Living legend Sami Grisafe literally reaches new heights

Working towards female football culturally relevant, Sami Grisafe is one of the sport’s avatars. A multi-talented athlete whose empowering legend can be traced back to her youth where barriers were first broken down, she brings broader attention to the game.

Returning to the Chicago Force in 2017, after a three-year absence from the game, it already represents one of the feel-good stories in the Women’s Football Alliance season. Undoubtedly, Grisafe’s career deserves a better ending.

A 2014 injury which resulted in tearing her ACL and Meniscus brought a premature end to her season, let alone her career. Despite announcing her retirement, there was always a competitive fire underneath, motivated towards a more fitting conclusion.

With speculation that this may be the last season in Chicago Force history, this gridiron swan song not only brings Grisafe’s glorious career full circle. The comeback symbolizes a tribute to a team that has meant so much to her.

Currently based out of California, Grisafe’s musical ambitions represent another amazing facet to her unique array of talents. In addition to the release of a song on iTunes called “All-Un-American”, she has also served as the host of a weekly concert series in Brentwood known as SunSeshLA.

Even when Grisafe resided in Chicago full-time, balancing football and musical gigs (which also included singing the National Anthem at Wrigley Field), she navigated between both worlds with ease.

Such navigation has taken on a whole new meaning in 2017 as weekly commutes from the Golden State to playing football in Chicago displays more than an admirable flexibility. It encompasses an admirable character, testament to her devotion to the game and teammates alike.

While she will also be using her time in the Windy City constructively for possible speaking opportunities and acoustic shows, there is a collective sense of happiness among fans and teammates alike to see her back in the Force jersey.

The weekly commute, with due deference, definitely places into perspective a key aspect of Grisafe’s amazing return to the gridiron. In any athlete’s career, the passing of time brings with it the need to make adjustments, understanding that such an outlook can bring with it future success.

Prior to such an eventful travel schedule, there was another journey for Grisafe, one that provided a defining moment. Visiting Mount Kilimanjaro, one of the world’s most famous peaks, it was a profoundly interesting excursion that allowed for a chance to bring new perspective to an existing friendship.

Participating at the urging of her best friend, Linsea, they were joined by a small group of amazing people whose efforts went beyond any self-gratification. There was a collaborative sense of teamwork in the name of raising funds for the African Alliance of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA).

Along with a few days of heart warming volunteer with children at a local YMCA in Nairobi, Grisafe’s compassion established her as more than a sporting humanitarian. Throughout her musical career, she has graciously donated her time, performing at various causes, becoming a social activist through song. Her song in dedication to The Trevor Project is among such kind gestures.

The experience in Mount Kilimanjaro brought with it many personal lessons learned, it was a source of tremendous perspective. While Grisafe is a world-class athlete, a supernova of magnetism and allure who inspires so many, the essence of teamwork took on new meaning, definitely a building block towards Grisafe’s comeback in 2017.

“My journey up Mt. Kilimanjaro was an enlightening experience. During our final ascent, I endured a bad case of altitude sickness. I had to stop every five steps or so to gather my bearings and was the last one in my party to summit. As an athlete, this hurt my pride. Even now when I say that, it leaves me feeling uneasy.

The three-hour descent to our camp on summit day found me staggering all the way back to camp, falling more than walking and relying on the strength of my best friend to get me through.

The lesson I learned is grit can only get you so far in life. Sometimes, you need to have the grace to let others be your backbone. I think this is the true definition of a team. With grit and grace nothing is insurmountable.”

In many ways, Mount Kilimanjaro helped to set the tone for what is destined to be a memorable season. Two days before the flight, she was in contact with Force team president Linda Bache, verbally committing to competing with the Force this season.

Before the practices with the Force would even take place, the weekly flights would actually start with a journey to Orlando, returning to another key hallmark in Grisafe’s gridiron odyssey. Having starred with the United States national team with golden results at the 2010 and 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships, the treasured chance for a third gold medal in 2017 extends an incredible legacy that has shepherded the sport.

With the 2017 edition of the IFAF Women’s Worlds taking place on the Pacific coast in Vancouver, British Columbia, it represents the first time that they shall be contested in North America. Undoubtedly, the feeling of familiarity also brings with it a sense of home field advantage for Grisafe and the other gridiron heroes on Team USA.

