, Diane Long was equally important in her son’s first day as part of pro football.

Christopher’s day started with a missing toothbrush, followed by the absence of a clean white T-shirt to wear under his dress shirt. With mother around, she had the hotel supply a toothbrush while taking one of her husband’s T-shirt’s in order to get the all-too monumental draft day off to a right start for him.

As a side note, she would also provide a key role when Kyle, a two-sport star who was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 2008 MLB Draft, was a student-athlete for the Florida State Seminoles. Arrested on a DUI charge in January 2009, he would leave the school during the same month. Showing tough love, she would let Kyle work it out for himself, proud to see him mature by going into rehab and bouncing back with Pac-10 powerhouse Oregon.

Along with her son Kyle, she would participate in a panel discussion at the Walter Payton Center, part of a free football safety clinic for nearly 200 moms. Hosted by the Chicago Bears, the headline guests included NFL commissioner Roger Goodell; Bears chairman George McCaskey and TV celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz. Other wives in attendance included Chris Golic and Connie Payton.

The first clinic of its kind hosted by an NFL team, topics included education on concussion awareness, which featured the moms in attendance using techniques from Heads Up Football (launched by USA Football) in order to properly execute drills. Other topics included heat and hydration, along with proper equipment fitting. Long’s presence certainly had a profound effect. With all three of her sons having played the game, she shared with the moms in attendance her experiences about having her children play the game.

Acknowledging the importance of the family communicating and reaching a decision on allowing younger players to play football, her advice to the mothers in attendance was to maintain an open dialogue and stay involved. The fact that she admitted she is still worried when her sons play the game was heartwarming, as it shows the positive impact that mothers and wives can have in football. Certainly, her three boy zoo of Christopher, Kyle and Howie, Jr., can attest to her tremendous role as a football mom.

Ladies Gridiron League set to kickoff in Australia for 2015

After a rival league announced that it was not going to have a second season in Australia due to financial reasons, the Legends Gridiron League has risen out of the ashes. Taking into account that the rival league had flown in players from its United States-based league to boost interest in the league, it was easy to see it as another example of that league not living up to its promises (as Canadian fans can attest to).

For all the dedicated coaches and players who trained so hard in the off-season, it could not have been more heartbreaking. With the New South Wales Surge on-board, the champions from the rival league’s inaugural Australian campaign, it certainly adds an element of excitement for the budding league.

LGL

Seven teams are poised to sprout in the start-up league with the Victoria Maidens and the New South Wales Surge from the former rival league jumping on board. Import players Danika Brace and Stevi Schnoor have signed on to remain with the Maidens. Other franchises include Tasmania, Western Australia, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory Spirit.

Originally started in 2012 as a feeder league for teams such as the Surge, a new owner has injected new life into the league, poised to make it work. Discussions of compensation have also brought with it feelings of optimism.

Taking into account that the former rival league was slated to begin its season in October 2014, an official launch is not slated until early 2015. While remaining team names, uniform production and national try-outs are still in the works, it is imperative that relationships with players, coaches, staff, officials and supporters are built on integrity and respect. Sadly, the impact of the rival league (and a lawsuit from a former player in Los Angeles) has created a group of dedicated yet disillusioned female athletes whose dreams of gridiron glory never had the chance to truly reach fruition.

While the discussion of insurance is definitely a step in the right direction, the true substance shall be in its finished product. Certainly the impact of import players such as Brace and Schnoor provides LGL competitors with valuable mentors. As women’s tackle football continues to grow in Australia, the LGL needs to have an actual season in order to not reverse any progress that has been made.

For dedicated fans of female football, there have been far too many setbacks, especially in North America. As these same fans are eager to see the game grow, success would certainly be a welcome boon. Should the league reach its goals and thrive, its greatest legacy may be in showing the former rival league how to do things right.

#danika-brace, #new-south-wales-surge, #stevi-schnoor, #victoria-maidens

Las Vegas Sin rookie sensations bring their impressive game to Australia

With female football starting to grow in Australia, fans will be treated by the presence of a group of future superstars. Sindy Cummings and Markie Henderson are among a group of Las Vegas Sin players who shall be extending their seasons by competing down under.

