Trying tryout for women's football team

September 25, 2005|By RICK MAESE

The flier seemed inviting enough. "Do you have what it takes to play women's full-contact football?" it read.

I mulled it over for approximately 30 seconds. My football history is mostly limited to a couch and a remote control. But because I'm pretty good at that, I foolishly figured, yeah, I have exactly what it takes to play women's full-contact football.

The Baltimore Burn is one of nearly three dozen teams that play in the National Women's Football Association. After I saw the flier, I hopped on the league's Web site to get more details: pads, uniforms, road trips, teams playing coast-to-coast, even cheerleaders.

Sure enough, nowhere did it specifically state that men weren't allowed in the league. Slight oversight on their part, but a loophole for me.

I spoke with the head coach, Adrian Mobley, told him I wanted to come out for the team. "I don't think it's against the rules," I pleaded. "You've got to at least let me try out." What could he say? Mobley knew more than I did - he wasn't doing me any favor by allowing me out there.

So yesterday afternoon, I took a pair of shorts, some sneakers and a healthy dose of male ego over to the Southside Academy's football field for the Burn's fall tryout. The team expects about 35 players to return from last year, opening up at least 15 roster spots for the 2006 season, which begins in the spring. I was ready to make league history.

Four orange cones were laid out in a square on the field. One at a time, Burn hopefuls dropped to the ground and did as many pushups as they could manage in 60 seconds. I watched the others go first and started to worry. Forty-five pushups. Then 48. Then 37. I don't think I blinked once for a 10-minute period.

I was the last to step into the box. Twenty women were circled around me. Mobley started the stopwatch. My legs shook at No. 15. My body wobbled at No. 20. At No. 25, I had a mouthful of grass and couldn't feel my arms. I hadn't embarrassed myself in front of this many women at once since college.

"Well, I did like 100 pushups before I left my house this morning," I stammered.

I looked around the field and realized that I was the only one out here on a whim. The rest were real athletes. The rest were real football players.

The Burn prospects lined up for a 10-yard dash. I stood to the side to size up the competition. The whistle blew and one by one they darted away. I've seen some women run away from me before, but not this fast.

I redeemed myself slightly in the 10-yard sprint, finishing with one of the best times. I felt good and turned to tell the coach what size jersey he should order for me. But he had already moved on. "All right ladies, over here," he barked. "We got a straight-up NFL drill next."

As Mobley explained the three-cone drill, I was the only one panting. "A little soft," is how one player put it. In comparison to some of the Burn players, I was. And you'd be, too.

Nikia Green is the starting strong safety. She broke her left wrist in the middle of last season but didn't miss a game. She had a cast up to her elbow and still led the team in tackles. "A broken wrist!" said teammate Brandy Sturtz, a tight end. "And you telling me Kyle Boller can't play because he hurt his big toe?"

And then there's Sabrina Thomas. Her teammates call her Texx, and that's what her big belt buckle says, too. Texx repairs tanks in the Army and missed the 2003 season because she had been stationed in Kuwait and later in Iraq.

Texx followed the team via e-mail and at night she'd lie in the back of her truck and watch rockets explode over Baghdad. "Just like fireworks," she says.

Calling the Burn tough is being kind. When discussing a preseason party, I heard one say, "Can we have it before the 17th? I think I might be in jail then."

I made a mental note to stay away from her as we prepared for 40-yard sprints. Jimmien Strong, the team's fullback, was in line behind me. "I didn't get out here to do no running and jumping," she said. "I just want to hit people."

I made a mental note to stay away from her, too.

We ran some pass routes and even then I couldn't catch the ball without also catching some flak. "Hey Rick!" Mobley yelled after I hauled one in. "The end zone is that way." He was pointing to a fence that was a long ways from where I was headed.

On one route, I heard some popping come from my left ankle. It sounded like a bowl of Rice Krispies trying to talk with me: "You'd better stick to the couch."

But I couldn't be the first man in the history of the National Women's Football Association to hit the injured reserve list at the tryout.

I toughed it out until the end. I figured that's what Tarsha Fain would do. She's the 6-foot-2, 300-pound lineman, the one they call Fain the Pain.

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