The path towards being named to Team USA a third time, placing Grisafe in truly rarified air occurred in March 2017 during a very exciting week of football at the Wide World of Sports facility in Orlando, Florida. In a week that began with Team USA tryouts, followed by the energetic Women’s World Football Games, culminating with the NFL’s annual showcase of stars, the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, Grisafe was definitely in her element.

With the residual warmth of the gridiron, Grisafe’s motivation rose to the surface. Although there was an obligatory, yet visceral, reflection on the injury that abruptly shelved a promising 2014, there was a progressive feeling of renewed confidence.

“Being back on the field for Team USA tryouts felt like home in so many ways. I was back on the gridiron, a place where I’ve spent a lot of time since the age of 10. Physically, I was reminded of my time off and felt a huge responsibility to not only rise to the occasion, but improve upon my past performance.

I had to prove myself. I like to pretend I am a rookie at the beginning of every season, because points aren’t awarded for experience. Points are awarded for results. Statistically, I want this to be the best season of my life.”

In discovering that she was named to Team USA, it was the catalyst towards a sensational seven-month journey filled with momentum and motivation. Refusing to rest on her laurels, Grisafe is looking towards this opportunity as one in which the level of loyalty and steadfastness will be greater than ever.

Understanding that the rest of the world is looking at the US as the standard bearer for its sport, it only serves to increase the level of competition. Looking at the privilege of wearing the team’s colors as more than just an honor, but a symbol of determination, Grisafe is ready to set a positive example,

“When I found out I made Team USA for a third time, I was eager to get started. I was honored to be asked to represent my country and excited to play with 44 of the best football players in the country.

At the same time, I know the challenge that awaits us. Putting a cohesive team together in a matter of weeks is not an easy undertaking. What we’ve accomplished in the past at the Women’s World Championships holds no water as we enter this year’s competition.

As one of the quaterback’s selected, I have a responsibility to keep our team focused in performing to the best of our abilities and not get distracted by pomp and circumstance. Making the team is both a reward and duty.”

To a degree, there is also a tinge of sadness. As Grisafe looks to bring the Chicago Force back into the WFA championship conversation, a monumental mentor adds a different dimension to the international aspect of 2017.

Force head coach John Konecki was the architect of the Team USA rosters in both 2010 and 2013, leading them to the pinnacle of their sport. While he will still roam the sidelines at Force games, his international career sees him taking on a new challenge as the head coach of Australia’s national team.

Although Team USA has always been a collection of the finest players from rival teams throughout the WFA, there is definitely a distinct feeling of transition this year. Making their IFAF Worlds debut in 2017, the ambitious Aussies have enjoyed their own competitive league since 2012, definitely prepared.

Confident of a podium finish under Konecki’s tutelage, it heralds a new era in which the competitive gap is potentially being bridged, while helping to shape the future. Regardless of the international ambitions, Konecki and the Force players that shall compete with Team USA, including Grisafe, are true professionals, refusing to let personal pride get in the way of their first WFA national title since 2013.

“Coming together to compete for our country in the world games while playing against each other on separate teams, each pursuing a national championship, always adds an interesting dynamic.

For the first time, we will also compete against our coach. For the past two world championships, the head coach of the Chicago Force, John Konecki, was the head coach for Team USA. This year a new head coach was selected for Team USA and Konecki will coach Team Australia.

Throughout this season, I will work with Coach Konecki to win another National Championship while preparing to compete against him in the world championships.”

Regardless of the final outcome in these seven months, there is no question that Grisafe has the heart of a lion, a champion before the race has even started. The sacrifices made to compete on the gridiron only add a new aspect to her amazing sporting legend, a true Captain America.

Employing both maturity and acumen, Grisafe’s comeback represents an amazing ability to approach the future with confidence while refusing to be haunted by past failures or blinded by past glories. Gaining the opportunity to wear the jersey of the Force and Team USA, this is truly the final ending fitting of an individual who is more than just a world class athlete, but a world class person.

“I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Chicago Force organization. Without large salaries (or any salary for that matter) and medical benefits to draw top athletes to our sport, it can be difficult to field and maintain a team of talented players. Our management, coaching staff, and veteran team members dedicate so much of their time to both recruiting and skill development.

