Women and the NFL: Dr. Jen Welter and the Boston Renegades

Women and the NFL - Jen Welter and Boston Renegades

As a WISE Boston member, I get to attend some really cool events. Generally these events feature awesome women from the world of sports. Not to brag (I totally am), but in the past few years I’ve met Jackie MacMullan, Kathryn Tappen, and Dara Torres.

The list got bigger last month when I got to meet Dr. Jen Welter.

Jen Welter WISE Event

For those of you who don’t know who Jen Welter is…have you been living under a rock? In 2015, Jen became the first female coach in the NFL when she was hired by the Arizona Cardinals as a linebackers coaching intern. Prior to her NFL coaching gig, she played running back for the male Indoor Football League’s Texas Revolution. She was also a linebackers and special teams coach for the Revolution.

Yup, she’s a total badass.

Jen was featured on a panel about women, sports, and leadership, along with Amy Huchthausen, the commissioner of the American East Conference (NCAA Division I), and Janet Judge, a sports lawyer. Shira Springer, a sports columnist for the Boston Globe, moderated the event, which was a benefit for the Boston Renegades, the city’s women’s professional football team.

WISE Event - Harpoon Brewery - Women and Sports

The event took place at Harpoon Brewery, which is in the Seaport District in Boston. I loved how intimate the event was – ticket sales were limited, which meant that everyone had the opportunity to network with the panelists, members of the Renegades, and the WISE board members.

The panelists discussed everything from leadership opportunities for women in the industry to the obstacles that women still face in the world of sports. I really enjoyed when they shared their personal experiences and the changes that need to happen going forward.

WISE Event - Harpoon Brewery - Panelists

I got the chance to speak with Ben Brown, who is the Strength and Conditioning coach for the Renegades. He explained the history of team and his experience as a coach. Ben was super generous with his time and it was hard not to get excited about women’s professional football after seeing his enthusiasm.

Several Boston Renegades team members were at the event as well. The team’s quarterback, Allison Cahill, who is pictured below, spoke for a few minutes at the end of the panel.

WISE Event - Harpoon Brewery - Jen Welter and Boston Renegades

Before the panel started, there was time to network and grab beer samples. I’m not much of a beer drinker, but I did try the cider and enjoyed it.

WISE Event - Harpoon Brewery Tap Handles

The soft pretzels were amaze-balls. I don’t know what they put in the cheese dipping sauce, but I wouldn’t be opposed to having more of it in my life.

WISE Event - Harpoon Brewery Soft Pretzels

My favorite part of the night was when I got some one-on-one time with Jen after the panel. Not only did she take a picture with me, but she gave me some really great advice.

WISE Boston - Harpoon Brewery - Boston Renegades - Group Photo

The Renegade’s first home game is this Saturday, April 16 at Dillboy Stadium in Somerville, MA. Tickets are $10 at the gate.

For more information about the Boston Renegades, check out their website.

– Michelle

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Football Basics – The Combine

Football Basics: NFL Combine

What is the NFL scouting combine?

Short answer: Large athletic men running around in tight clothes.

Longer answer: An annual event held by the NFL to evaluate top league prospects. Affectionately referred to as the “Underwear Olympics,” the NFL combine is an opportunity for college athletes to impress NFL personnel through a series of physical and mental tests.

Today we’re answering some of your basic questions about the combine so that when you see pictures of large men in tight clothes, you know what just went down.

 

Where is the combine held?

Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana. Eventually it will be moved to Los Angeles.

 

Who goes to the NFL combine?

Typically about 335 of college football’s best athletes. The combine is invite-only and participants are determined by a selection committee that votes on each player. Some players with injury concerns choose not to attend.

 

What kind of physical tests do the players go through?

The 40-yard dash, the bench press, the vertical jump, the broad jump, 3 cone drill, the shuttle run, and position-specific drills. The players are also physically measured and undergo drug screenings and physical evaluations.

 

What else do the combine participants go through?

Team interviews – Each team gets 15 minutes with up to 60 participants. Each participant can have up to 15 interviews. Coaches and team management put participants through the ringer, asking questions about everything from their performances in college games to their personal lives. (Jenny Vrentas of MMQB gives us an insider’s view of one of these interviews in this post.) Players also take the Wonderlic test, which is an intelligence test used to test their aptitude for problem-solving.

