At yesterday's HarBowl, the NFL appeared to have any number of story lines going...brother vs. brother...Ray Lewis' last game, Joe Flacco ultimately proving himself as a Super Bowl winner (and to my mind, just under the 'elite' status he craves) after five frustrating seasons....there was one story that I wondered if anyone picked up on like I did.
More than anything NFL Play60 could do....Did you see the NFL's promotional commercial of a little girl running down a field, avoiding many tackles in her wake? That was real. So was the presence of that little girl in Commissioner Roger Godell's box at the SuperDome.
That little girl is Sam "Sweet Feet" Gordon, the Utah 9-year-old who is breaking tackles with speed and agility, and making a case better than anyone that girls belong in the game of football.
I wrote about Sam as she was coming off a 35-touchdown season with her Utah peewee football team. At that time, she was a phenomenon. Today, she is a role model for millions of girls with dreams of following in their brothers' footsteps of gridiron glory. She has her own Twitter account (@Sam_Gordon6), and and now, an ESPNw blog.
Gordon is also perhaps the youngest athlete ever to be featured on a Wheaties box. And likely, the most deserving.
"The Super Bowl was super awesome! I got VIP treatment as the guest of The Commish, Roger Goodell. We went to a special tailgating party that had really fancy food, cool music and fun things to do. They turned a parking garage into a party, and each level had a different theme. I held a live alligator, danced to music and ate a lot of food."
And later on, as the Ravens led the Niners, 28-6 heading into the half:
"I'm not going to lie -- just before the half, I felt like crying because my 49ers weren't doing well. And just then, they decided to show me with The Commish on TV! Ha! Not my best moment to be seen by the entire world."
It would appear, after years of lip service to the hard-w0rking semi-pro, full-contact female football teams across the country, that the NFL is realizing that there is a new group of potential fans and players that might be reached. In my memory, I cannot think of another girl who has been so celebrated. That said, not many girls can run and pass like Sam Gordon. Or boys, for that matter. This brings up the question....
Is football still a mens-only bastion?
Maybe not. The NFL's wholehearted embrace of Samantha Gordon and her prominent role at Super Bowl Weekend...attending the NFL Players Awards Dinner in a fancy dress, complete with the red carpet, and her sheer joy and passion for the game are great promoters for this sport.
But what is the NFL saying, publicly, after so many years? Is it okay to be a girl and play football? Back in November of 2012, I profiled the little dynamo. Here is that posting. Please weigh in:
Let's go to post Title IX America.
In 1974, in Montgomery County, PA, ten-year old Suzanne "Suzy" Kolber won a spot on a little league football team, but quit due to strong opposition from parents and other adults.
Kolber, of course, is well-known as the sideline reporter for ESPN's Monday Night Football and many other assignments for the network.
Fast forward to 1981, when Tammy Maida became a quarterback for the Philemath (OR) High School football team. Her story became the basis for the TV movie Quarterback Princess, starring future Oscar winner Helen Hunt.
And in 2013...is a new day dawning in American football?
Over the past year, there have been two national stories about girls playing on high school teams: Northwestern (Fla.) High School's Jaline DeJesus made history in the Miami school's 38-12 victory over Hialeah Miami Lakes in September, by becoming the first girl to play in a varsity game for Florida's highest and toughest division, 6A, as a cornerback. the Miami Herald reported that According to Yahoo news, DeJesus was an able substitute at defensive back for the final minute of Northwestern's victory. Or Virginia's Mina Johnson, a 5'2, 170-pound defensive tackle for Southampton Academy's junior varsity squad against Lasker (N.C.) Northeast Academy. Johnson had recorded four sacks in a recent game. However, two religious-oriented schools forfeited rather than play against a girl. She also sat out one game.
And just this past week...Samantha "Sweet Feet" Gordon.
With grade schoolers and teens in the mix, is it implausible to think that women could someday compete in the NFL?