It is because of their dedication so many of us will get to take the field together wearing the red, white and blue. I’m looking forward to sharing the field with both my Force sisters and players from all the other teams across the country. When we leave for training camp in June, we are no longer individuals from select teams. We are one team with one mission.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

#2017-ifaf-womens-worlds, #chicago-force, #sami-grisafe

WFA gridiron legend Sami Grisafe launches song to honor marriage equality

Known as one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the WFA, All-World quarterback Sami Grisafe is more than just an elite athlete. Having led the Chicago Force to the 2013 WFA National Championship, she retired after the 2014 WFA All-America Game (hosted in her current residence of Chicago) in order to engage in her music career on a full-time basis.

Akin to Jim Brown, who retired after his glorious NFL career to pursue an acting career, Grisafe is looking to bring the same empowering message that she brought to the gridiron to her musical endeavors. Showing great courage in expressing her same-sex preference, it is a message that Grisafe has also employed in some of her songs.

Of note, this is not the first time that Grisafe has turned to music to show support. Another song that provided comfort and hope was the song “Trevor”, named in honor of The Trevor Project. Her performance of the Star Spangled Banner prior to the gold medal game of the 2013 IFAF Women’s World Championships captivated a nation of female football fans.

In the aftermath of the United States government making same-sex marriage legal throughout the country, it was a point of pride for Grisafe, representing more than just a personal victory, but a moral victory. Through her musical talents, she shared her support of this historic moment in America with a remarkable song.

Titled “Brand New Fairy Tale”, the song also features the efforts of Eric Himan, plus a new music video. With the support of Vicious Muse, LLC, Glam Tie Media, Chicago Recording Company, Ink Factory Studio, the Windy City Times and AfterEllen.com (where the video can be seen), it serves as her opus, a creative, emotional and powerful way to support marriage equality.

#sami-grisafe

Sami Grisafe earns induction into the Redlands High School Athletic Hall of Fame

In what is likely the first of many more accolades to come, quarterback Sami Grisafe has been recognized with induction into the Redlands High School Athletic Hall of Fame. Definitely a fitting tribute to a lifetime devoted to breaking barriers, Grisafe helped pave the way for others to follow in her glorious footsteps.

Part of a seven-member class of inductees, Grisafe began breaking those barriers while at Redlands High School. Back in 2000, she led the Redlands Terriers to the field as a sophomore quarterback, making her the first girl to line up behind center in the history of CIF-SS play.

Competing against arch-rival school Redlands East Valley in varsity competition, it was a great moment for sporting equality, while adding another gratifying chapter to the history of Title IX.

Although volleyball and water polo represented other athletic pursuits, Grisafe proved at an early age that she possessed many talents. Winning a statewide monologue competition, it would prove to be part of the next chapter in her athletic and entertainment destinies.

Earning an acting scholarship at Chicago’s Roosevelt University, it did not take long before the city’s proud football history and remarkable music heritage shaped her life in positive and enriching ways. Inspired by her parents’ country music roots with their band, Two of Hearts, Grisafe has composed music which attempts to match such inspiration.

With songs such as “Trevor” paying tribute to The Trevor Project, along with her moving portrayal of the Star Spangled Banner at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds in Vantaa, Finland, her musical gifts are just as prevalent as her athletic gifts. This was complemented by her first album, Atlantis, which drew pre-nominations for the Grammy Awards.

While she channeled Chicago’s musical energy into a stirring melodic career, her love of the gridiron catapulted her to historic success. In addition to earning a WFA national title as the starting quarterback for the Chicago Force, Grisafe would participate on the world’s biggest stage.

Competing as the starting quarterback for the US national women’s team at the 2010 and 2013 IFAF Women’s World Football Championships, Grisafe earned a pair of gold medals. Perhaps more impressive, Grisafe threw the first touchdown pass in the history of the event.

While an ACL injury has prompted Grisafe towards the musical spotlight on a full-time basis, her final appearance on the football stage was a memorable one. Contested on home soil in Chicago, Grisafe participated in the WFA All-American Game. It was the final footnote to a stellar athletic career that exemplifies why she earned her recognition by Today’s Chicago Woman, naming Grisafe to its list of the 100 inspirational women in the city.

Considering that her inspiring journey began at Redlands, the nod to their Hall brings her athletic career full circle. Commemorating a special time in California sporting history, the significance of her induction is that it shall stand as a symbol of motivation for future athletes. While a new generation of girls throughout America pursue their own gridiron dreams, such future pioneers can thank Grisafe’s efforts.

#chicago-force, #sami-grisafe

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