(with apologies to Andy Griffith)
Prairie dog commemorated the first ever Lingerie Football Leage game in our fair city by sending our own sports desk guy/self-proclaimed love god, Stephen LaRose, for this event.
Toronto Triumph (32) vs. Regina Rage (40)
7:45 p.m. There’s been a mixup between Greg Beatty, me, and whoever’s handling media relations and promo for the LFL – I thought I was supposed to get comps and/or press passes for tonight’s game, but they merely affix me with a strange stare. So, I get tickets. Bit of a lineup but I get to the counter within five minutes. Says very prominently on my ticket that ‘no recording devices or cameras are allowed,’ but I’m coming through with a giant camera bag and Brandt Centre security doesn’t give me a second look. For all they know or care, I could have brought a methamphetamine lab into the arena.
8:05 p.m. There are two MC’s for the night: one’s some guy trying to affect a British ‘laddie’ accent. They’re trying to give away some swag with a skill-testing quiz. “Name two of the four teams in the Lingerie Football League. I’ll give you a hint. Two of them are playing here tonight. In front of you.” Silence from the approximately 2,500 inside the Brandt Centre. “You’d think we were in Toronto,” says the announcer.
(More on the flip: Don’t worry, It’s all safe for work.)
8:20 p.m. This place is a sausage party. Men outnumber women by a 6:1 ratio. Heavy-metal music throbs dully through a shitty sound system. If I was getting beer out of the hatchback of a 1973 Oldsmobile Omega instead of buying it for $6 a glass, I would be having flashbacks of high-school bush parties. And I would have about as much likelihood getting ‘lucky’ here tonight as I did then.
8:30 p.m. The Lingerie Football League must be hurting for cash. Badly. Probably. There’s no advertising on the field or on the boards. (UPDATE: I found one on my photos, but it was so badly done up I couldn’t see it, and the company advertised doesn’t have Regina outlets.) Instead there are silkscreen posters of the league’s stars of its American-based teams … oh. Wait. The LFL suspended operations of its American franchises for the year this season. Before the suspension, players were supposed to be paid a portion of ticket sales revenue: it’s an open question whether they did.
The game was supposed to begin at 8 p.m. A guy sitting beside Drew told us that the LFL held off on kick-off in order to seat the stampede of the crowd storming through the turnstiles. Given that the Rage’s game generated slightly less than the walk-up crowd of a Pats’ game, I detect the faint odor of bullshit. On the LCD TV in front of us, there’s a graphic of Kyliee Rosser, Number 10 for the Rage, green shaded, staring at us with the eyes of the dead. I know it’s Rosser because there’s a small core of fans on the walkway just below us, displaying posters in her honor.
8:35 p.m. Kickoff finally comes. The Toronto Triumph enters first: oddly enough Rik Emmett isn’t one of them. The Rage are introduced to not exactly a standing ovation, but whatever. It’s starting.
8 Minutes To Go The LFL plays mostly by Arena Football rules: seven-on-seven, 50-yard field, four downs to go ten yards, but there’s no field goals or point-after conversions. The quarters are eight minutes long. In AFL games, there are big nets in the end zones so punts, kickoffs, and placekicks bounce off the net (and, except for completed PATs and field goals, are live off the net). “They don’t have enough balls,” Drew says unironically. “If the ball gets kicked into the stands, there’s no assurance it’ll come back. And that will screw up the game.”
5: 50 We can’t hear anything thanks to the dull roar of 90s’ bad hair metal, which sounds like two backhoes having sex. The two MCs never tell us who’s playing what position, who’s carrying the ball, or who’s making a tackle. It’s understandable, if you think that the women who play this age are as interchangeable as widgets. We’re in Section 206, and watching them play is like watching people having clothes-optional sex from 40 yards away: at that distance, you can’t tell whether the happy couple are your neighbors, strangers on the street, or your spouse and Elmer Fudd. For the love of mud, at least Playboy gives people the ability to tell the difference between Miss May and Miss December.
3:10 Toronto scores the first touchdown. Don’t know who. Nobody’s watching this for the football. Another sign of either bad marketing or financial struggles – at Rider and Pats games, every second on the scoreboard and on the PA system, when the play is whistled dead or during a TV time-out, is filled with chatter and jabber from sponsors, ranging from the big banks to box hardware stores to Uncle Joe’s Amyl Nitrate Supply Store And Gunsmiths. Here, there’s just more bad metal.
End of First Quarter Drew’s more interested in predicting what the defenses will do. “They give three yards on the line of scrimmage,” he says. “Rush four and you’d sack the quarterback nine times out of ten.” Me? I’m wondering if any of the players have EMS on their speed dial. There’s at least two blatant horse-collar tackles the referees missed. Maybe the referees have been instructed to turn a blind eye to all but the most obvious late hits. Maybe it’s league directed – the greater the likelihood of dirty play, the greater the likelihood of fights. And more fights mean more fan interest. (The Charlestown Chiefs School of Sports Business Administration). With all that exposed skin, they’re going to be some pretty bad cases of road rash, and bruises – more so than if they were playing in the Women’s Western Canadian Football League, where players wear the full football uniform and padding.