 

What is it like to participate in the combine?

Obviously, I don’t have a personal experience to share here, but here’s a really great first-hand account from The Players’ Tribune.

 

Does participating in the combine guarantee a player will be drafted?

No. In fact, sometimes a poor combine performance can hurt a player’s chances of being drafted. About 250 players are drafted each year, so if you do the math, there will definitely not be enough draft spots to go around for all the combine participants.

 

What’s the future of the combine?

Lots of people question how well combine activities predict a player’s future success in the NFL. For instance, the 40-yard dash probably means less for an offensive lineman than it does for a running back due to the nature of the position. Many teams place more weight on college performance and interviews than the combine’s physical tests.

 

What else goes on at the combine?

There are lots of press conferences by coaches/GMs/team personnel types, in addition to behind-the-scenes schmoozing and talks with agents of players.

 

What’s The Snap’s take on the combine?

Eh, take it or leave it. The meat market feel is a bit of a turnoff and no one really wants to see some of those linemen in tiny tight UnderArmour. Sports media hypes it up too much because their news cycle is pretty slow this time of year for the NFL. We understand how aspects of the combine would be really helpful for teams in their decision-making, especially the interview time, but we’re not seeing any of that stuff on camera.

 

For more info about the combine, check out this site and this site, both of which I used to help write this post. 

– Michelle

Football Fan Grub Guide: Our Big Game Favorites

Big Game Football Grub Guide

Even for us, the Big Game is about more than just football. If our favorite team is playing, we’re generally less inclined to care about the food (since we know we’ll be too nauseous to eat), but in years like this, where our guys aren’t on the field, we have a few favorite go-to snacks.

Below you will find our favorite appetizers, along with links for recipes.

  • Buffalo Chicken Wings – Duh. Let’s start with the obvious here. We’re not even going to bother to share a recipe because our favorite wings are the ones our brother makes. He’s got a secret recipe that we can’t share. However, we will say that the trick is to leave them in the oven for a long time so you can enjoy crunchy goodness.
  • Buffalo Chicken Dip – Another obvious football game appetizer. There are so many variations of this, but our favorite recipe calls for shredded chicken breast instead of the canned stuff and ranch dressing instead of blue cheese. The recipe we linked is closest to the one we use, however, depending on the size of your party, we would probably cut the recipe in half.
  • Asian Ramen Slaw – The best thing about this recipe is that you can throw all the ingredients together the night before your party. The longer it sits, the better it tastes. It’s also a lighter side, so it’s a nice complement to all the heavier appetizers you typically see. Personally, we don’t add almonds or sunflower seeds, but it’s up to you if those ingredients tickle your fancy.
  • Veggie Pita Pizzas – These are the prettiest appetizer you’ll ever see. The biggest difference between the way we make these and the recipe described in the link is that we use pita bread. Not only do you cut out the process of baking crescent roll dough, but the pita is a healthier alternative. Use reduced fat mayo and cream cheese, and you have an almost guilt-free snack. Our favorite veggies to put on top are broccoli, cucumbers, and red, yellow, and green peppers. Even though carrots would probably look pretty, Michelle thinks carrots taste like pencils, so that doesn’t happen.
  • Peanut Butter Cheese Ball Football – If you haven’t discovered Buns In My Oven, you are missing out on one of the best food blogs of all time. Michelle made this peanut butter cheese ball for a football party a few years ago and guarantees that it’s easy and delicious. Use the recipe linked above to make the actual ball, but you should totally decorate it like this.

Check out other game day grub ideas we collected on our Pinterest board! What’s your favorite Big Game snack? Share in the comments below!

– Michelle & Val

Closing the Chapter on the 2015 NFL Season

2015 NFL Season Sumary

It’s in my nature to always have something to look forward to, which is why I immediately started a countdown to 2016 training camp after the Patriots lost to the Broncos in the AFC Championship. Don’t get me wrong – I was still experiencing rage and disappointment from the game (the type that only spoiled New England fans can really understand at the end of a season that doesn’t result in Tom Brady lifting the Lombardi), but I knew it was time to move on, even knowing that Peyton Manning still needed to face off against Cam Newton.

