Only one thing came close to dimming the shining, perfect 2007 championship season for the Pittsburgh Passion women’s football team: a power outage just as the second half of the championship game was about to start.
When the lights came back on 50 minutes later, the Passion took to the Nashville Field’s hand-me-down sod (a gift of the Tennessee Titans to Whites Creek High School) and completed its first NWFL championship by shutting out the Columbus Comets.
First-year coach Ron Coder kept his team focused and loose during the outage, according to the team’s offensive MVP, quarterback Lisa Horton. “We started to feel some aches, but we were ready to play.”
Obviously. On the second play of the second half, the Comets were already down 26-0 and desperate to get something going. That’s when defensive MVP Olivia Griswold collapsed the middle of the Comets’ line, dropping Columbus QB Crystal Davis for an 8-yard sack. On the next play, defensive tackle and line anchor JoJo Warner recovered a fumble at the Columbus 26 and handed the keys to Horton.
Horton quickly hit five-year vet Sherry Kring on a play-action pass to the Columbus 13. Then she dropped back, looked across the field one way, then back, while two Comets bore down on her. Just as the defenders met where Horton had been, she was no longer there: Magically, she was gone through a crease that opened for only a blink, and cruised until she was knocked out of bounds at the 1-yard line. Two plays later, Horton hit Lori Johnson in the end zone for the final score of the game, to make it 32-0.
As gifted as Horton is on the field, she can be equally enigmatic off. Sometimes you glimpse what makes her tick. Looking around at her teammates celebrating after the win, she said simply, “How many people are happy right now? It’s everything I expected. It’s better. Really.”
The second half was simply the culmination of what the Passion started in the game’s opening minutes — and in the season’s opening game. It was evident from the outset that Pittsburgh would be too much for Columbus. On the game’s first drive, Horton drove the offense neatly down the field for four minutes, hitting wideout Lori Johnson down the sidelines for a key third-down conversion. She then handed off to running back Torina Henley, who capped the drive by taking the ball to the corner of the end zone. With the O-line protecting Horton and opening holes for Henley and Lynsi Hughes, the Passion made it look easy.
The defense, in the person of Olivia Griswold, set the tone on the ensuing kickoff when she flattened the Comets returner, knocking the air out of her.
There were few options for the Comets. Passion linebacker Trumane Rodgers landed in Nashville on game day around 10:30 a.m. but showed no signs of jet lag as she played the run so effectively that Columbus tried the air themselves. It was a mistake. Black-clad defensive backs Jennifer Cairns, Sherry Vasquez, Michelle Brevard, Kelli Byers and Kelly Stoner were everywhere, batting down balls, picking off passes and recovering fumbles.
The championship is the cherry on top for many players who have been with the team during its five-year history. The victory means so many things, but it also means the end of the season. Standing with offensive linemate Sarah Young, Dana Horn said, tearily, “I miss them already.”
It’s hard especially for the players who are retiring, including star running back Henley and Teresa Conn, the team’s owner and its free safety. It’s hard to imagine the team without Henley lined up behind Horton, or Conn without her cleats and a few injuries. But now that she’ll be spending less time on the trainer’s table, Conn can focus her considerable energy on a repeat in 2007.
So many things have to coalesce to bring a team to this sublime moment: the coaches, the talent, the personalities, a bit of luck and a lack of injuries — each part has to come together to form a perfect season.
All that and a light show, too.