By DAKOTA HUGHES
ATLANTA — The sound of whistles, cracking pads and cheers from the crowd can be heard as the women of the Legends Football League compete on the biggest stage for women’s tackle football.
Each coach stands on the bench, full of intensity, making sure his athletes understand each check and call made. As one team scores a touchdown, immediate cheers from the crowd echo across the arena, and the scoring team celebrates with passion.
“To be a woman in the Legends Football League, you have to be tenacious, passionate, dedicated and transparent,” said Dane Robinson, head coach of the Atlanta Steam, who has been named Coach of the Year twice in the four years he’s coached in the league.
One of the Steam’s most accomplished athletes, Lauran Ziegler, just finished her third year with the Atlanta Steam.
“To be a member of the Steam takes a lot of hard work and dedication,” said Ziegler. “My workout regimen is five to six times a week doing CrossFit and working with a personal trainer. After I finish working each day, I head to the gym for a couple of hours. I meal prep because I am on the go a lot and have to stay in the best shape possible.
“After my workweek is over, I fly from Tampa, Florida, to Atlanta for a weekend of practices. I repeat this process week after week.”
Legends originated in 2009, but this league originally started as the “Lingerie Football League.” The league rebranded into the Legends Football League in 2013. Women from across the country come together to play a sport many never knew existed.
Legends has eight teams including Seattle, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Austin, Texas and Omaha, Nebraska.
The rules and style of Legends play can be found here.
The league only plays one game per weekend. This makes a Legends’ season go from May to September, even though only four to six games are in a team’s season. Teams begin practicing in January and have practices until September, or earlier depending on how long their season lasts. Each team’s practice schedule depends on the head coach for each team.
The hometown team in Georgia, the Atlanta Steam, originated in 2012 and has remained a top contender in the league from the start. The Steam is a dominant team because of titles such as: two-time Eastern Conference Champions; two-time Team of the Year winners and two Legends Cup appearances.
The Steam’s 2017 season recently concluded after their Legends Cup appearance September 3, in Los Angeles, California. Despite walking away with a loss in the championship, the team was the Eastern Conference Champion. To get the Eastern Conference Champion title, the Steam had to take down three-time Legends Cup Champions, the Chicago Bliss. This was called the “franchise’s biggest win” by the league’s commissioner, Mitchell Mortaza.
To get a team to a Legends Cup, it must go through many months of practicing beforehand. The Legends Cup is held in September, and the start of practices begins in January.
For the Atlanta Steam, the typical practice schedule consists of practices Friday night, Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. The average practice lasts around three hours. Film and meetings usually occur for an hour and a half before or after these practices. Certain weekends throughout the season consist of four or five practices in a weekend.
“Our team has a tough practice schedule,” said coach Robinson. “On top of that though, to play football in this kind of a uniform, you are going to be judged and receive criticism. The best way to combat this is by playing hard-nosed-tackle football. I hear all the time ‘You guys play real football and don’t mess around.’ These women are true athletes and play great football.”
The practice schedule is set on the weekends for the Steam because “there are a lot of girls on this team who travel from other states,” Robinson said. “It is impossible to get girls from Florida, Oklahoma, Alabama, North Carolina and New England to a weekday practice because they have work through the week.”
The women in Legends are not only football players, but they have professional careers such as active military, lawyers, doctors, physical trainers, dentists and students. The athletes in this league do not get paid unless they make an All-Fantasy (All-Star) roster for one game per year.
Throughout the season the women have to travel to practice on their own dime; however, the league pays for game weekends for each team with travel, food, hotels, etc. Teams travel by airplane due to the locations of each team.
The Atlanta Steam will begin offseason preparations in November with rookie camps and hold tryouts in December.
“Even though we did not finish with the championship trophy this season, I am still extremely proud of the work these ladies put in,” said Robinson. “We will add in some new rookies next year and we will make some adjustments that will allow us to call ourselves Legends Cup Champions by this time in 2018.”