It doesn’t seem right to move onto 2016 without a recap of the some NFL season highlights. Here’s what we thought of 2015…

It was a good year for:

  • Cam Newton and the Panthers – They almost had a perfect season (15-1), but we’re guessing that a Super Bowl win would make everything good for this gutsy team from the NFC South. They spent the whole season with a chip on their shoulder, trying to ignore the haters who pointed to the difficulty (or lack thereof) of their schedule as the reason for their success. Cam is a front-runner for MVP.
  • Kirk Cousins – He won the starting QB position in Washington this year and gave us the best soundbite of the year with his fired-up, “You like that?!!”
  • The Houston Texans – This may seem like an odd choice because they were decimated by the Chiefs during wildcard weekend this year after winning the pathetic AFC South. However, they did give us one of the best Hard Knocks seasons yet and I think they deserve some praise for that.
  • Aaron Rodgers – The season may not have ended the way he wanted, but the guy had not one, but two spectacular Hail Mary catches this year. He’s an exciting player to watch.
  • The Bengals’ half-time monkey – Why doesn’t this happen at all football games? SOMEBODY PLEASE EXPLAIN!
  • Women in the NFL – We’ve still have much ground to cover when considering the involvement of women in the old boy’s club known as the NFL. However, seeing Jen Welter as an intern pre-season coach for the Cardinals and Sarah Thomas as the first full-time official felt like small victories and we’ll take what we can get. With the Bills promoting Kathryn Smith to become the first full-time assistant coach in the league earlier this month, hopefully this will be a sign of more female hires to come. Have we figured out the domestic violence issues linked to the sport? No, but hiring women into higher-profile positions and hearing rising sports world stars like Katie Nolan call people out seems like a good start.

 

It was a bad year for:

  • Injured players – Yes, everyone gets injured in the NFL. However, there were a lot of “big names” that went on injured reserve or missed a significant number of games due to injury, upsetting fans and fantasy football participants everywhere. A lot of these “big names” were quarterbacks, including Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger, Andy Dalton, and Joe Flacco. (Personally, all I can think about is how things would have been different if the Patriots didn’t have so many significant injuries. Sweet Jesus, it would have been great to see Roger hand the Lombardi over to Mr. Kraft and Brady.)
  • Officials – You couldn’t pay me enough to be an NFL official. The job is too stressful and the stakes are too high for something that is not full-time employment. The officials seemed to go through a rough patch in the middle of the 2015 season. Mistakes are understandable, but it was the size of the mistakes and how much of an effect they had on game outcomes that made them so newsworthy.
  • Catching – No one knew what exactly justified a catch this year. Expect this to be a topic addressed by the rules committee for 2016.
  • FanDuel and DraftKings – These two daily sports fantasy companies started out having a good year and then seven states declared that activities on these sites were a form of gambling. While there is certainly a lot of money to be had in the fantasy world, every day new hurdles seem to pop up and everyone wants their piece of the pie.
  • Rams fans in St. Louis – Can you imagine having your football team taken away from you? That’s what happened when Stan Kroenke and his mustache decided to follow the big money and move the team back to LA. Read these fan reactions and tell me you don’t feel bad for some of these people.

Other things worth mentioning:

  • Moving the extra-point line back – The NFL moved the PAT (point after touchdown) line from the 2-yd line to the 15-yd line this year. Kickers still made the majority of their PATs, but it did add an interesting twist to the game and we didn’t hate it.
  • Concussions – The NFL recently announced that diagnosed concussions rose 32% this season (including preseason and training camp), with a 58% increase when only considering regular-season games. The movie “Concussion” kept the topic in the headlines, highlighting this as a significant problem the NFL will have to contend with in the long term.
  • Shame on you – The Falcons lost a 2016 draft pick and president Rich McKay was suspended after the team was found guilty of pumping in sound noise during home games in 2013 and 2014. Browns GM Ray Farmer was suspended and the team was fined after a sideline texting scandal. The Browns and the Bills had to suspend coaches after alleged assault incidents.
  • Color rush uniforms – The NFL experimented with color rush uniforms and some of them were just hideous. We were not fans. Please don’t do that again.
  • Deflategate – Believe it or not, it’s not over yet, as the NFL’s appeal of Judge Berman’s ruling will be held on March 3. I think I speak for all of us when I say, just drop it Roger.

