First Woman RB in Men’s Pro Football League Unscathed After Mixing It Up With The Guys

By Brad Townsend
The Dallas Morning News.


When the moment finally came, with 6:20 left in the third quarter, Jennifer Welter took a handoff and tried with every fiber in her 5-2, 130-pound frame to score from 2 yards out over left tackle.

And North Texas Crunch defensive lineman Cedric Hearvey hurled his 6-4, 245-pound body and bore his helmet and shoulder pad into Welter’s left hip, whacking her down her down for a 1-yard loss.

With that, 36-year-old Welter on Saturday became the first woman non-kicker or placekick-holder to play in a men’s pro football game, albeit in this case a preseason game in the 8-on-8 Indoor Football League.

“I said, ‘Is that all you got?’ ” Welter said she told Hearvey after the first of her three carries for the Texas Revolution.

“They (Crunch players) were getting all alive, and I had to say something. I didn’t want them to think I was intimidated.”

Welter also was hit hard on the next play, another carry and 1-yard loss, as well as on a 1-yard run in the fourth-quarter in which she was smothered a yard from the goal line.

After the Revolution’s 54-30 victory, no one can say, ever, that Welter can’t take a legitimate hit from male football players.
Nor could anyone accuse the Crunch of taking it easy on Welter, although after making the fourth-quarter tackle on her, Duncanville product Hearvey turned to the Revolution sideline and hollered for the coaches to take Welter out “because this doesn’t feel right.”

“Honestly, it was very weird,” Hearvey said after the game. “Part of me wanted to let her score, but part of me had a job. So I was like, ‘Can y’all please take her out?’ ”

Welter, however, told Hearvey that she in no way wanted him or any of the Crunch players to go easy on her.

“Honestly, I really have a lot of respect for that lady over there,” Hearvey said.

“I’ve been impressed with her grit and her desire,” Revolution coach Chris Williams said. “And even, in some cases, in the beginning I thought even delusional thoughts that she had about being able to play the game. But as I watched her, I’m impressed with how she comes to work every day.”

The Revolution open the regular season Friday at home against Cedar Rapids. The Revolution has until Wednesday afternoon to determine its season-opening roster.

“And we will see how this all ends up,” Williams said.

If Saturday’s game was indeed historic, it wasn’t greeted with much fanfare. The 5,900-seat Allen Event Center was only about was about one-sixth full, though the fans stood and cheered when Welter entered for one series in the third quarter, and again in the fourth.

Not that the size of the crowd lessened the occasion for Welter. Her eyes reddened during the playing of the National Anthem.

Then she spent the first half standing behind the dasherboard circling the 50-yard-long field, amid teammates who towered over her, the No. 47 of her tucked-in jersey barely half visible.

Welter, who since 2004 had played linebacker for the Dallas Diamonds of the Women’s Football Alliance, isn’t advocating that women play against men. She mostly wants the world to know that women are passionate about football, too, and that women’s leagues deserve more visibility and to play on bigger stages.

“I’ve thought of all the reasons why I might be the wrong person to do this. ‘You’re too small, you’re too this, you’re too that,’ ” she said. “The truth is if I can change the game, literally, for any of those girls, it’s worth it.

“Because it’s really not about me. It’s about them and the future of the sport.”

On the third play of her third-quarter goal line series, Revolution quarterback Josh Floyd was sacked for a 6-yard loss. Welter exited the game. On fourth down, the Revolution scored on a pass play.

When Welter re-entered the game with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Revolution had first and goal on the 2. Welter carried over left tackle to the 1, where she was smothered by Willie Jones and Hearvey, who then asked to come out of the game.

On the next play, quarterback Floyd faked a sweep-left handoff to Welter, then scored on a bootleg around left end.
Welter came off the field to high-fives from her teammates.

In addition to being the first female non kicker or non placekick-holder to play in a men’s pro football game, she almost certainly became the first player to suit up in the same locker room as the cheerleaders.

And to have the cheerleaders help braid her hair before the game.

“I’ve been glittered,” Welter said with a smile as she exited the locker room.

As it happens, this is the weekend in which UT-Arlington is hosting the USA Football Women’s World Tackle Games.

Women’s football players from around the world arrived in North Texas on Thursday to train with USA Football players and compete in games Saturday and Sunday.

Welter, who helped Team USA win world championships in 2010 and 2013, had originally planned to take part in the women’s camp until the Revolution called her.

On Friday night, she went to dinner with several Team USA women’s players and coaches. On Saturday, about 100 women’s players came over from Arlington to the Allen Events Center and sat in Section 118. They stood and cheered when Welter entered the game with 6:41 left in the third quarter.

“I consider it a blessing that they were all coming into town,” Welter said. “I was overcome with the excitement, to be able to show them what the future holds for women’s football, in the acceptance level.

“No, not necessarily in terms of playing with boys, but in terms of bigger venues, bigger audiences. Really, the sky’s the limit for women’s football right now.”

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