Early into the second half of last weekend’s game between the D.C. Divas and the Detroit Demolition, the PA announcer told the crowd at the Prince George’s Sports and Learning Complex it was witnessing “the most anticipated rematch in women’s football history.”
Bold words, but probably about right. Then again, it would have been about as right to call this the only anticipated rematch in women’s football history.
In any case, the game lived up to that billing. Things see’d and saw’d ’til the final play, when the Divas, who’d earlier thwarted Detroit’s attempt at a game-tying two-point conversion, converted a fourth and short with a half-minute left to prevent the Demolition from getting the ball back.
That sealed the biggest regular season win in, well, women’s football history, 24n22, for the home team.
“Women’s football needs games like this,” Divas coach Ezra Cooper told me after the final gun, just before lighting up a big cigar.
All women’s team sports need games like this. None of the distaff pro leagues has ever gotten to a good place. The highest profile confederation now going, the WNBA, has for years been on a downward spiral, around here and everywhere else. Attendance has been declining all over ever since the league’s 1997 debut—the Washington Mystics draw crowds half as large as they did early on—and by now almost everybody accepts that the WNBA will stick around only as long its sugar daddy, the NBA, foots the bills.
The Women’s United Soccer Association, remember, folded in 2003 despite having more players that the average American could identify (two: Mia Hamm and Brandi “Sports Bra” Chastain) than the star-free WNBA does now.
And those are leagues that get or got regular TV and newspaper coverage.
Most folks don’t even know women’s football exists. The Divas, despite years of success and thousands of loyal fans, would kill to get the ink devoted to, say, the Landon School lacrosse squad.
“We’re just trying to stir things up, hang around until people notice,” Divas General Manager Rich Daniel says.
But it is again true that Detroit and Washington have had the two most successful franchises in, here we go again, the history of women’s football. A brief backstory of last weekend’s matchup: From 2002 to 2005, Detroit had four consecutive undefeated championship seasons in the National Women’s Football Association (NWFA), which was founded in 2000.
The Divas, meanwhile, went undefeated in the regular season in both 2004 and 2005 but lost to Detroit in the postseason each year.
Then in 2006, with the Divas claiming they were talented enough to finally overtake Detroit, the Demolition bolted the NWFA for a rival and equally preeminent and unknown federation, the Independent Women’s Football League (IWFA) (Cheap Seats, “Bowl Over,” 7/14/06).
After so many years as the understudy for the NWFA’s Goliath role, the Divas took over and outscored the so-called opposition 495n13, capturing the crown that was always denied them when the Demolition was around.
The Divas celebrated the NWFA championship by bolting for the IWFL after the 2006 season, with team management declaring that the quest for vengeance against Detroit helped instigate the league leap.
An estimated 2,500 folks showed up for the DivasnDemolition game. The off-field attractions were enough to draw a crowd on their own. The prices ($15 tickets, $2 slices of pizza) and promotions—topped by a seemingly rigged dance contest and the throwing of a hellacious amount of cheddar from sponsor Cabot Cheese into the grandstands—gave the event a minor-league charm. And a sort-of Sousafied hip-hop show delivered at halftime by the Washington Showstoppers Community Band revved up anybody who wasn’t jazzed enough by the game action. (Divas running back Christina Werries missed the band’s performance, spending most of the halftime break with fans in line for one of Sonny’s Portable Jons set up near the stands.)
That sort of dressing would have been more necessary on a typical Saturday night at the Landover field, since for years Divas games here have become routs shortly after the opening kickoff, ending in tallies on the order of 77n0.
The Demolition matchup didn’t need any extracurricular activities to get the 12th Woman involved, however. On a sporting level, it was its own reward.
“The players were ready for this,” Cooper said.
So were their adversaries. The Demolition quarterback, Kim Grodus, played like a woman among girls while leading Detroit to a quick score on its first offensive series. Grodus seemed faster than anybody on the field and threw the IWFL’s gimmicky red-white-and-blue ball like a pro QB should. Detroit kicker Misty Findlay converted the first of five kicks of the night (with no misses) for a 7n0 lead.
But the Divas came back early in the second quarter when wideout Tara Kallal ran a practiced fade route and caught a well-placed blooper from Divas QB Allyson Hamlin in the corner of the end zone. A run by fullback Rachelle Pecovsky-Bentley for the two-point conversion put D.C. ahead and started the back-and-forth lead-swapping that would last ’til night’s end.
Before the match was over, the fans would see a perfectly executed on-side kick, crunching hits, an over-the-shoulder touchdown-saving interception, and questionable officiating—all the things, otherwise, they’d see in FedExField, which sits just a few hundred yards east of the Divas’ home field. They’d get to march onto the field after the game to watch Cooper hand out game balls, pat the winners on their shoulder pads, and pose for pictures with them.
And the whole affair—the best game in women’s football history and all the cheddar cheese they could catch—would cost them less than a parking pass on Fan Appreciation Day at Dan Snyder’s coliseum.