The third annual Women’s World Football Games (WWFG) evoked many powerful emotions for the proud women in attendance. From gratification to achievement, jubilation to empowerment, such feelings were enhanced by the fact that the Games were held at the practice facilities of the New Orleans Saints.
Calling the Edmonton Storm of the Western Women’s Canadian Football League (WWCFL) as her club team, Steph Mackie was joined at the event by seven other wondrous women from league play, all displaying national pride and a sense of unity. Her dedication this year was exemplified by a 38-hour drive from her home province of Alberta to Louisiana. Spread over three days, the drive was a symbol of her dedication and endurance.
Compared to last year’s Games, Mackie not only saw her gridiron game improve significantly, she entered this year’s edition with much more confidence. Although she would suffer a minor injury, she remained stoic, displaying a mental toughness and admirable character that embodies the spirit of the game.
Recovering in time to compete in the intra-squad game, a traditional aspect of all WWFG which sees the participants grace the gridiron on the final day, Mackie was recruited to play for Team Black. While her traditional jersey number with the Storm is number 88, the record number of female participants meant that Mackie would don a different number for this latest milestone in her football odyssey.
Wearing number 32 for the black team, a first for Mackie, one predominant feature was the iconic red Canadian maple leaf that adorned her white helmet. Although the final score did not reflect a desired outcome, the fact that Mackie was able to bounce back and fight valiantly through her injury represented a proud personal victory,
“Going in, I felt completely and fully mentally prepared, more so than I had any other year. My eagerness though unfortunately affected my physical condition; I just was not physically prepared for the enduring nine-hour days. I pulled a muscle in my hip on the first day of practice and I spent so much of my time in discomfort.
My defensive back coaches, especially Jeff Grybash, really helped me work through the process. I am easily frustrated, especially when I feel like there is a barrier between me and what I am trying to accomplish. When it finally came time to play the game, I had performed better than even I expected. Despite our team losing 20-8, I still felt a sense of pride. I can’t even express the gratitude I received from my teammates and coaches.”
With a gridiron legacy that has been highlighted by the opportunity to attend all three WWFG events, Mackie is in rarified air, having been at the pulse of such an important springboard in the growth of the game. Considering such a legacy, Mackie is a living monument to the positive energy and sense of assurance that the WWFG represents.
This year, the WWFG brought with it an even greater sense of achievement for Mackie and the exceptional women looking to challenge social convention and bring equality to the game. Of note, the NFL’s New Orleans Saints showed a tremendous display of kindness and generosity, helping advance the noble cause of bringing well-deserved opportunity for women in football.
Of note, the use of the Saints practice facilities served as the backdrop for the third annual WWFG, subsequently, the first-ever hosted at an NFL facility. As cherished as the experience was, bringing a big-league feeling to an important event, it allowed empowering women like Mackie to feel an accepting validation, appreciative of the support, while feeling the sense of arrival at an unprecedented peak, representing the potential for a proud future
“I have been fortunate to experience every WWFG so far, and every year it gets better and better. The first year in Dallas, we practiced on grass fields. The second year in Tampa, we practiced in the pouring rain beside a highway. To be able to move up to NFL turf is just unfathomable. I cannot imagine what the next WWFG will bring.
It is so much easier to focus and feel confident in your performance when the resources are presented to you. We did not have to worry about the weather or worry about finding a quick a meal in between practices, or even rush back to the hotel to change out of wet clothes.
We were treated to the ultimate experience and I am beyond grateful for the hospitality the Saints has shown Women’s Football. It is a validation from the Saints saying, as Gabrielle O’Neil put it, “we are not just ‘good for a girl’; we are good enough for the NFL.” The Saints did not treat us like women; they treated us like football players.
Prior to the games, Drew Brees made a shout out video for the women attending the WWFG. It was unfortunate not to have had the opportunity to meet him, but to be acknowledged was incredible nonetheless. When Tony Romo caught word about the camp, he also sent his best wishes in a video which we all watched in the morning before a practice. Women’s football is on the map now, and it’s only going to get better.”
In awe at the quality of the facilities and the graciousness of the organization, Mackie equally enjoyed another defining aspect of this year’s WWFG. Just as important was the feeling of camaraderie, one that enhances the essence of teamwork and the sacrifices required to grace the gridiron. A social butterfly, one of the elements that make football so enjoyable for Mackie is the chance to meet others.
Sharing their stories and experiences, the chance for Mackie to get acquainted with so many other players whose values and ambitions are in line with her own goals, provided a sense of self-assurance and an increased confidence, knowing that one’s struggles or adjustments provide the opportunity to not only discuss but solve, while empowering.
With women from 17 different nations on-hand, Mackie gained the opportunity to understand their own foray into football, while gaining a newfound appreciation for their efforts to grow the game in their part of the world. Taking into account that competitors from the defending IWFL (Pittsburgh) and WFA (DC) championship teams were on-hand to provide instruction and mentoring, it only added to the strong sense of community developing within the women’s game,
“One of my favorite parts of this camp (besides playing football), is seeing all the amazing women I have met and shared the field with in years prior. I love meeting new people too, and I am so inspired by hearing their passions and why they play.
Sophie Weaver, a Defensive Back from Great Britain plays on a men’s team and understands adversity. The many women that play for the Pittsburgh Passion and the DC Divas, both 2015 Champions, have been more than humble and incredible ambassadors every year for international players.
I am inspired by everyone around me; so many women sharing amazing stories. Even during some of the player development sessions, our coaches were telling us their stories. It is an incredible feeling how the game of football can bring so many people closer together. I have made so many friendships because of the WWFG. It is addicting and I cannot stay away.”
There is no question that the city of New Orleans shall always hold a special place in Mackie’s heart. From the friendships made, the sporting experiences that shall provide a lifetime of treasured moments, along with the chance to show respect by visiting areas forever altered by the infamous Hurricane Katrina, Mackie and her Western Canadian colleagues were not only tremendous ambassadors for the WWCFL, they were unified in the collaborative goal of making the third WWFG an unprecedented success, one that not only served as a positive, yet affirmative time in the lives of so many athletically talented women, but one where the momentum in growing the game represents a victory that all can be proud of,
“I stayed in a nice little house in the heart of the city with eight other women, six of which play for the DC Divas. We bonded over breakfast in the mornings, listened to music to pump us up on the way to the facility, and of course enjoyed a nice cold, well deserved beer after a long day of practices.
We even managed to make a special trip out to see Bourbon Street. I have also never been to an NBA game in my life, and the Saints Organization offered each player and coach tickets to see the Pelicans vs. the Jazz. Outside of the camp, I drove around seeing many areas devastated by Hurricane Katrina.
My appreciation for the city of New Orleans has grown exponentially. Not only for the amazing hospitality shown by the Saints, but from all the wonderful people that I have met. The Saints are such a humble organization and I can forever say that I am a fan and supporter.”
“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”