6 Minutes Somehow the Rage have scored a touchdown, but I don’t know how. I’m investigating more important matters. “I think I can tell which players are local and which are the American imports,” I tell Drew I think Number 3 is a local.” I could give names, but the MCs aren’t and I didn’t want to spend the coin to buy a program.
Number 3 stands a full head taller than anyone else on the Rage, and she’s covering up her cleavage with a black sports bra instead of having her breasts protrude like a B-52’s jet engines. “Thank you for being the resident pig,” says Drew (I do my best), “but I bet you’re right.” Then he counters: taller women have a more difficult time than shorter women in getting clothes – underwear, bikini tops, that sort of thing – that will fit them. The Rage probably couldn’t get a uniform top that would fit on her without causing her serious pain. So, instead of a bikini top half-under the pads, she’s playing in a sports bra. (Drew would have knowledge of this, he’s a father of three and his wife, a very nice and charming woman, stands six-foot three.) And if you read on, you’l learn why this player is going to get fined by the LFL.
You can learn things here. I should get a federal education tax credit from my tickets.
(Drew may be right about the fashion part, but I’m definitely wrong in my theory. According to the Rage website, which I looked up after the game, Number 3 is Cydney Froelich, a tight-end on offense and linebacker on defense. She’s 26 years old, stands six-feet-one-inch, and comes from that great Saskatchewan community of … Bismarck, North Dakota. Whatever. We’ve adopted Weston Dressler as one of our own.)
Is it football? It’s all relative, as far as the play goes. I really don’t care for arena football. While the play execution and tackling is better from both teams than what I saw from the Winnipeg Blue Bombers on Labour Day, that’s damning with faint praise. I’ve covered small-town rodeos for weekly newspapers, and I swear I’ve seen kids make better tackles on sheep during mutton-busting events than the Bombers D did that day. The question is this: would you be watching this if the players were in full uniform?
3:55 The answer comes from MCs as they promote the post-game autograph session “Come meet the ladies …” the last time I heard women referenced this way, and with the MCs’ inflection, was in an Edmonton strip club in 1992, about six months before the police raided the place. They’re ‘ladies.’ They don’t even get the dignity of names, or personalities.
Somehow, somebody on the Rage fumbles and Toronto recovers. They’re leading. Toronto 12 Regina 7
0:18 Whoever Number 5 is for the Rage, she’s having a great game. She’s the quarterback who scores on a five-yard run. Next play from scrimmage, she intercepts a Toronto pass: the Triumph players bang her around on the boards at the end of the play. No penalty call.
The Rage score on the next play. The conversion looks like FUBAR’ed – the snap drifts over the QB’s head, she’s chased around the centre of the field like a kid in a schoolyard tag game, and she lofts it to the nearest Rage player, who stumbles around and through a couple of Toronto players before getting into the end zone. She then does a Lambeau Leap-esque jump to the guys in the front seats, or, as those in the strip club world call it, Gynecologist’s Row. Celebrate all you want: the Triumph score on the next play. Toronto 26 Regina 16.
Half-Time My bet is that the sausage fest will be a lot louder in the second half, if only because of the beer sales. That will loosen more than a few attitudes. If I were the LFL commissioner, I’d institute a three-drink minimum before kickoff.
I’m spending a lot of time comparing this to stripping for a reason. To me, if it’s a sport, then why are they playing in their underwear? Why is their sex appeal promoted more than their athleticism? Why does the audience laugh before the tackle? The last time I heard football fans do that, it was during one of the Fillmore High School Colts’ drubbing of some other school’s six man football team.
I mean this game is pointless, but not purposeless – for somebody. Saskatchewan’s liquor laws prevent exotic dancing or other nudity in bars. About ten or 12 years ago – when I was writing for the Melville Advance – a couple of bar owners in Broadview and Lemberg brought in strippers from Winnipeg to (a) drum up business to keep their doors open a bit longer and (b) launch a head-on assault on Saskatchewan’s liquor laws concerning strippers. It didn’t work – the SLGA moved in quickly and forcefully, and in Lemberg (a Bible Belt-style town, where Gerry Breitkreuz gets a lot of votes because he supposedly has a direct to God) the priests in the churches denounced the hotel’s owners in particular and stripping in general.
