Killer, Rocky and Spaz Make Female Football a Smash Hit
IN EASTERN SAUDI ARABIA (AP) _ Players wore names like Killer, Rocky and Spaz on their jerseys. Cheerleaders in combat boots shouted through orange pylons and waved pink paper pompons. Spectators stacked their rifles and gas masks to do the wave.
This was Sunday afternoon football with a twist: the players were women.
A team of Marines called the Wrecking Crew toppled the Desert Foxes, from U.S. Navy Fleet Hospital No. 5, 20-13 in front of adoring troops who roared, howled, barked and booed the referees, naturally.
″It’s a change of pace. Everyone was able to blow off a little steam,″ said Marine Cpl. Carrie Cripps, 21, of Fort Smith, Ark. A middle linebacker, she is also known as Rocky.
The Desert Foxes were weary and dirty but far from discouraged because they stayed within a touchdown of the women Marines. The Foxes had practiced only eight times before, all on an asphalt parking lot.
″We’re all nurses. We didn’t know the first thing about football. I thought we were going to get trounced,″ said Lt. Com. Raelene Hoogendorn of McDonald, Pa. Also known as Killer, she works in casualty receiving.
This wasn’t the NFL, but it was the closest thing available in Saudi Arabia. The game is called flag football, a version of touch, although there were more than a few tackles and there was some crisp blocking. Players traded high-five handshakes and spiked the ball on touchdown receptions.
The game was played on a sand field that the Marines call the Scud Bowl, although this one was billed as the Turkey Bowl as part of Thanksgiving weekend. Every play kicked up a cloud of dust, and the women panted and puffed in the 90-degree heat.
Armed Forces Radio did a play-by-play. Several hundred Marines watched from the sidelines, some sitting on their sleeping cots or under tent flaps. They munched on popcorn, pretzels and crackers.
There was no beer, only Kool-Aid and soda pop, although the two sidelines chanted the Miller Lite exchange of ″Less Filling″ and ″Tastes Great″ before the game.
All in all, it was a pleasant afternoon for service members who have been training in this parched land for nearly four months.
″Nobody’s in their tents. It breaks the monotony,″ said Gunnery Sgt. Eugene Bradley, 33, of Dallas. ″It’s something to do on a Sunday. Tomorrow we go back to work, back to the old grind. Boy, look at those linebackers 3/8″
Sgt. Chris Dempsey, 25, of Cleveland, led other Marines in cheers.
″When the women play, people come out of the woodwork to watch,″ Dempsey said. ″There ain’t no place to go. You can’t go to town. There’s no alchohol. We’re pretty well isolated.″
The game would also be unheard of elsewhere in Saudi Arabia, where men and women may not mingle in public. Even photographs of women playing sports are almost unheard of.
″This is a crowd pleaser. You can’t get no better than this,″ said Lance Cpl. Stephen Banks, 22, of Pittsburgh.
On the other side of the field, Cpl. Greg Williams, 22, of Billings, Mont., screamed himself hoarse while waving his pom-poms.
″There’s not much to do out here,″ said Williams.
Capt. Richard Mayo, commander of Fleet No. 5 Hospital, wished his charges well before they took the field in their white T-shirts adorned with red crosses, a contrast to the Marines’ drab brown shirts.
″This is one way of channeling their frustrations,″ Mayo said from the bench.
As befits a multinational force, a number of British soldiers watched the game.
″I love American football. Love the atmosphere,″ said Cpl. Mick Gibbons, 28. ″You don’t have the rowdies we have in British soccer.″
About 350,000 troops are in Saudi Arabia as part of a multinational force deployed after Iraq invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2. They face about 460,000 Iraqi troops in southern Iraq and Kuwait.