05 February 2012

A Women's Super Bowl?

If you were to say "women's football," most people would think of the "other" football, a.k.a. soccer.  That's understandable:  After all, soccer has one of the highest rates of female participation among sports.  And women's soccer has gotten more attention in the past fifteen years or so, especially after the success of the US team.  

However, there was, believe it or not, a women's tackle football league--a women's NFL, if you will.

In the early days of the NFL (the 1920's and 1930's), some teams sponsored women's teams that mainly provided halftime entertainment.  Then, it seems, this episode of sports was all but forgotten for about two decades after World War II.

Then, during the mid-1960's, Cleveland talent agent Sid Friedman started the Women's Professional Football League.  It was really a semi-professional league and, as Friedman said, a "gimmick."  However, by the early 1970's, it had grown to a dozen teams with names like the Los Angeles Dandelions, Dallas Bluebonnets, Tulsa Babes and Oklahoma City Dolls.  Believe it or not, a few of their games were televised, albeit regionally, and as often as not, the broadcasters highlighted the physical attractiveness of some of the players and the fact that others were mothers.

There is some controversy as to whether the National Women's Football League was formed as a new league or was a re-branding of the WPFL, as the NWFL consisted mainly of WPFL franchises.  In any event, within two years, the NWFL fielded fourteen teams in three divisions.  While there were teams in Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angleles and Dallas, major metropoli like New York, Chicago, Boston and the San Francisco Bay area did not have teams.  That may well have been one of the reasons why the NWFL, and women's tackle football, didn't last.

However, there are signs of a revival of the sport.  The Independent Women's Football League, a nonprofit organization that allows its member teams to operate independently, was formed in 2000 and has since grown to 40 teams.  Stuart Kantor, the author of The History of Women's Professional Football, believes that the IWFL might finally bring women's tackle football to a national audience.

Who knows?  One day, "Super Bowl Sunday" might pit the New England Debs against the New York Catwalkers!