Lingerie Football League hits St. Louis

ST. LOUIS – It started with a phone call telling her to turn on the TV and followed with research and a couple videos online. It didn’t take long. Julia Bradenberg was hooked.
Informed by her boyfriend that the Lingerie Football League was bringing a new franchise to St. Louis, the former Ursuline Academy and SLU soccer standout quickly decided that she wanted to play.
“I love competing, that’s all I’ve done my whole life,” Bradenberg said. “Just the whole aspect of playing football. When I played soccer the physical aspect was my favorite part of the game, and oddly enough, I won a punt, pass and kick contest in grade school so I said I can play football as long I can be taught it.”
So after recently moving back to St. Louis to start a new job as an account manager with Johnny Mac’s, Bradenberg showed up Sunday at the Vetta Sports Complex in St. Louis for the first round of tryouts.
Bradenberg and about 90 other women competed in a variety of football-related drills on the indoor soccer field in front of the league’s founder and commissioner Mitch Mortaza and a group of candidates vying to be the team’s head coach.
And this was no lingerie party. Players who weren’t good enough were singled out and told to go home in the middle of the tryout. Others were put through 1-on-1 drills as the rest of the players and those and in stands watched closely.
“They were hard on us,” Bradenberg said. “They were not nice. I was hoping it would be competitive and it ended up being pretty competitive.
“It was really serious. It was a lot more serious than I had thought. They were all about following instructions. The drills that we did, which I’ve never done, were in front of everyone. The quality of athletes was better than I thought.”
Bradenberg was one of 24 women selected from Sunday’s tryout to move on. Another tryout in September will decide on 24 more participants and the final 48 will compete during training camp in January for one of the final 20 roster spots.
The team, recently named the St. Louis Saints, will begin play in the spring of 2013 and compete in the Eastern Conference with teams from Omaha, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Tampa.
Their team colors are navy blue and gold, matching that of the St. Louis Rams. Most teams in the league model their color scheme after the local NFL team in their city.
“Everything was kind of validated this past weekend,” said Mortaza, who has been the commissioner since founding the league in 2009. “To go to an open tryout and have that many fans and media turn out was exciting to say the least.
“A lot of people don’t know we have a really involved offseason training program similar to the Rams. We have offseason OTAs, mini camps, and training camps before we even get near the regular season. It was an exciting time because we saw the excitement with the media and fans and the turnout was phenomenal.”
The LFL used to play opposite the NFL and NCAA football in the fall and winter but decided recently to move the season to the spring and summer.  Their first season under the new calendar will debut in the spring of 2013.
But the league soon won’t just be located in the United States. A Canadian LFL will debut this fall with plans to start a league in Australia next winter and Europe the following summer. By 2015, the LFL hopes to have at least one of their four leagues competing during all months of the year.
The rules for the league are similar to that of other indoor football leagues. It’s a full contact sport and uniforms consist of shoulder, elbow and knee pads, bras, panties and ice hockey style helmets with clear plastic visors.
Asked about having to potentially wear lingerie in front of large crowds, Bradenberg said, “I don’t consider it lingerie. I wish they wouldn’t have put that name on it. I wish it would be called ‘bikini football’ or something.
“I don’t mind that at all. I’m pretty free-spirited so I’m totally OK with wearing sports bras and whatever else. It’s just something that comes with it I guess just to get people to watch or to get attention for a women’s football team. I’m really open with that kind of stuff. That doesn’t bother me at all.”
Each team consists of seven players on the field at one time. The field is 50 yards between the end zones and 30 yards wide. The end zones are eight yards deep. Games have a pair of 17-minute halves, separated by a 15-minute halftime.
There are no punts or field goals. A kickoff starts the game and second half but teams must go for it on all fourth downs. After a team scores a touchdown, it can either go for a one-point conversion from the 2-yard line or a two-point try from the 5.
“We get beat up usually right when we announce it because a lot of people don’t know what the sport is, ” Mortaza said. “They think it’s literally a bunch of Playboy models running around having no concept of the game and not being athletic. Then they find out, ‘Wait, these guys take it seriously. These are real athletes, these are women from our community,’ and then they really gravitate towards the sport.”
Mortaza said the Saints are considering two locations to play their games and hope to announce a decision in the next few weeks. Chaifetz Arena on the campus of Saint Louis University would seem to make sense given it’s size and availability in the spring and summer.
The team also hopes to decide on a coach in the coming weeks.
Nearly 92 percent of players in the league last year were former college athletes in some sport. The league stresses that the athletes are real and the games are as competitive as any league or sport out there.
Bradenberg, the Atlantic-10 Rookie of the Year in 2006 and SLU’s leading goal scorer in 2008, continues to play soccer competitively and also plays sand volleyball and tennis.
But she soon hopes to be able to add a new sport to her resume: Football.
“Why not?” Bradenberg said. “Football is something that girls don’t really have the opportunity to play so why not let us try it? I truly think if you’re a talented athlete that you should be able to play any sport if you just practice it, so why not football? I was excited about it.
“I miss playing in front of people and the stands and I miss the whole rush of it and practice and being a part of the team, so that’s what’s in it for me.”