How many of us grew up dreaming of playing professional sports? We dreamed of running onto the field hopping over the foul lines and taking our position as the shortstop for the Red Sox, scratching up the ice in the crease as we defended the goal for the Bruins, throwing a pass to Dwight Clark at the back of the end zone to win the Super Bowl, or sticking out our tongues as we pretended to dunk like Jordan? How many times did we play out these moments in the back yard, the town field, the school gymnasium, or the frozen ponds of our childhoods? For most of us those dreams ended long ago but this week the dream of playing a football game on an NFL field came true for the San Diego Surge and the Chicago Force of the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). The two teams played in the WFA championship game at Heinz Field home of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The game ended up at Heinz Field because the Pittsburgh Passion, the team that was supposed to host the game, has not completed construction on its new field. In stepped Franco Harris, Steelers legend who was on the receiving end of the “Immaculate Reception” and co-owner of the Passion. He called Art Rooney, the owner of the Steelers, and got the Steelers to commit to holding the game at Heinz Field.
San Diego won the game 40-36 with an interception with 18 seconds left in the game stopped Chicago from completing its drive for a last minute touchdown. The game started with Holly Peterson of the Surge returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown and ended with Sami Grisafe, quarterback for the Force, leading her team on an 80 yard drive before the Surge interception ended their comeback attempt.
Grisafe was the backup quarterback for her high school football team as a sophomore but gave the sport up in order to pursue sports that might lead to a college scholarship. She thought she would never play the sport again. Instead she led her team to a near miss in a championship game on an NFL field.
“Taking one for the team” conjures images of allowing yourself to get hit by a pitch, filling in by playing a position outside your comfort zone, or sacrificing your body to block a shot. The Surge’s player-owner Christine Carillo took the concept a step further. She and her partner, Surge quarterback Melissa Gallegos decided to have a baby. Carillo offered to be the one to get pregnant so Gallegos could play this season. According to Gallegos, Carillo had one stipulation: “[Carillo] said, ‘If I carry this baby for you, you have to win a championship.’ And with this team, we did it.” Carillo delivered the couple’s son, Brayden, in June and was on the field for the Championship.
Playing on an NFL field is a first for the WFA and will hopefully help to raise the profile of the sport. Maybe in the future some of those little girls won’t have to give up their dreams of playing in some of sports’ biggest cathedrals. If women can play at Heinz Field, why not Wrigley or Lambeau?
Did you dream of playing pro ball as a kid? Where would be your dream place to play?