How will you remember the 2015 season? What do you think 2016 will bring us? Comment below to let us know.

– Michelle

 

Women and the NFL: Beth Grossbard

Beth Grossbard - Women and the NFL

When a person introduces herself and says, “I love football,” I’m intrigued. When she starts an email with, “I love football so much I just made a movie about it,” she’s really got my attention.

Beth Grossbard is an executive producer and her latest film, “Love on the Sidelines,” premieres tonight on the Hallmark channel. The movie is a romantic comedy about a quarterback who is sidelined with an injury and hires a female personal assistant who knows nothing about football. It starts Emily Kinney (of “The Walking Dead” fame), John Reardon, and Joe Theismann.

Beth Grossbard - Women and the NFL

“I read the script and I loved it,” says Beth, a self-described die hard football fan since the age of six. With an impressive list of made-for-TV movies, including “The Christmas Shoes,” Beth was ecstatic to become involved in a project that combined two of her loves – football and storytelling through film.

Growing up in Miami during the height of Dolphins mania, Beth remains a Dolphins fan to this day and partially credits her love of the game to a neighbor she had during the early part of her life. The neighbor was George Young, a former NFL executive who was the GM of the Giants and won the NFL Executive of the Year five times.

“George instilled in me a great knowledge of the game,” says Beth. “When we watched games together, we would mute the TV and listen to the play-by-play on the radio since he thought it was better.”

Fast forward several years, and Beth was thrilled to have the “Love on the Sidelines” script, written by Judith Berg and Sandra Berg, the nieces of ex-NFL coach Sid Gillman, land in her lap. Getting the movie to the screen proved to be a challenge, however, as there wasn’t much interest in a film with professional football providing a backdrop to the story line. Finally, after seven years, and the support of Hallmark executives who shared Beth’s appreciation for football, the film was given the green light.

Love on the Sidelines - Hallmark

One of the highlights for Beth was getting to work with Joe Theismann, the former Redskins quarterback and Super Bowl Champion. Finding someone to play the role of Owen Holland, the father of the injured quarterback, was a challenge, as Beth knew she wanted to bring in a big NFL name and scheduling could be a problem.

“Joe read the script, loved it, and said he was in,” says Beth. “He was the most incredible human being, an amazing motivational speaker, and better than any therapist.”

Getting Emily Kinney to play the female lead was also a win for Beth.

“When you tell me I can’t do something, I will do it,” says Beth, who was originally told the odds of getting the actress for the project were slim. Kinney plays the role of Laurel Welk, an aspiring fashion designer who doesn’t know anything about football. When Laurel takes on the role of personal assistant to QB Danny Holland, the “fish out of water” situation allows Kinney to exercise her comedic chops.

“Emily has impeccable comedic timing,” says Beth. “She also has this really great vulnerability about her as an actress.”

 Judith Berg and Sandra Berg, the nieces of ex-NFL coach Sid Gillman

Laurel’s love interest, Danny Holland, is played by John Reardon, who worked with Beth and Hallmark before and was quick to sign onto the project. John was a quarterback in college and considered going into the CFL before pursuing a career in acting. According to Beth, it was great to see him enjoying himself so much with the opportunity to be back on the field and in the huddle.

Love on the Sidelines John Reardon

John wasn’t the only one thrilled to be on the field, as some of Beth’s favorite days for filming were when they were filming the football scenes. Most of the extras in the film were real football players from the UBC Thunderbirds, who went on to win the Canadian college championship.

“It was a thrill to have a real quarterback, real receivers,” says Beth. “Just wonderful to be on the field.”

Although she’s found a lot of her success with Christmas-themed movies in the past, Beth hopes that more football movies are in her future.

“I’m a passionate football fan,” she says. “Football is in my blood.”

“Love on the Sidelines” premieres on the Hallmark Channel on Saturday, January 16, 2016 at 9/8 Central. Photos courtesy of Beth Grossbard / Hallmark.