Cummings and Henderson made such an impression during the Sin’s 2014 campaign that they earned the respect of veteran Danika Brace, who ranked fifth in the league in tackles. Of note, she mentioned them in her farewell address to the team.

Ironically, Brace will be their opponents heading into the Australian campaign, as she will suit up for the Victoria Maidens. The thought of Brace possibly intercepting a Cummings pass or tackling Henderson will certainly be a different experience.

Joining the Queensland Brigade as its field general shall be Cummings. Despite a frustrating winless season in Las Vegas, Cummings emerged as a breakthrough star, with a sparkling rookie campaign that saw her log 10 touchdown passes with zero interceptions.

Known affectionately as Super Sindy, Cummings looks to build on the momentum of her strong rookie campaign with Las Vegas (Artwork obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/sclfl)

Known affectionately as Super Sindy, Cummings looks to build on the momentum of her strong rookie campaign with Las Vegas (Artwork obtained from: https://www.facebook.com/sclfl)

Her 286 passing yards ranked in the league’s top five, while she led all passers with a 100.3 passer rating. Along with Rookie of the Year winner Dakota Hughes (who led all quarterbacks with 324 passing yards), they comprise a new generation of elite quarterbacks.

Along with Cummings, Sin teammates LaChelle Forman and Cynthia Schmidt shall continue their seasons with Queensland. Forman brings stability to the offensive line, giving Cummings a familiar face to protect her. Schmidt would finish the Sin season with 9.5 total tackles, while ranking second on the club with 89 receiving yards and leading all players with four touchdowns.

A solid two-way player, Cynthia Schmidt is ready to occupy such a role down under (Photo credit: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

A solid two-way player, Cynthia Schmidt is ready to occupy such a role down under (Photo credit: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

In the absence of Henderson playing for a rival club down under, Schmidt shall likely emerge as Cummings’ favorite target on the Queensland offense. With Remy Olinzock from the Toledo Crush also suiting up for the Queensland Brigade, it will provide the club with a pair of solid two-way players.

Known affectionately as Lil’ Train, Markie Henderson emerged as a premier receiver, giving Las Vegas one of the best quarterback-receiver tandems in the league. She tied with Chicago’s Chris’Dell Harris for first in receptions. Of note, she averaged 11.5 yards per catch (Harris has 14.1).

While she accounted for 40% of the team’s receiving yardage, complemented by three TD receptions, she was equally adept in the running game. She would finish her rookie campaign as the team’s rushing leader, while leading all Sin players in combined yards from scrimmage with 211 yards.

Markie Henderson during player introductions (Photo credit: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Markie Henderson during player introductions (Photo credit: Ethan Miller, Getty Images)

Perhaps more impressive was the brutal hit that she laid out on Chicago Bliss cornerback Dominique Collins. Taking into account that Henderson is 5’3” and 120 pounds, she flattened Collins, who measures in at 5’5” and 135 pounds. Video footage went viral as Henderson proved she was not to be taken lightly.

The versatility that Henderson showed in her game will make her a welcome addition to the Western Australia Angels. Joining her on the team shall be marquee running back Tamar Fennell. Of note, Fennell is the only player to have logged an indoor football touchdown in Canada (with the Saskatoon Sirens), the United States (Cleveland Crush) and in Australia (having played in 2013).

While the strong performance of Cummings and Henderson were the highlights in a difficult season of transitions for Las Vegas, it supplies the fan base with the faith that better days shall come soon. The chance to compete in Australia and polish their already strong game may prove to be the turning point in what transforms them from a winless squad to a proud championship team.

#cynthia-schmidt, #danika-brace, #lachelle-forman, #las-vegas-sin, #markie-henderson, #queensland-brigade, #sindy-cummings, #tamar-fennell, #victoria-maidens, #western-australia-angels

Two-way threats Steinmetz and Schnoor to compete together in Australia

In the aftermath of the 2014 indoor female football season in the United States, a group of elite competitors shall be bringing their skills to the game down under. Among the ten women competing in Australia, looking to enhance the quality of the game while providing leadership, a pair of two-way threats may make the biggest mark.

