DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

Bet you didn't know that Super Bowl Sunday's coming up next month for the National Women's Football Association.

Ms. ALISON FISCHER (D.C. Divas): My name's Alison Fischer and I play cornerback.

Ms. NIKKI WILLIAMS (D.C. Divas): Nikki Williams, wide receiver.

Ms. VICKIE LUCAS (D.C. Divas): Vickie Lucas and I play safety.

Ms. SUBRENA RIVERS (D.C. Divas): Subrena Rivers, defensive end.

Ms. IVY TILLMAN (D.C. Divas): My name is Poison Ivy Tillman. The name was given to me because I'm lethal on the field. I'm a middle linebacker. I've been playing for six years.

ELLIOTT: These are the D.C. Divas. Their burgundy and gold uniforms might be familiar to fans of that other Washington football team, but unlike the Redskins, the Divas are headed for the Super Bowl. Last night they beat the Columbus Comets 32-7 to earn their first shot at the championship.

Mr. RICH DANIEL (D.C. Divas General Manager): We call it the northern conference championship. In the NFL world it would be the NFC title game.

ELLIOTT: Diva's general manager, Rich Daniel.

Mr. DANIEL: The Redskins played in one of those 15 years ago for the right to go to the Super Bowl. It's been that long in this town since someone's had the right to go to the Super Bowl and this is our chance and our opportunity to do that.

ELLIOTT: Women have played pro football as far back as the 1950s, but they've never had even a fraction of the money and recognition the men enjoy. They still don't make the big bucks. Some teams pay players as little as $1 a game. But what started in 1999 with two exhibition teams has grown now into three professional full contact women's football leagues. Under the radar and all over the country hundreds of women suit up and step out onto the field every week.

(Soundbite of football game)

Ms. TILLMAN: We work eight hour, ten hours and we come to practice. It's because we love the game. I'm not getting paid to do this, but it doesn't matter because I love the game.

ELLIOTT: Linebacker Poison Ivy Tillman.

Ms. TILLMAN: Growing up, I've always watched football, loved it, and thought, you know, if I was a guy that I'd probably be pretty good at it. And the fact that I'm getting to play is a dream come true.

ELLIOTT: Off the field Tillman works for the D.C. Department of Family Services as a court liaison. The Divas are all over the professional spectrum. There are teachers, financial analysts, police officers, engineers, fire fighters, all of them bound by their love of the game. You have to be fueled by passion and dreams to be out here practicing in the swampy D.C. summer heat. Stepping outside feels like walking into a wall of soup. But the Divas are on the field running drills in full gear, many of them running on taped ankles and blown knees.

(Soundbite of football game)

ELLIOTT: Trainer Nate Randolph tries to keep them whole. The women call him Daddy Nat, which is affectionate and accurate. His daughter Natalie plays wide receiver for the Divas. Randolph says women players get injured just like the men but he thinks they handle it better.

Mr. NATE RANDOLPH (D.C. Divas Trainer): They're tough. They get their injuries and they want to play. And they get up, they get taped up, and they go back in the game or they come back to practice.

ELLIOTT: All of this passion and dedication is driving towards one thing, the Super Bowl. Poison Ivy Tillman is looking forward to the game. And she says the women will play every bit as hard as any man.

Ms. TILLMAN: This is the real deal, it's not powder puff. We play as aggressive, it's not a watered down version. We have real plays, you know, but I think seeing is believing. It's hard to describe it, you have to see it. And I think I'm a pioneer. I believe I'm a pioneer. And I'm serious that I think that this can take off. And I'm - 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.

ELLIOTT: The Divas meet the Oklahoma City Lightning next month in Pittsburgh. You can see pictures of the Divas in action on our website, npr.org.

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