– Michelle

Snap Chat: Joe Theismann

Snap Chat Interview - Joe Theismann

To say Joe Theismann is a busy man would probably be an understatement. As a retired NFL quarterback, he spends his time as a football analyst, restaurant owner, motivational speaker, and most recently, as an actor. His performance in “Love on the Sidelines,” a Hallmark Channel romantic comedy, is what we are discussing, but I can’t suppress my inner football geek.

“So…do you have any playoff predictions?” I ask.

Now, I’m sure that Joe gets asked football questions all the time and he probably wouldn’t mind continuing our conversation about his recent acting experience, but he humors me. Not only that, Joe seems more than happy to talk about the upcoming games.

“My picks for the Super Bowl are the Cardinals and the Patriots. The Cardinals are the most complete team in the NFL right now, and when New England is healthy, they are hard to beat,” says the man who hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in 1983.

As our conversation continues, we discuss the Redskins, recent coaching changes, and RG3. Not only is he extremely well-spoken, but he’s very friendly, insightful, and patient as I jump around from topic to topic.

It shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me, as both Beth Grossbard (the executive producer of “Love on the Sidelines”) and Joe’s assistant, who helped me with scheduling, both praised him for his easy-going nature and genuine interest in connecting with people. Grossbard described Joe as better than any therapist and I totally get it after having the opportunity to chat with him.

——————-

If you’ve seen “The Blind Side,” you may recall that the movie opens with footage of a Redskins-Giants football game with a Sandra Bullock voice-over explaining why the left tackle, the guy who protects the blindside of the quarterback, is often the second highest paid player on a team. The footage shows a quarterback succumbing to a gruesome leg injury. That quarterback is Joe Theismann and sadly, that injury ended his career in the NFL.

More often than not, Joe’s name is synonymous with that injury. While it would be understandable if he tried to distance himself from that terrible moment, he doesn’t. In fact, he was recently quoted in The Washington Post describing it as “a blessing.”

The experience is actually one of the reasons Joe was drawn to his role in “Love on the Sidelines.” In the movie, Joe plays Owen Holland, the father of a quarterback who is in the process of rehabbing a serious injury.

“There was an emotional connection there,” says Joe, explaining that he understood the process that the injured character was going through. Having the opportunity to play the father, and one who showed pride in what his son had accomplished, was also appealing to Joe.

This wasn’t Joe’s first foray into acting, as he made appearances on “Necessary Roughness” in 2013 and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” in 2014. When I questioned him about the experience of acting, he described the challenge of transitioning from a public speaker. (Joe travels the country as a motivational speaker. You can check out a snippet here.)

“Speeches are about projecting, there’s more force to it. Acting is about capturing the moment. It’s about taking the written words and making them a part of who you are,” says Joe.

A highlight of the experience was the cast and crew. Joe had nothing but good things to say about the director and described Emily Kinney (pictured below with Joe at the Hallmark press party) and John Reardon, who play the lead roles, as “consummate professionals and fun to be around.”

Emily Kinney and Joe Theismann Love on the Sidelines Hallmark

From speaking with executive producer Beth Grossbard, it was apparent the feelings were reciprocated by the cast and crew. She appreciated the attention that he showed to everyone on set and fondly recalled how “he would make a touchdown signal any time he had a good take.”

Even though he was only on-set for one day, he signed autographs for everyone and he showed genuine appreciation for being part of the romantic comedy.

“I’m very excited about having [this] opportunity,” says Joe. “It’s a terrific movie. I think it will be enjoyed by a lot of people.”

——————-

It was an absolute thrill to talk to Joe, who was extremely generous with his time and left me the nicest voicemail, which I will probably never delete because I’m weird like that. Thank you so much to Joe Theismann for talking to me about acting and football, and to Beth Grossbard for arranging the interview.

(Oh and for those of you who are wondering, here are some of the interesting NFL tidbits I got from Joe: He thinks that despite the Redskins’ recent playoff loss, they were able to accomplish a lot in in the face of change and injuries, especially to the tight ends and corners. He thinks that the team’s priorities for 2016 should be corners and receivers (“You can always use more receivers”) and now they can start drafting for depth to fortify the team. As far as head coaches go, Joe thinks that Cleveland is walking away a winner with Hue Jackson and he was surprised that San Fransisco went with Chip Kelly.)

