The folks at the Women's Professional Football League (WPFL) repeatedly use words like tackle and full contact in their press releases. They want you to know their players -- Olympians, weightlifters, and other athletic types -- “have the desire to hit.” They want you to know this is no girlie tea party. To prove it they've coined team names such as the Valkyries (Colorado), the Rage (Austin), and the Fury (Miami).
And who can blame them? These promoters have the daunting task of garnering respect (and corporate sponsors) for their league. Gender aside, even the National Football League, formed in 1920 as the American Professional Football Association, had a tough time winning over fans from college ball. In 1922 one troubled team became a nonprofit and sold shares of itself for five dollars a pop (season ticket included). In the winter of 1926, acclaimed player Red “Galloping Ghost” Grange had to lead his Chicago Bears on a barnstorming tour to drum up support.
Following the Ghost's game plan, former Minnesota Vikings star John “JT” Turner, WPFL's director of operations (and Fury owner), took his own fledgling enterprise on tour in 1999. At last this Saturday some of the hundreds of contenders, who left their families and careers to train, scrimmage, and play expositions for little or no pay, kick off the first week of the WPFL's first official season: four games played in New York, Minnesota, Austin, and Miami.
Miami's roster includes linebacker Sharion Spears of Perrine, winner of the league's sportsmanship award; and wide receiver Trigger McNair, who earned the WPFL record for yards receiving (826) as well as the league's MVP award. Angela Belden, the Fury's sales and marketing manager, confirmed Ernie Jones will coach.
While the idea of a women's football league is glamorous and exciting, Belden admits the salary the players will receive is not. She contends that the league, though professional, is in the same grassroots stage as the early NFL. An avid fan of women's pro sports who is fundraising for the team on a contingency basis, Belden hopes her great expectations will be fulfilled. “I would love to see this [league] work,” she notes. One thing is for sure: The players will.