But every player in the LFL in the States, before the league pulled the plug on the season, had to sign waivers saying that due to tackling or wardrobe malfunctions, they may inadvertently show off their private parts, and that the ensuing nudity may end up on social media sites such as YouTube. So, the league, the players, and – presumably the SLGA – know that there may be times when people are going to get naked while the beer’s flowing. And twonies to Timbits you know that if that happens, the SLGA will be put in a compromising position (Drew was right: I AM a pig). It’ll be a lot harder for the SLGA to take down the Evraz Place board (or in the Saskatoon Sirens’ case, the Credit Union Centre board) for a nude exhibition than some small town bar. And it will generate a lot more discussion – especially amongst right-wing talk radio and newspaper columnist types looking to castigate the NDP for its previous wrongs – in this case, not giving lonely and socially inept Saskatchewan males the right to see a woman’s vagina in poor lighting while being served overpriced and watered-down drinks.
“I think you’re connecting dots that may not be there,” says Drew, and he’s probably right. But of the four teams in the LFL, two – the Rage and the Saskatoon Sirens – play in centers where football is popular and exotic dancing is prohibited in bars. It might be a coincidence, it might not.
The LFL supplies no biographical information on their athletes (which may be a good thing: on May 27, 1982, Jenny Isford, a 19-year-old Toronto Argonauts cheerleader, was raped and strangled to death only a few doors from her North York home. Metro Police arrested and charged a guy who spent 10 years in maximum-security prison for second-degree murder. Since then the Argos refuse to release almost all the personal details of their cheerleaders – even their last names). What got them into football? Why this instead of the WWCFL, for example? Do they think the league’s sex appeal will help or hinder them when they get start their post-football career?
Whatever. We’re supposed to be watching … ummm … football. Right.
5 minutes: The Rage scored another touchdown: it’s Number 5 again. The MCs finally get around to giving her a name: it’s NIKKI!” somebody or other. (It’s actually Nikki Johnson, a 21-year-old quarterback and cornerback from Phoenix, who played last year for the Las Vegas Sin. Where does this league get these dumb’ass names?). The conversion is coming up.
Drew: “Is it a one-point or two-point conversion?”
Me: “You’re watching the scoreboard?”
There’s two guys and two women – probably double-dating – in front of us. The drunker the guys get, the more they’re caught up in the game. The more they get caught up in the game, the quieter the women are.
Welcome to Regina’s Gynecologist Row
Two minutes Most of the audience has had a few wobbly pops: most are yelling about something or other. There was a fight underneath our stands: people are standing up so I can’t see the play. Nikki Johnson is the player of the game and promptly scores another touchdown: Rosser scores on the conversion. Regina 40 Toronto 32
Whoever’s quarterbacking Toronto is now just heaving the ball downfield on every play in a futile effort to tie the game. It’s sometimes known as the Henry Burris Hero Attempt. Three or four years ago, Burris was photographed in someone’s bedroom in Montreal wearing a bra and panties, standing beside a similarly clad woman. Maybe he was thinking about coaching.
Number 20 picks off one of those passes and is promptly decked. She’s laying on the astro-turf and shaking: one of the other players comes over and swats her shoulder pad in encouragement, and the guys in the stands are cheering, apparently thinking ‘All Right! Girl-On-Girl!” but it’s not that … Number 20 has to be helped to her feet by the trainers.
Final Score Rage 40 Triumph 32
The so-called sex appeal of this game reminds me of what one of the characters in one of my favorite movies, Eight Men Out, said as he was enlisting the Chicago White Sox players to throw the 1919 World Series. “How do you feed a race-horse? Just enough to let him know he’s hungry.”
So it is with this league’s selling point. There’s enough sex appeal for lonely guys to dream of getting tackled by one of the players, but you have as much chance of that happening as you have of bedding the third-runner-up in the Miss Best Chest In The West contest in a Surrey club. And there’s a lot more to sex appeal than how big a woman’s breasts are or how tight she wears her pants. Real intimacy is about communicating wants and needs and desires: this soft-porn ‘sport’ is just using another person as a masturbation device, whether in your dreams or (very unlikely) in reality.
The women are, no doubt, very athletic. And with the right makeup artistry, a woman a guy wouldn’t look twice at on the street could send Angelina Jolie to hide (for some. Personally, Jolie does nothing for me She’s no Jewel Staite, let alone my wife.).
But for me the real impact came at the autograph signings after the game. Nikki Johnson was there, gamely trying to autograph programs, pieces of paper, posters, calendars, and the occasional man’s torso, with a giant icepack on her right wrist. They’re supposed to be athletes, but barely 15 minutes after going both ways playing football – offense and defense – for 48 minutes, the players look as if they’re ready to go clubbing. I guess that’s the wonder of liquid-proof mascara.
First player on the injury list
As I’m about to leave, I see a man and a woman: they’re moving in different directions. He’s reaching into her back pocket for something? Her wallet? A cheap feel? She looks at him disdainfully. Then she goes out of the Brandt Centre by the north-east exit: he goes out the southeast exit. There’s a story in that, somewhere.