"It's a good credit on a modeling résumé," says Keyace Sims, a defensive back and aspiring model. "People like seeing lingerie football on there. It definitely opens a few doors."

In the first season, the 20-woman Caliente roster has seen high turnover. The men who run the team regularly bring in new, beautiful women to try out. "If the girl is good," says Daddona, "they'll find a reason to cut someone."

Some players get injured; at the table, Daddona, a defensive end, displays a five-inch strawberry on her abdomen but says it won't keep her out of a game. Other players get fired. The players are warned against saying anything bad about the team or league. And they can't quit. "If you stop playing, you owe them money," Daddona says. It's true. Each player signs a thick contract that includes a $5,000 "termination fine," a $500 fine for wearing "additional garments under wardrobe" without written permission from the league, and a clause noting that the player has no objection to "accidental nudity."

Caliente players, including quarterback Anonka Dixon (number 12) pose for photos before the game.
C. Stiles
Caliente players, including quarterback Anonka Dixon (number 12) pose for photos before the game.
Anonka Dixon and Tina Caccavale take questions from reporters before the Lingerie Bowl.
C. Stiles
Anonka Dixon and Tina Caccavale take questions from reporters before the Lingerie Bowl.

Daddona points at the Belgian model. "See, she has nothing to worry about. The fans love her. A European lingerie model, are you kidding me?" (The worst part about the frequent tryouts for Wood: "A lot of times, women just want to come out there and punch one of us in the face!")

So asked why they still play lingerie football — given the drama, the injuries, and the lack of money — the women glance at one another. They answer like synchronized robots, their eyes hinting at sarcasm.

"We love it."

Anonka Dixon's passion for football is ever-present. Like during the last regular-season game, against Tampa. The team is down at halftime. In the locker room, Caliente Head Coach Bob Hewko is trying to reassure the players that the game isn't hopeless. That's when Dixon, her hair braided into a thick ponytail and tucked into the back of her shoulder pads, an orange bandanna tied around her head, begins her Tim Tebowesque motivational speech. Other players complacently adjust their bras as Dixon shouts, "We need to get our heads out of the motherfuckin' clouds! Get out of the hype! The hype is over! Let's get it together!"

On the field, it's rare that she's stopped by just one tackler. She's a force, capable of scoring from anywhere on the field. The Caliente had the top offense in the league this year, and with a quarterback rating of 95.8, Dixon accounted for 80 percent of the team's points.

"Her skills make her maybe the one player in this league you would never even want to think of losing," says league founder Mortaza.

As Hewko, a former star quarterback at the University of Florida and four-year veteran of the NFL, says: "People laugh when I say it, but it's true. She could be a third-stringer playing on Sundays somewhere. She's that good."

Anonka grew up at 50th Street and 33rd Avenue and attended Laurel Park Elementary in Brownsville, a small neighborhood inside Liberty City. At recess, she competed with the boys in every sport: baseball, basketball, soccer, kickball. When it came to choosing sides, she was normally the first one picked. It was the highlight of each day.

Of all the sports, there was something about football. She daydreamed about it in class. She loved those classic moments when she got to outrun a defender to the corner, turn upfield, cross the invisible goal line, and celebrate the touchdown with a spike, some high-fives, and a new dance.

Her father, Denvil Liptrot, was the original saxophone player in KC & the Sunshine Band. "All those old samples you hear of them," says Dixon, "that's him in the horn section." From very early on, her identity has been inextricably linked to music and football.

As everyone got older, coaches insisted she play girls' basketball. "Not because I wanted to," she says, "but because I was good."

But when she watched from the stands at football games, the urge to be on the field was almost unbearable. "Anonka has a fierce exterior," says Barbara Wooten, a longtime friend from the neighborhood and stepmother of Heat forward Udonis Haslem. "But don't let that fool you. Inside there's a sweet, sensitive woman. She's kind of like a kid at heart."

Every night, Dixon asked God to give her a way to play her favorite sport. "I used to constantly pray, 'Lord, this is not fair. I know I can do this. I know I can play. Please let me. Please!' "

She watched friend Willis McGahee get drafted in 2003. "I was so happy for him," she says. "But I kept thinking: 'That could be me. That should be me. I can do this. I know I can play. I know I'm next.' " People told her she was crazy. "They said, 'What are you talking about? You're chasing a busted dream.' "

After high school, she went to work for the Miami-Dade Park and Recreation Department. She coached youth basketball. "She's incredible with children," Wooten says. "Even the bad kids listen to Anonka."

One day, some players from her team asked her why she never played anything professionally. She told them, "If there's ever a place where I can play professional football, you'll see me there."

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