D.C. Divas Make Full-Contact Fight for Super Bowl

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Poison Ivy Tillman, D.C. Divas Linebacker

Off the field, D.C. Divas linebacker “Poison Ivy” Tillman works as a court liaison for the Department of Family Services. Petra Mayer, NPR hide caption

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Nate Randolph and Sharina Western

D.C. Divas trainer Nate Randolph tapes the ankle of linebacker Sharina Western. Petra Mayer, NPR hide caption

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Blocking drill

Players run a blocking drill during football practice. Petra Mayer, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Petra Mayer, NPR

The burgundy-and-gold uniforms of the D.C. Divas might be familiar to fans of that other Washington football team. But unlike the Redskins, the D.C. Divas are headed for the Super Bowl. On Saturday, they beat the Columbus Comets 32 to 7 to earn their first shot at the championship.

For the Divas, a shot at the National Women's Football Association Super Bowl title is payoff for years of passion and dreams — as well as endless hours of practice in the swampy D.C. summer heat. And that's after they've finished a full day of work.

"We work 8-hour, 10-hour days, and we come to practice because we love the game," says linebacker "Poison Ivy" Tillman. "I'm not getting paid to do this, but it doesn't matter, because I love the game."

Off the field, Tillman works as a court liaison for the Washington, D.C., Department of Family Services. The Divas come from all over the professional spectrum — teachers, financial analysts, police officers, engineers, firefighters. All of them are bound by their love of the game.

Every week, under the radar and all over the country, hundreds of women suit up and step out on the football field.

As far back as the 1950s, women have played pro football, but they've never had even a fraction of the money or the recognition that the men enjoy.

Today, female football players still don't make the big bucks; some teams pay players as little as one dollar a game. But what started in 1999 with two exhibition teams has grown into three professional full-contact women's football leagues.

D.C. Divas trainer Nate Randolph says women players get injured just like the men, but they handle it better.

"They're tough," Randolph says. "They get their injuries and they wanna play, and they get up, they get taped up, and they go back in the game, or they come back to practice."

All of this passion and dedication is driving toward one thing: the Super Bowl.

Tillman is looking forward to the matchup, and she says the women will play every bit as hard as the men.

"I believe I'm a pioneer," Tillman says, "and I'm serious that I think that this can take off. And I'm not out here just for the heck of it. I'm hoping that other girls behind me, and women, will get this opportunity to play."

The Divas meet the Oklahoma City Lightning next month in Pittsburgh.



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