Passion Play

Former Eagle Tra Thomas puts the Passion through some serious conditioning paces.    STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
Former Eagle Tra Thomas puts the Passion through some serious conditioning paces.    STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER (   STEVEN M. FALK / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)

Philly's female footballers get Eagles-tough

Posted: March 07, 2013

PRETTY WOMEN in high-heeled, rhinestone-trimmed sneakers girl-tossing a pink football to each other. That's what I halfway expected to see the night I went to watch Philly's lingerie football team do some off-season conditioning.

Boy, did I have it wrong.

If they started out in makeup, they'd sweated it off by the time I got there. In fact, there was nothing the least bit glamorous about the Philadelphia Passion players I saw at 7 Deuce Sports, in Medford, N.J., last week.

The women, whose team is part of the recently renamed Legends Football League, were hitting it hard, to the point that a few were hobbling. There wasn't a scrap of lingerie in sight, only leggings, T-shirts and sneaks.

Almost all 20 members of the Passion have been getting together twice a week for a while now, months before their season begins, to condition themselves under the no-nonsense eye of former Eagles offensive tackle Tra Thomas, a conditioning trainer and owner of the 7 Deuce gym.

Some players had black harnesses attached to their torsos dragging weighted-down red sleighs. Others did squats and leaned the backs of their shoulders on exercise benches, while lifting an extended leg straight up before them. I watched as one woman doing the move got so red in the face, I wanted to say, "Girl, you'd better watch it. You're about to pull something." Later, the women took turns racing each other through a sand pit.

As I took in the sweaty scene, a player named Qiana Wright, sporting a purple bandanna, flopped down near me for a breather. She'd come here from Philadelphia and was worried about her kids and other responsibilities at home. It was almost 9 p.m. and pouring rain outside.

I gave her a look, like, "C'mon girl, get back in the game."

"You don't understand," she murmured.

Damn right, I didn't.

I had no idea that women trained that hard to run around a football field dressed in booty shorts. To the women of the Legends Football League, let me say this: Please forgive me for underestimating you. The garters and push-up bras that you wear during games - along with helmets and shoulder and knee pads - had my mind going in a whole other direction.

These women are real athletes, many who've played in Division 1 sports. They also hold down real jobs. They're wives and moms, too.

On their own time and money, team members came together as a group to sharpen their skills. Thomas told me that he doesn't girlie down the conditioning routines. The players need to be Eagles strong.

"It's a full-contact game out there," Thomas told me after the workout. "These ladies have to be in shape. And they need to be pushed just like any other professional athlete. Because they're putting their body in danger out there in the field."

Toward that end, the Legends players' workouts are just like Eagles workouts, Thomas said. "We're going to give them the same intensity. Even when it comes to the sleds and everything. I didn't change the weights for anybody. Everybody stayed the same from the guys that were there.

"Now, some of them have some ailments where you have to protect them a little bit, but, other than that, everybody goes through the same workout."

Keep in mind that the conditioning that team members get at 7 Deuces is extracurricular. The Philadelphia Passion's first game isn't until June. The team hasn't even started its usual practice season.

In seasons past, players trained on their own and then showed up when practice started, ready to run drills. This time around, the Philadelphia Passion decided to work out as a group in the off-season. They pay for their workouts at 7 Deuce themselves.

"It's no joke," said Lance Smith, the Passion's assistant coach. "A lot of professional athletes don't train that hard. It's women taking themselves to the next level. . . . They're going in after work. They have kids. They have lives. They're getting beaten up. They're being challenged. They want to be that great that they are putting themselves through that. That's awesome."

Maybe last season's heartbreaking Lingerie League Super Bowl loss made them hungry. Two seasons running, the Philadelphia Passion was undefeated until their Super Bowl. Two seasons running, they stumbled at the goal line.

"I think they'll be tougher mentally and they'll be a lot more explosive" this season, Smith said. "Some of these girls have never been pushed to this level."

They also had more time for preseason workouts since their season, which used to start in the late summer along with the National Football League's, now kicks off in June. The women no longer will be playing in garters. They're also losing the silly neckwear, and their shoulder pads have been enhanced to provide better protection.

The league renaming was a welcome change for team captain Marirose Roach, a lawyer by day. "It's great to the extent that it makes what we do a more viable athletic endeavor," she told me. "We want to be taken seriously. If the [new] name and uniform helps in that, I think it's great."

On Twitter: @JeniceAmstrong



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