Rebecca Brisson says she's "the son my dad never had."
Growing up in Michigan as the daughter of a high-school football coach, Brisson was the ballgirl while her mom kept stats. With only flag football to satisfy her block-and-tackle jones, Brisson played volleyball, basketball and track through high school, and was on the soccer team at Eastern Michigan University.
Then in 2002, when she was in Oregon working for Nike, she heard about a local football tryout for women. Now at age 30, the 5-foot-2-inch, 135-pound Brisson is co-owner of—and cornerback for—the Portland Shockwave of the Independent Women's Football League.
Last Saturday at Lincoln High School, Brisson, an associate product line manager at Nike, played in the Shockwave's first-ever playoff game. Yes, playoffs, as in league championships. The IWFL started in 2000 and has 31 teams around the country; Brisson has played in all five of the Shockwave's years.
"This is the first game I've ever been really nervous about," she said before the game, which ended with the Shockwave losing 37-27 to the Sacramento Sirens.
About 200 fans attended the game, which finished the Shockwave's season. If you walked past the field, you might think the players were slow high-school boys. What you would have missed from that distance is the family, friends and partners vibe that runs through the scene.
Co-owner Rebecca Dawson and two former players started the Shockwave because they wanted to play. Head coach Brian Allinger got involved because his wife was on the team. The woman singing the national anthem is a player's partner; ditto for the game-day coordinator. The PA guy always wanted an announcing gig and won this one in tryouts. The head referee just enjoys being a ref. The chain gang is from the Eugene Edge, a rival team that Portland beat the week before.
And at the heart of it: 35 women, ages 20 to 43, who always wanted to play real football and finally have a place to do it.
"They're out here because they want to learn a new sport," says Allinger, who also coaches the freshmen boys at Battle Ground High in Washington. "For almost all of them, this is the first time they've played. The doors have been closed for a lot of years to women playing football, and they come out because they have a competitive itch that they need to scratch."
Twice-a-week practices start in late January for a regular season that runs from April through June. The 2006 team went 7-1 before being knocked out of the playoffs by the three-time defending national champ Sirens. Shockwave players and volunteers (nobody but the refs and team doctor get paid) raise money through karaoke contests and a "win a date with a player" auction.
And yes, many of those dates will be with other women. But this is not a strictly lesbian scene. Husbands and kids are running around. Other than the occasional ponytail sticking out from under a helmet and a call of "Way to be the woman!" from the stands, it's just football; one Portland player even went out there with a broken arm.
The rules, coaches say, are basically the same as in the NFL, except for a strict ban on blocking below the waist because women are more prone to knee injuries. And the official ball is slightly smaller and red, white and blue like an old ABA basketball.
Anthony Newman, a former Oregon Duck and NFL player, has a dozen of the Shockwave players coach in his annual youth football camp. On hand to show support as the game's ceremonial coin-tosser, Newman said he started including girls from grades 4 through 7 in his camp several years ago, and that women make great coaches for both genders.
"They aren't big and fast like the boys," he says, "so they actually teach the technical stuff better. There's no glamour, and there's no 'I'm gonna get a scholarship' for these girls. There's just 'I want to play football.'"
Tryouts for the 2007 Shockwave season will begin in December; for more information, see the team website at www.portlandshockwave.com.