Saige Steinmetz from the Jacksonville Breeze and Stevi Schnoor from the Seattle Mist shall earn the rare opportunity to become teammates. Competing in opposite conferences, the two have never had the chance to see the other play. Making their way to the Victoria Maidens, the two may be the final pieces of a championship puzzle.

vm

Joining them in Victoria shall be Danika Brace, a former Mist player who served as a captain with the Las Vegas Sin. Quarterback KK Matheny, who played alongside Steinmetz with the Breeze, rounds out a remarkable quartet of elite female football talent.

During the 2014 American indoor female football season, Steinmetz was the only player to finish among the top five in offensive and defensive leaders. Of note, Steinmetz ranked second in rushing with 305 yards, complemented by six touchdowns.

Defensively, she finished fifth in league play in sacks. Accounting for 80% of the Breeze’s rushing yardage, Steinmetz also led the club with 309 combined yards from scrimmage. Her 11.5 total tackles ranked second on the Breeze, including an astounding 7.5 for loss, best among all Breeze commpetitors. Her season would culminate with an appearance in the Eastern Conference championship game, along with the honor of league MVP bestowed upon her.

Equally adept at the running game is Schnoor. The Most Valuable Player at the 2013 Pacific Cup, Schnoor finished behind Steinmetz in rushing yards with 267, ranking third in league play. She accounted for 69% of the Mist’s rushing game, while also finishing second on the Mist in receptions. Her 334 combined yards from scrimmage were tops amongst all Mist competitors, earning her a league nomination for Most Outstanding Player on Offense.

On the opposite side of the ball, Schnoor brought a well-rounded game. Her 8.5 total tackles ranked fourth on the Mist, while she led the club with 3 tackles for loss. In addition, she recovered two fumbles, establishing herself as an asset for the Mist.

Both solid two-way competitors, they are both poised to capture the hearts and minds of fans down under, the way they have in the US. Regardless of the season’s outcome, the chance for novice players and fans alike to earn the chance to see their greatness shall make it one to remember.

#danika-brace, #jacksonville-breeze, #kk-matheny, #saige-steinmetz, #seattle-mist, #stevi-schnoor, #victoria-maidens

Monique Gaxiola earns nod as first member of indoor female football Hall of Fame

Having earned three indoor football titles with the Los Angeles Temptation, Monique Gaxiola was bestowed with an even more prestigious feat. She was named the first inductee into the indoor female football Hall of Fame. The other finalists for the honor included Heather Furr, who led the Chicago Bliss to indoor titles in 2013 and 2014, Marirose Roach, an attorney that played a key role in the Philadelphia Passion’s Eastern Conference dominance and Temptation head coach David Bizub.

With five seasons in the United States under her belt, Gaxiola has grown into a veteran role where her leadership has helped Los Angeles remain as one of the elite teams in indoor football. In addition, she also played in Australia with the New South Wales Surge. Along with Chloe Butler (who played with Gaxiola in Los Angeles), the two would help the Surge capture a championship down under, with a 36-15 title win over the Western Australia Angels.

Known affectionately as “Gax”, she has earned multiple All-League selections, along with the Comeback Player of the Year Award in 2011 and an award in 2013 named after the commissioner of indoor female football, which recognizes sportsmanship and dedication.

Gaxiola trying on her Hall of Fame jacket (Image obtained from Facebook)

Gaxiola trying on her Hall of Fame jacket (Image obtained from Facebook)

The middle child with four brothers, they would provide a sporting influence in her youth. Between football, basketball and soccer, there was always a sporting endeavor to support her active lifestyle. Of note, her father was a coach when she participated in youth soccer. He would help set positive examples that are testament to her strong leadership skills in football.

A key focus in her sport is to attempt to remove the focus on sexuality. Describing herself as a tomboy growing up, Gaxiola’s main sporting focus revolved around soccer. Competing at the University of Southern California (where former teammate Melissa Marguiles excelled in track and field) on its varsity soccer team, she would help the club capture a national championship in 2007. Of note, she would graduate from USC in 2009 with a communications degree. Her 15+ years experience as a soccer player resulted in stints on the Mexican Under-19 and Under-20 national women’s soccer teams.

Even during her football career, she has maintained her multi-sport status. Of note, her athletic resume only expands as she gained certification as a Crossfit trainer. According to Gaxiola, the league’s commissioner had stated to her that he would like her to one day become its first female coach, which would be a fitting triple crown of sorts, complementing her championships and Hall of Fame accolades.

