As one of the DC Divas’ most notable veteran players, offensive lineman and charter member Missy Bedwell defines the dedication and effort that has helped propel female football into one of the fastest growing sports among women. Certainly worthy of the moniker “living legend”, the accomplishments in Bedwell’s storied career will place her in the Divas’ growing legacy of elite players.
Having first graced the gridiron with the Lake Michigan Minx, Bedwell participated in the first modern-day women’s football game, an October 9, 1999 match at Midway Stadium in St. Paul, Minnesota. That year would end with an appearance in the “Women’s Super Bowl” at the Metrodome. Since then, she has played more seasons of football in this century than any other American-born woman.
In such a distinguished career, the one missing element was the distinction of being called a Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) National Champion. Although such status eluded Bedwell and her Divas teammates, four straight playoff exits against a very strong Boston Militia team was a source of their woes. Yet, very few teams in the history of the WFA have won as many games as the Divas, let alone consistently stockpile a remarkable number of players to the All-America team.
This season, the stars were perfectly aligned for a date with destiny. Not only did the Divas enjoy their first undefeated season since 2009 (when they played the Kansas City Tribe for the IWFL Tier I World Championship), defeating rival Boston twice in the same season, home field advantage throughout the playoffs added to the club’s confidence. In what would emerge as a season for the ages, the Divas compiled a sparkling 16-0 overall record (including playoffs), trouncing Miami and Atlanta in the opening rounds of the National Conference playoffs.
Defeating the Chicago Force (the 2013 National Champions) in the National Conference Championship Game, the Divas advanced to the WFA’s biggest stage, allowing Bedwell and her cherished Divas teammates the opportunity to capture the Divas first championship since claiming the NWFA title in 2006.
Of note, the 2015 WFA National Championship Game was a meeting of two undefeated power houses, as the Divas were challenging the Dallas Elite (formerly known as Diamonds). One could argue that momentum definitely seemed to be in the favor of Dallas. Not only did the Elite boast the number-one ranked defense in the nation, some media outlets predicted that they would emerge victorious.
Adding to such momentum was the fact that Dallas alum Dr. Jen Welter was hired as a coach for the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals during the preseason. As a side note, Bedwell and Donna Wilkinson had played with Welter for Team USA at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Worlds, part of a gold medal effort.
Prepared with a game plan, and her fellow Divas were highly motivated to emerge with a national championship. Complemented by belief in each other, and confidence in their coaching staff, led by former Divas player Alison Fischer, Bedwell and the Divas embodied the essence of teamwork.
“Heading into the championship game, we felt that the coaching staff had prepared us with a great game plan. As a team, we had put in the needed work to win the championship game.”
Unlike years past, there was no blowout to be seen in the 2015 edition of the WFA National Championship Game. Both sides proved why they were among the league’s finest, with an entertaining see-saw battle that set pulses pounding. With the Divas holding on to a 30-26 lead, Bedwell reflects on the sense of relief once quarterback Allyson Hamlin, the only Washington football quarterback with 200 touchdown passes, managed to gain a first down in the game’s closing seconds.
“As every athlete knows, nothing is ever over until the clock hits 0. In such a close game, nerves were on edge. Everyone knew if we got the first down, the game would be ours. Once Ally made the first down, everyone was relived.”
Taking into account the DC Divas proud status as one of the most accomplished (and premier) teams in women’s football history, a championship at the WFA level had eluded them for several seasons. Although the club always maintained a high standard of excellence, continuously being mentioned in the national championship conversation, it was a pinnacle yet to be reached. Despite the Divas best efforts, there always seemed to be another championship-level team that presented an obstacle in the postseason.
The Divas entered with a renewed focus this season, more determined than ever. Although this season marked the Divas 15th anniversary, Bedwell proclaims that it was not a motivational factor. Instead, it was the culmination of a collaborative effort, defined by the desire to succeed,
“This being the 15th anniversary year is a huge milestone for any team, but to say it pushed the players more, I cannot agree. As a player, I am driven by wins and playing. This season, I feel was different because of the dedication, drive, passion and heart in each and every player on this team. The vets stepped up and took the lead and the rookies feed off of that. After the first week of practice, everyone knew this year was going to be special.”
For a player such as Bedwell, who has spent close to two decades in female football, the chance to earn a championship signaled the arrival at the end of a long, yet cherished gridiron journey. Along with Divas charter member Donna Wilkinson, the two have spent several seasons as remarkable ambassadors for not just the franchise, but women’s football.
While the outcome of such an emotional day would lay the groundwork for one of the greatest games in WFA championship history, the fact that both had the chance to share in a WFA championship was among one of the game’s feel-good moments. It represented for such a remarkable pair of empowered woman a treasured personal and athletic milestone that will add to the legend of their careers as Divas greats.
“I have been dreaming of this championship win for the past 17 seasons. I am so proud to have been able to have played on a team with the greatest players in women’s football, future Hall of Fame players and all around amazing women. Donna said to the best that I can remember, ‘there you go champ you did it.’ ”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”