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Continued: Vixen give grandma a chance to keep playing tackle football

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Last update: June 11, 2013 - 1:29 AM

Burnsville High School used to be the team’s home field, but that relationship fell through so the Vixen had to schedule this game at Chaska and their final two home games at Concordia University. The Vixen meet the Wisconsin Warriors at 7 p.m. Saturday.

“We should have demanded a new stadium,” joked Walling, who pitched in $10,000 after she and Castaldi took over a debt-ravaged team, filed bankruptcy and started anew on a strict $60,000-a-year budget in 2009.

“We didn’t buy it to make money, that’s for sure,” Walling said. “It got to the point where if someone didn’t step in, the Vixen would have folded.”

Tickets are $10 and attendance varies from below 100 to about 1,000 depending on the weather. Quarters are 15 minutes long and most of the rules are the same as college football, except the ball is smaller.

‘A freight train’

The Vixen win the coin toss, but it’s obvious early on that this will not be a good night for the Minnesotans. The opening kickoff is fumbled away, one of nine Vixen turnovers — including two interceptions returned for touchdowns — in a 26-0 loss.

The level of execution is raw, but there is passion for the game and a willingness to hit. Especially by big No. 96.

“When I hit, I hit very, very hard,” said Bryant, a 10-time All-Star. “I bench press 255 pounds.”

Bryant, a former standout basketball player at Henry High School in north Minneapolis, also is deceptively quick.

“The reason I’m here is I was playing basketball at the Uptown Y,” Bryant said. “The other team’s coach told a player to step in front of me and take a charge. And she was like, ‘Hell, no. She’s coming through the paint like a freight train.’ There were some people there who were trying to recruit women to try out for football. The rest is history.”

Bryant, whose primary position is defensive tackle, spent the first half getting double-teamed while the Blaze ran away from her. Finally, the Blaze tried an inside run late in the third quarter. It wasn’t a good idea for running back Kara Haines, who was picked up and planted on her back for a 1-yard loss in a very anti-grandmotherly moment by Bryant.

Teammates and fans whooped it up. Bryant is the leader of an interesting mixture of 42 players. There are three teachers, including Bryant, a behavioral specialist at PYC Arts & Technology High School in north Minneapolis. There’s a body builder named Jennifer Walton, a 21-year-old competitive snowboarder named Missy McAlpin and a starting quarterback (Emily Evans) who coaches softball at Bethel University.

“We even got a mortician,” said linebacker Eve Simpson.

The Vixen were trailing 19-0 at halftime and couldn’t move the ball with any consistency. Of course, that’s going to happen when you have 23 rookies and only two practices a week.

“I’d say 90 percent of the first-year players don’t know football,” Griffith said. “And when I say, ‘Don’t know football,’ I mean we’re starting off by telling them, ‘This is what a first down is.’ ”

Lesson for the grandkids

Griffith likes to keep Bryant on one side of the ball because of her age and knees. But at halftime of the Blaze game, he decided to use Bryant some on the offensive line.

The first time the Vixen touched the ball in the third quarter, Bryant, playing right guard, destroyed the woman across from her. Running back McGee Steffes ran behind the block for a first down. Next play, same thing.

  • related content

  • Video: Minnesota Vixen players aren't in it for glory

    Tuesday June 11, 2013

    Cynthia Bryant’s love of tackle football keeps her playing for the Vixen.

  • Photo gallery: Grandma is a pro football player

    Tuesday June 11, 2013

    Cynthia "Red" Bryant has played in the women's pro tackle football league for 15 seasons.

  • Hard-hitting Cynthia “Red” Bryant of the Minnesota Vixen, a women’s tackle football team, closed in on Madison (Wis.) Blaze running back Kara Haines during a recent game played at Chaska High School. She’s played for the team since 1998. “I’m blessed,” Bryant said. “I’m able to be agile and hostile at 40.”

  • Bryant

  • Vixen players Aimee Jorgenson, left, and Torino Grady jumped and yelled to get their team pumped up before their game against the Blaze.

  • Vixen coach Adam Griffith talked over some strategy with eight-year veteran Drue Barber before their game against the Madison Blaze.

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