|Dan Marino’s jersey is smeared with mud. The Miami Dolphins Hall of Fame quarterback stands in Shannon Anderson’s living room, frozen in the midst of launching a pass.
The life-size cardboard cutout is a daily reminder, not only of Anderson’s love for the game, but also how her parents would always bench her attempts to play football with her two older brothers.
“When I was young, I was always a tomboy and wanted to play,” the 31-year-old Youngstown native recalls. “I asked at least, but I got turned down real quick.”
So, her connection to the game trickled down to her toys. Always a Dolphins fan, one of her two Cabbage Patch Kid dolls — a brown-haired boy — was rechristened Dan Marino.
Playing softball and basketball fed Anderson’s competitive streak in high school and at Baldwin-Wallace College. But six years ago, Anderson finally got her chance to tackle the game of football. Since 2001, she’s played wide receiver for the Cleveland Fusion and the recently disbanded 10-time United States Flag & Touch League national champions, Hennie Homes.
The Fusion, one of more than 40 National Women’s Football Association teams in the United States, plays a full-contact version of the game at Bedford High School’s stadium. Around 1,500 fans come to watch the women take on teams from other football-crazed cities such as Baltimore, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.
“When the tryouts came, I had to [do it],” says Anderson, who leads the Fusion in yards per reception and had a 400-yard season last year. “It was a challenge to me. I’m very competitive.”
Make that very, very competitive. Anderson, who works as an accounting assistant at a Richfield publishing company, begins training in January for the Fusion season, which starts in April. And, like many of the Fusion’s 40 players, she keeps busy during the off-season with an eight-versus-eight flag football league. She says the fall games tend to be a little easier on the players, after a long spring season. And now that Hennie Homes, which had lost fewer than two dozen of its last 300 games, is no more, Anderson is playing for Jack’s, a 25-year-old team named after the women’s flag-football proponent who originally founded it. If all goes well, Anderson could again be headed to Florida in January for the USFTL’s version of the Super Bowl.
“Everyone’s gunning for you,” she says. “I just love the thrill of the challenge, of someone trying to take something that’s mine.”
TURKEY BOWL BASICS
To some of us, the best part of Thanksgiving isn’t the mountains of potatoes and stuffing, but that traditional attempt to show off to your dad and cousins known as the Turkey Bowl. We asked Anderson for some pigskin pointers that’ll help even the most clueless competitor indulge in the annual family football game.
‘BE SURE TO STRETCH. “Especially if you’ve been inactive for a long period of time,” Anderson says. “If I don’t stretch, I’m done. You’ll definitely feel it the next game.” Or when you’re hobbling over to the fridge to grab that leftover turkey Friday morning.
‘CHOOSE A STRONG QUARTERBACK. “Even if it’s a pickup game with my family, I’m still in it to win it,” Anderson says. “I want somebody with a decent arm.” Make sure to balance the remainder of your picks with good speed and some muscle to protect your quarterback.
‘CATCH THE BALL WITH YOUR HANDS, NOT YOUR BODY. Don’t know how to catch a football? Don’t worry. To properly catch a football, Anderson says spread your fingers wide and make a triangle with your thumbs and index fingers.