Statistically, she has many solid seasons of quality play. After the 2013 campaign, she compiled 14.5 total tackles (10 solo), including five stops for losses and an interception returned for a touchdown. Amidst player turnover in 2014, she continued to maintain a high standard of play on defense. She tied with Ogom Chijindu for the team lead with 15 tackles (10 solo), while being the only player on the squad to recover a fumble during the season.

Quite possible her best asset with the franchise is her emotional maturity. Understanding that actions speak louder than words, she leads on every team she plays for by setting a positive example of hard work. A key aspect in her work ethic is the self-discipline to deal with her past struggles with weight. From weights, cardio and a coach, her commitment to fitness is a source of encouragement for young women facing their own body image issues.

Taking her responsibility as a role model very seriously, she is an inspiration for young Mexican-American female athletes looking to make their own sporting dreams come true. These values make Gaxiola more than just an accomplished athlete, but an accomplished person.

Boston Militia makes history as first team to capture two WFA National Titles

Led by quarterback Allison Cahill, the Boston Militia secured their second Women’s Football Alliance national title, becoming the first team to accomplish this feat. Their road to the championship included two consecutive matches in which they were not favored to prevail.

Of note, the AFC Championship Game against the defending champion Chicago Force encompassed high emotions. Taking into account that Chicago was the host city for the WFA championship weekend, the club was hoping to play for the title on home soil. Boston got to the conference final by defeating the Cleveland Fusion 47-6 and the DC Divas in a 72-56 shootout.

On paper, Chicago seemed like the stronger team. Their offense averaged 45.1 points per game (second in the nation), while their defense ranked seventh overall, allowing 11.7 points per game. In comparison, the Militia were fifth in points, first in yards per game and only 17th in defense. Taking into account that Whitney Zelee, who had rushed for over 2,000 yards in 2013, only managed 162 yards in the regular season, it was a factor in establishing Chicago as the favorite to win.

During the regular season, the two female football titans competed against each other, with Boston prevailing by a 35-18 score. As a side note, All-World quarterback Sami Grisafe did not compete in that game. Chicago was now hoping to even the score in its efforts to successfully defend its title. Boston quickly made believers out of skeptics, overcoming the Force by a convincing 63-14 mark.

Heading into the WFA title game against the San Diego Surge, the Militia were considered an underdog. Having averaged 63 points per game, the Surge had the number one offense in the nation, scoring a total of 443 points, while averaging 343.9 yards per game (fifth overall). Ironically, the Militia averaged more rushing yards per game (203.8 to 163.4) and passing yards per game (229.2 to 180.5) than the Surge.

While the Militia ranked fifth with 39 points per game, the squad only accumulated 195 total points, lowest among top ten ranked offenses. As a side note, the Militia and the Surge were among three teams that finished the regular season with an undefeated record. The Kansas City Titans would also enjoy that privilege.

A key to the success of all three teams was their passing game. Militia quarterback Allison Cahill had led the Militia to the best passing game in the nation, while she ranked third with a 120.0 passer rating. Melissa Gallegos of the Surge topped her with a 129.9 passer rating, throwing only one interception all season compared to a remarkable 21 touchdown passes. Katie Sowers of the Titans finished first with a 133.6 rating.

The lack of respect would prove to be a highly motivational factor. Of note, three Militia players earned AFC Conference awards. Derrick Beasley was recognized as Coach of the Year, while Allison Cahill earned the Offensive Player of the Year nod. Complementing her win was Noriko Kokura, winning the Defensive Player of the Year Award.

With 28 points scored in the first quarter, the Militia set the tone early. On Boston’s second possession, Cahill would get into the end zone on a nine-yard run for the first touchdown of the game. San Diego struggled with their passing game as Gallegos could not establish a rhythm with Kaycee Clark and Deana Guidry.

A pair of fumbles on their next two possessions provided the Militia with the opportunity to extend their lead. Capitalizing on both occasions, Cahill found Stacey Tiamfook for the 14-0 lead, followed by Zelee scoring on a 17-yard run.