“Love on the Sidelines” premieres on the Hallmark Channel on Saturday, January 16, 2016 at 9/8 Central. Photo courtesy of Beth Grossbard / Hallmark.

– Michelle

2015 Fantasy Football Year-End Summary

Hi Mom…and hi to other Snap readers who have been anxiously waiting for our return from our unplanned hiatus. There was a lot that happened over the last month in the NFL – the regular season came to an end, new coaches got hired, existing coaches got fired (Chip Kelly! Did anyone see that coming before the last game of the season? NOT US) and St. Louis lost its football team. Just like the Rams in LA, we’re baaaaack and just in time for the start of the playoffs. Yay football.

(I promise you – there is a point to this post, but first I’m going to ramble. I figure it’s the best way to get you caught up on the last month and get the writing juices flowing.)

I hope everyone enjoyed the holidays and the conclusion of the 2015 NFL season. Our holidays were great, thanks for asking. Admittedly, they would have been better if we both didn’t get sick. We both became “one with the couch” for a few days before Christmas and it sucked. Not only did it interfere with our motivation to blog, but it also interrupted our holiday baking plans. Is it really Christmas if you don’t have Christmas cookies? I’m not quite sure it is.

We got to catch up on some movies (Jurassic World – awesome. Mad Max – terrifying and confusing and weirdly empowering at the end.) We enjoyed not having to look at our computer screens for hours a day. We watched a few football games and some us were able to finish our fantasy football seasons on a high note.

Generally speaking, people don’t care about any fantasy football team but their own. Maybe it’s just me, but I tend to zone out when people are talking about their latest waiver wire pickup unless there’s an opportunity for me to jump into the conversation and talk about my own fantasy team. (The firm exception to this rule is my mother’s fantasy team. We’re all emotionally invested in the success of her fantasy team. She is not a happy camper unless she is dominating the poor unsuspecting souls in her league. Life is just easier when she’s got a winning record.)

Now that I’ve established that you probably don’t care about other people’s fantasy teams, I’m going to tell you all about the fantasy results for our family.

  • Our mom won her fantasy league again this year with her team, Wilfork You Up. Not only did she win, but she dominated the finals with a season-high number of points. This year she displayed some mad draft skills and had some impressive pickups early in the season that paid dividends later. (Her fantasy intuition, as well as her smack-talk, are reasons why I will not be in a league with her.)
  • Our brother was in the same league as mom (glutton for punishment that child is) and he didn’t do quite as well. Actually, he probably wouldn’t want me to share just how far behind our mom he finished, so I won’t.
  • Val didn’t have a fantasy team, but I’m going to give her the GM of the year award for helping Momma O manage her team. Thank goodness you didn’t screw up too badly or else you might have been looking for new fantasy football employment on Black Monday.
  • I was only in three leagues this year.
    • We’re going to skip going into too much detail about the one I did with some college friends, as it was the worst performance I have ever had in a fantasy league. Completely mortifying. Where’s my cone of shame?
    • I made it to the semi-finals in my work league and finished in 4th place overall, which wasn’t terrible considering the number of injuries I dealt with (and by that I mean injuries the real life players dealt with) and the large number of people in the league.
    • For research purposes, I joined a Battle Red fantasy league. Battle Red is the Texans women’s fan club. I’m happy to report that I won that league and I will be receiving an autographed picture of a Texans player in the mail to recognize my accomplishment. Booyah.

Speaking of fantasy football results, our Weekly Pick ‘Em Challenge is continuing through the playoffs. While Val and I are secretly competitive and enjoy sitting on top of the leaderboard, we realize that this is not a good way to make friends or get people to join our league in the future. I would promise to not try as hard next year, but realistically that won’t happen. Here are the standings as of the wild card weekend:

Weekly Pick 'Em 2015 - Wild Card

We’ll try to be better about blogging through the playoffs. Let us know what you want us to write about in the comments below and we’ll do our best to give the people what they want.

– Michelle