Most people would say yes, it is impossible, especially with the the likelihood of concussions, brain injuries and long-term damage for all who play the game.
But that is the universal proposition for all football players, not just for women. And the NFL has voiced its commitment to making the game play safer and the equipment more protective.
I am equally as confident that girls, given the chance, will give it everything they have to be a part of this game.
Nine-year-old Samantha "Sam" Gordon, of Utah's Gremlins League is sure going to try to prove them wrong. At least over the next two years, she says. The tiny under-60-pounder is outrunning peewee football defenses, to the tune of 35 touchdowns and nearly 2,000 yards this season against kids twice her size and half her heart.
"She could cut and follow blocks like a college football player," her coach, Chris Staib, told yahoo.com.
Last year, the girl nicknamed "Sweet Feet" made a guest appearance on NFL Live, impressing the likes of jaded veteran Hall of Famer Warren Sapp and taking down Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk. Then, Gordon was spirited away for a walk-through at the 49ers practice facility in Santa Clara shortly afterwards as they prepared for the Bears on Monday Night Football. She even sat for a photo op with Coach Jim Harbaugh, himself a father of three daughters.
I covered Harbaugh when he was with the Bears, and I hope someone asks him tonight about the possibility of women in the NFL. Harbaugh, if you remember, was a quarterback at Michigan, a Bo Schembechler creation, who was molded in the Big 10 image of an All-American quarterback. Likely, the thought never crossed his mind about women playing in the NFL. I feel certain that the thought also hadn't occurred to his brother John, the Baltimore Ravens head coach.
If asked, however, I am speculating that Harbaugh will blush, smile, and say that while he was very impressed with the young Ms. Gordon, he can't imagine a day when women would be strong enough, or powerful enough, to compete in the NFL.
"Sweet Feet" learned to be a football player as a way to keep up with her big brother. As reported by the London Daily Mail, Sam's competitiveness has turned her into a star player in her local, all-boys football league in Utah, becoming one of the fastest children in the Salt Lake City area ‘Gremlins’ league as well as breaking and making tackles among the much bigger players. She even tackles a 150-pound boy named "Tank" who plays on her team. After being tackled, the boys "don't say much of anything. They just get up, brush themselves off, and walk away." she told Yahoo News.
The legendary Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders, who knows something about running routes and sidestepping brawny, outsized tacklers, tweeted,
"That video is impressive. Looks like I've found a girlfriend for my nine-year-old."
One current Bear, and one who should know about football from peewee to the pros, already has tweeted his approval. Wide receiver Brandon Marshall, according to nbc.com, said on Twitter:
"Lil Sammy is a beast. Check her out."
According to the video that made her a YouTube sensation and brought her national attention, she rushed 232 times for 35 touchdowns and 1,911 yards, while adding in 65 tackles.
You can't argue with the numbers, even at age 9. She's outstanding. But her future may be limited. According to her father Brent, soccer is where her true passion lies. And Mia Hamm is her ultimate role model.
I have heard all the arguments before about women and football, and many other sports. Taking the risk, and learning how to outsmart your opponents using your best assets, is the name of the game. How many times was Darren Sproles, of the New Orleans Saints (5-6, 190). told that he was "too small" for the NFL? WR/KR/PR Brandon Banks, of the Washington Redskins (5-7, 155). Or the late, great Walter Payton, (5'10, 200 pounds) but faster than lightning? All were told at one point they were "too small" for the NFL.
But let's look forward...say a decade from now. Samantha Gordon will be 19 years old. Possibly in college. Title IX means equal athletic scholarships for women, and maybe, she's the first girl ever to be offered a football scholarship, as a running back.
Here's how that happens: The new NFL safety rules and equipment have now made it possible for all indviduals to play football safely, without the possibility of long-lasting damage to the brain or other vital organs. Women start competing more often at the highest levels of peewee football. The movement grows. And sooner or later, someone like Sam will break ranks and flourish.
What do others say about this? Love to hear your thoughts!