Looking downfield at a sea of red, The Montreal Blitz line up against the Boston Militia’s intimidating defence.
The two have become bitter rivals over the years. And it showed on the Boston coaches’ faces as they threw their clipboards to the ground and screamed at the players, “This is personal!” and “If you’re going to give up just get off the field!”
As the ball was snapped, the quarterback faked the hand-off, rolled out and hit a black jersey. The Boston staff flipped. It wasn’t the first time they ran that play, yet it always worked.
Across the field Blitz head coach John Gibbon looked on pensively. After 27 years of coaching, a play-action pass has become all too familiar. All that was different this time was the players.
The quarterback is just 5’4″, 150 pounds with long dark hair, and the receiver is just as short with blonde hair and bright blue eyes.
But Gibbon doesn’t care what they look like, Saadia Ashraf and Georgina Paull have been a deadly duo for three seasons at the Blitz, Canada’s first professional women’s football team.
Since his arrival three years ago, the Blitz has been steadily improving, going from 3-5 in 2006 to 6-2 in 2007. Turning teams around is Gibbon’s trademark – he wins wherever he goes in his illustrious career in amateur sports.
With over 230 wins and less than 20 losses under his belt, Gibbon does not have anything left to prove. Football became his life – his son Myles is now one of the country’s premier quarterbacks at Vanier College and is now his offensive coordinator, while his wife Kim is the general manager.
Yet Gibbon keeps going without a thought to himself. He began in 1981 with the ambition of giving something back to his community, and now in 2008 he still wants to offer.
“It’s almost selfish what I get out of it,” said Gibbon. “It’s pure joy for me, on Facebook for instance, kids I coached 20 years ago find me and send me pictures of their kids.”
When Gibbon first walked into a Blitz practice with Kim, who wanted to play at the time, he stumbled on a team in need of organization. The full coaching staff was yet to be hired. However, all he saw was a group of football players eager to learn the game, and that was enough to bring him onboard.
“I got suckered in,” Gibbon said jokingly. “I just wanted to give them a chance to win, just like I gave my boys back then.”
Gibbon was immediately impressed by the intensity the players brought to the field. There were no egos; only the will to do whatever it takes to win.
“The women don’t think they know it all yet,” Gibbon noted. “They haven’t been coached too many times. So the girls really listen, they’re more disciplined and more respectful. It isn’t to say I’m working with nuns. They have their moments; these girls play football because they don’t make ballet class.”
All the hard work preparing for this game was put under fire late in the fourth quarter. The Blitz were back at the line of scrimmage facing a key third down. The score was only 7-0; if the offence managed to convert they would be able to run down the clock. If not, Boston would have one more chance to tie.
Tension gripped the gridiron. On the sideline players are holding their breaths, waiting to see if the yards are gained.
Ashraf set the cadence, handing the ball off to full back Tina Frascarelli. She ran up two yards before being tripped up short of the first. It was all on the defence as of then.
Fans at the Dablé Viau field in Lachine were starting to see the players’ fatigue.
But Paull would not have it any other way; she just loves the adrenaline and the rush of a tight game. Also in her third season, the summer months she spends in uniform bring her great pride.
“Guys have the possibility of getting paid to play football,” said Paull. “But for us we do it because we love the sport. We practice and kill ourselves and even pay to play, just because we love it.”
The Blitz defence had been stellar throughout the afternoon. But when the clock wound down and their backs were to the end zone, nerves began to take over. On first down the Boston receiver caught a pass, but it wasn’t enough to convert – that was as far as their drive went.
Relief came across the Blitz bench, quickly followed by loud cheers. Not every team can stand so much pressure, but it turns out the Montreal women proved they could rise to the challenge.
“All these guys that diss it before they see it, don’t have a clue. I see so many that think they know it all, think it’s a man’s game,” Gibbon explained. “Wake up buddy, welcome to 2008. And these women are as good or better than a lot of guys out there. Pound-for-pound some of them are better than some players I’ve coached in my life. These girls bring it.”
The Blitz’s Season opener is on April 19, 2008. For more info, contact MontrealBlitz@gmail.com.