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Nov 8, 2021

We return to the fascinating story of the pioneering National Women’s Football League (1974-88-ish) - and its overlooked role in the surprisingly resilient world of women’s pro football - with sportswriters Britni de la Cretaz & Lyndsey D'Arcangelo ("Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women's Football League")

The modern women’s pro game started modestly enough in 1967, when a Cleveland-based talent agent named Sid Friedman launched a barnstorming outfit known as the “Women’s Professional Football League” in which a team of women (eventually nine) toured the country playing men’s clubs in exhibitions and charity events – even as halftime entertainment at NFL and CFL games.

Frustrated by the lack of seriousness accorded their efforts, a number of breakaway players and teams bolted from Friedman's grip in 1974 to form a decidedly (and competitively) legit seven-team league; by 1976, the NWFL had ballooned to 14 franchises from coast-to-coast, including three in football-mad Texas – led by the “Herricanes” of Houston (our Episode 154 with filmmaker Olivia Kuan).

Though lacking sustainable budgets, major media coverage or appreciable crowds, the NWFL featured a passionate and determined breed of player – drawn to an unprecedented opportunity to play real men’s-style tackle football for pay and buttressed by an emerging progressive era of Title IX, the Equal Rights Amendment and rampant sports league entrepreneurialism.

D'Arcangelo and de la Cretaz share insight into this little-known but ultimately influential league, especially from the stories of its players - whose spirit, tenacity and simple "love for the game" helped set the template for the eventual mainstream arrival of women's pro sports in the decades that followed.