By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By David Villano
By Jose D. Duran
By Michael E. Miller
By Allie Conti
By Kyle Swenson
By Luther Campbell
It's a blazing late May afternoon at Nathaniel "Traz" Powell Stadium near Opa-locka. The 29 members of the Miami Fury gather at the 50-yard line, dressed in their shiny aqua uniforms. On the running track that surrounds the field, near the locker rooms, the Pure Funk DJs from 97.7 FM blast "Reppin' My City." Rick Ross's silky voice crackles from seven speakers: "I be flippin' dem flounders, they be huntin' my bounty/I'm the face of the hood, everyplace in the hood." Just as the chorus hits its bass line, the all-female tackle football team stomps in unison at midfield, hooting and hollering at their opponents, the Atlanta Xplosion. The Georgia players, dressed in white and black, respond from the sideline with their own trademark cheer: "Tick, tick, boom! Tick, tick, boom!"
Fury outside linebacker Gilda Bethel, a five-foot-four-inch, 155-pound fireplug with a swagger like that of Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, points at one of the Xplosion players: running back Ronkia Toombs, a stout Miamian who was a star for the Fury last season, scoring long touchdown runs on the opening drives of the team's first three games. Then, during the off-season, Toombs relocated to the Peach State.
Bethel, who wears the number two and intricate shoulder-length cornrows, flashes a wide grin at her former teammate. An elementary charter school teacher, Bethel wasn't planning on returning to the gridiron this year. She was going to leave football and begin working on her master's degree. But she changed her mind when she found out Toombs had defected. "That's all the motivation I needed to come back," says the three-year veteran. "I want to blow her up."
A few minutes later, halfway through the first quarter, Bethel gets her chance. It's third and six for Atlanta on the Fury's 29-yard line. Xplosion quarterback Charmaine Chin receives the snap and hands the ball off to Toombs. Bethel stops the Xplosion's running back for no gain. On fourth down, the Xplosion elects to go for it. Again, Bethel blows past the offensive line. She hurls herself at Toombs like a Florida panther pouncing on a feral hog in an Everglades prairie. This time Bethel knocks Toombs, a former Miami Central Senior High track star, for a two-yard loss.
A jubilant Bethel rips off her helmet and runs to the Fury sideline, where teammates and coaches congratulate her and the rest of the D-unit: "Yeah, Gilda! Great job, defense!" Defensive coordinator Raul Camaliche hugs Bethel and slaps her shoulder pads as she comes off the field. Bethel taunts a half-dozen Atlanta fans by making the slashing throat gesture at them. "She can't handle what I'm bringing!" she boasts, referring to Toombs. "It's going down with that girl from Miami! I'm trying to kill her! Demolish her! I came to play all day!"
But the Fury offense is mired in muck this afternoon. Later in the quarter, on second down, quarterback Anonka Dixon scrambles away from a swarm of Atlanta defenders that has penetrated the backfield. She rockets a tight 20-yard pass downfield. It's a perfect spiral, but the ball is intercepted by Xplosion defensive back Althea McNichol, who runs it back to Miami's five-yard line.
Three plays later, the Atlanta QB fakes a hand-off and runs untouched into the end zone for the TD. On the Fury's next possession, Dixon is sacked for a safety.
In the stands, Debra Roberson — a 45-year-old aviation company shipping manager — and six of her friends exhort the Fury offense to wake up. "Y'all need to go out to the hood and get some real girls," Roberson mocks. "Put me in, Coach!"
A large woman with tattoos on her forearms and long, thick black dreads, Roberson claims she taught Dixon how to run and catch a football when they were kids growing up in the Liberty City subdivision of Brownsville. "I taught her to go get that ball," Roberson boasts, her gold tooth shimmering in the setting sun. "I tried out for the Fury once, but I ended up on blood thinners. I couldn't continue."
Over the public address system, announcer Jonathan Lederman proclaims, "The Miami Fury is proud to bring you family-friendly football!" As soon as Lederman finishes his sentence, Roberson pours Hennessey cognac into plastic cups for herself and her pals. "Easy now," says a man sitting behind her. "It's church tomorrow."
"It's just water," Roberson says.
"Yeah, fire water," the man retorts.
The Fury endures another regrettable offensive series. "Act like the police is chasing y'all ass!" Roberson screams. Her advice fails to pay off. By the beginning of the fourth quarter, interim head coach Thomas Fanakos — who joined the Fury this year after watching his wife Sandy play on the team last season — knows the game is out of reach.
"We're down 37-0," he says. "All we can do now is work on getting better for next week." For now, the Fury isn't getting any better. The final score: 44-0.
In the locker room, Fanakos gathers the team and puts the loss on himself. "I'm going to take the blame," he says. "It was my fault we didn't prepare you guys. We did not put you guys in the best position, so this one is on us."