After San Diego assembled a six-play drive to reduce the Militia’s lead to 14 points, the Militia employed great depth on offense to regain their 21-point lead. Tiamfook, Zelee and Adrienne Smith all contributed on a nine-play drive capped by Zelee’s rushing touchdown with only 16 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.

Turnovers would plague the Surge early in the second quarter. A fumble recovered by Victoria Eddy set the stage for Zelee to score another touchdown, as Militia logged three touchdowns on turnovers. While the Surge replied with a 49-yard drive for a 35-14 score, the defense struggled to contain Zelee. Finding her groove, Zelee managed her second touchdown of the quarter as the scoreboard read 42-14 at halftime.

Despite the Surge opening the third quarter with a touchdown, it would not take long for the Militia to get back on the scoreboard. On a five-play drive, Zelee would gain her fifth touchdown of the game for a 55-21 score. The Surge answered back with their own five-play drive, attempting to turn the tide in their favor.

Before the third quarter would expire, Zelee scored her sixth touchdown on a 14 yard run, squashing any hopes of a comeback by the Surge. With 62 points scored, the game was now out of reach. While San Diego continued to play valiantly on offense, scoring a touchdown with 12:58 remaining, the c lub failed to recover an onside kick. With good field position, it would not take long for the Militia to pick apart their opposing defense, paving the way for Dorothy Donaldson to log the game’s final touchdown.

Statistically, Zelee eclipsed her regular season rushing total. Her single-game performance of 6 touchdowns and 291 rushing yards, along with two receptions for 16 yards was the story of the game. Stacey Tiamfook also contributed to the running game with 109 yards. Three receptions for 77 yards showed Tiamfook’s versatility. Allison Cahill showed great poise in the passing game, completing 10 of 14 passes for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns; she would also employ the running game, scampering for 50 yards on eight carries.

Prevailing by a 69-34 final, the Militia became the first club to capture two WFA National Championships (2011, 2014). Coincidentally, two of the clubs that Boston defeated in the postseason (San Diego and Chicago), won the championship in 2012 and 2013. Complemented by a former title in the IWFL, the 2014 triumph brings the franchise its third league championship.

On September 8, 2014, the Boston Red Sox would make a great gesture, inviting the Militia to grace the field. As a side note, the Red Sox also honored the Boston Blades back in 2013. The women’s hockey club captured the Clarkson Cup over Montreal. Such a show of support is a remarkable breakthrough as women’s sports becomes a significant part of the sporting landscape in Beantown, one of America’s premier sporting cities.

#2014-wfa-national-championship, #adrienne-smith, #allison-cahill, #boston-militia, #san-diego-surge, #stacey-tiamfook, #whitney-zelee

Chicago Force say farewell to a fallen friend in Veronica “Ro” Gazzillo

Among the pioneering women who have donned the Chicago Force over the years, one was sadly lost too soon when Veronica Gazzillo (born Soper) passed away in Evanston, Illinois at the age of 39. A former All-Star who went on to serve as an assistant coach for the Force, she was part of a dominant offensive line unit that paved the way for Sami Grisafe to become an All-World quarterback.

The recipient of the Force’s Offensive MVP Award in 2010, she was also an All-Star when the club participated in the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFL). After her career reached an abrupt end due to an injury, she served as a member of head coach John Konecki’s staff. Known affectionately as Ro, the highlight of her coaching tenure included the WFA national championship season in 2013. As a side note, her cousin, Jamie Menzyk was also a member of the Force.

Prior to football, Gazzillo was a multi-sport star at George Washington High School, excelling in basketball, softball and volleyball. Afterwards, Gazzillo served in the United States Army as a member of its military police. Given a Chapter 15 discharge for her same-sex preference, it serves as a painful reminder of what many in the LGBT community had to endure in years past.

Having made her living most recently as a union ironworker for over a decade, she is survived by her wife, Tori Gazzillo. The couple married near the corner of Addison and Halsted streets last June during the Chicago Pride Parade. In addition, Gazzillo had two children, a son, Jason and daughter, Courtney. Her role as a mother tackling the traditionally male-dominated world of football, while having the courage to stand up for her LGBT lifestyle will make her an eternal role model in the female sporting scene of Chicago.

#chicago-force, #jamie-menzyk, #veronica-gazzillo