St. Louis Has One Champion Football Team. And the Women on It Will Mess You Up 

Linebacker Tiffany Pugh: "I definitely prefer to hit than be hit. Maybe that's why I play defense."

DANNY WICENTOWSKI

Linebacker Tiffany Pugh: "I definitely prefer to hit than be hit. Maybe that's why I play defense."

Myrt Davis has waited seven months to deck someone, to literally pummel them into the ground.

"Oh my god, it's amazing. Everybody looks forward to the first day in pads," Davis says. She tugs at the straps of the gleaming black helmet in her hands. "And today is it."

A 42-year-old defensive tackle for St. Louis' powerhouse women's football team, Davis has the muscled arms and legs necessary to propel a 215-pound body into the scrum of the opposing team's largest players. For weeks, she and the rest of the 2017 roster have sweated in the weight room and run through drills wearing sweatpants and t-shirts. But today is Hitting Day. Here, on a high school field in Ladue, is where the year's real football begins.

Davis fits the bulky helmet over her short silver hair, and suddenly the eyes behind the facemask look like they've been carved from granite. She trots onto the field, joining the dozen or so hollering figures in black helmets and pads.

Most of her teammates are in their mid-to-late 20s and 30s, but some rookies are just a few years out of high school even as some, like Davis, have already celebrated their fortieth birthdays. They are mothers, sisters, daughters, college students, managers, teachers, nurses and public servants. They are the St. Louis Slam: a full-contact and (nearly) all-female football team that's spent the last fifteen years quietly excelling in the shadow of the region's college football teams — and, until last year, the NFL's Rams.

click to enlarge The Slam's roster ranges from high school-aged students like Shannon Stranger (above) to veterans still playing into their late 40s. - DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • DANNY WICENTOWSKI
  • The Slam's roster ranges from high school-aged students like Shannon Stranger (above) to veterans still playing into their late 40s.

To be clear, they belie many of the stereotypes you may have about football, and women's football in particular. The Slam do not play flag football, there is no lingerie on the field and no one is paid. But it is winning, not money, that's attracted the largest incoming rookie class in the team's history, adding nineteen players to a roster that's now 42 strong. Last season, the Slam obliterated its two playoff opponents by a combined score of 97-6. In the championship game, the team wrecked the previously undefeated Tampa Bay Inferno 38-7. Now, the team has a chance to defend its title as the Division 2 champions of the Women's Football Alliance.

The time for relishing past victories is over. The team's returning veterans want another ring, and the rookies want their own shot at glory. The Sunday practice is less than two months removed from the first real game of the 2017 season, scheduled for April 1. And so on this gray Sunday in February, the players are finally going to hit each other. Not just once, and not softly — but again, and again, and again. Until they get it right. Until they can handle it. Until they love the hits, like Davis and the other vets.

"It just doesn't feel like football until that contact starts," says Davis, grinning behind her face mask. She adds, "Honestly, it's like putting on a comfortable pair of old shoes."

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