The Caliente's Inaugural Season Had Blood, Sweat, Broken Bones, and a Lot of Lace

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In seconds, beauty morphs into brutality.

The quarterback takes the ball and drops back three steps, right elbow cocked, eyes darting across the field. Anonka Dixon spots her favorite receiver, Tina Caccavale, but she's double-covered. The quarterback searches for another receiver but instead sees a tall defensive end barreling down hard.

It's fourth down — 30 seconds until halftime, with the Miami Caliente down seven points — and the Chicago Bliss defense has applied relentless pressure to the quarterback. This will be Miami's last chance to score before halftime. As the seconds tick away, the sparse crowd speckled about the arena at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino is tense.

The quarterback tucks the ball to her ribs and squares her shoulders with the oncoming defender. A quick juke to the left sends the Chicago player flying by, a blur of orange jersey and blond hair. Dixon looks back down the field. A muscular 33-year-old born and raised in Miami, she always dreamed of playing full-contact football in front of a television audience.

And she's doing it at last. In a skintight teal bikini made of satin and lace. With a bright number 12 on her butt and nothing at all on her toned legs and midriff.

Anonka Dixon is the best player in the league. With lightning speed, the ability to plant either foot, pivot, and reverse field in a blink, and a right arm that can launch a perfect spiral 60 yards, she's the female version of Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner, and the good parts of Michael Vick all rolled into one.

Dixon's receivers are crossing the field now, waving their hands, calling her name. She doesn't see the linebacker right behind her, but she somehow feels the pressure, spins backward to the right, and narrowly avoids the sack. She immediately cuts left again to slip another defender.

She tucks the ball once more and charges past the line of scrimmage. Her receivers become blockers. She directs them with her left hand as she sprints through traffic, her legs turning faster than the high-definition cameras around the arena can pick up clearly. She speeds across the field, up the right sideline.

Bliss safety Deborah Poles is tracking Dixon at an angle now, sprinting toward her. The two forces finally collide at the Chicago 13. They connect first at the shoulders, but in a split second, both bodies are parallel to the ground, feet in the air, their fate now up to gravity.

The sound of the collision — a clap of plastic pads and helmets and the slap of human flesh — reverberates around the arena. There is an echo of "oooohhh"s.

"Bring it, bitch!" yells a Chicago player in the aftermath of the hit. "All night! All fucking night!"

Both players are slow to get up. Dixon lifts herself to one knee and flips the ball softly to the referee. The hit leaves her a bit stunned, her helmet and shoulder pads slightly ajar. She senses something is wrong and grabs the top of her right arm. She hasn't the time to worry about what will later be diagnosed as an "acromioclavicular joint separation." She just got a first down.

It's win or go home. The game is a playoff matchup for the right to represent the Eastern Conference in the inaugural Lingerie Football League championship game. What started as a one-off pay-per-view Super Bowl halftime alternative in 2004 is now an entire league in which ten satin-clad teams with names like Los Angeles Temptation, San Diego Seduction, and Dallas Desire each play a four-game schedule stretched over four months.

This year's Lingerie Bowl, billed as "The Ultimate Catfight" and aired during halftime of Super Bowl XLIV, is available for $9.95 on the league's website.

The two conference playoff games and the league championship were played a few days before Peyton Manning battled Drew Brees in Miami Gardens. Lingerie football can be nearly as brutal as the fully clothed men's game. These women deal with broken bones, torn ligaments, concussions, and a lot of nasty burns from playing on the indoor turf in underwear. Miami alone lost three players to torn ACLs this season. Add to that team drama, drunken fans, cheesy businessmen at the top of the league, and little money and the life of a lingerie football player is hardly beautiful.

The women themselves are proportioned like quarterbacks and wide receivers but in a female form. They are ripped physical specimens, Amazon-like warriors geared for battle.

Of course, the concept itself is as subtle as a 350-pound lineman. "You have to consider the demographic of Super Bowl Sunday," says league founder and commissioner Mitch Mortaza. "It's primarily men. And what are two great things that all men universally love? Beautiful women and football."

The truth is, the public en masse isn't likely to feel comfortable watching or buying anything with Lingerie in the name any time soon. And there's something disturbing about seeing exquisitely toned young women with their most feminine physical attributes highlighted — the standard-issue uniform includes a lace garter, and the helmets have clear facemasks so the audience can see the women's faces — participating in what is otherwise exclusively male behavior. But most of the players, while acknowledging that the concept is exploitative — "a man's sick dream," one player called it — insist that the game is a display of female empowerment. Sort of like burlesque. Or the way roller derby started as an excuse for men to watch women tussle in flapping skirts but now, for many, symbolizes a weird brand of feminism.

To see a game is to witness a contradiction, a vicious spectacle that is masculine and feminine, exploitative and athletic. Most of the women play for the chance at 15 minutes of fame; they hope for a spot on a reality show or as a weather girl, maybe, or to bolster a modeling résumé. A few, however, such as Anonka Dixon, grew up with the impossible dream of playing professional football. And to hear her tell it, this is her only chance.

Dixon is from Liberty City, a neighborhood in Miami once famous for drug wars, now known for producing rappers and pro athletes. As a little girl, she was faster than most of the boys. She could jump, she could catch, and she could throw a football. Every day, she played in the same neighborhood parks that produced NFL players Darnell Jenkins, Willis McGahee, Chad Simpson, and Chad Ochocinco.

She relished every opportunity to compete. But as she got older, she was told football was the one sport girls aren't allowed to play. As she watched her peers from the grandstands and eventually from her couch on Saturdays and Sundays, she couldn't help imagining herself on the field, playing under the bright lights and big scoreboard. From a very young age, she remembers praying to God, asking for the chance to one day play football.

Then last year, when a slick businessman on the other side of the country decided to expand his annual halftime show into an entire league, Dixon got an answer to her prayers.

Of course, there was a catch.

Three attractive young ladies lean over a table in a dark corner of a Hollywood bar. They're picking at a plate of Cajun-style shrimp and the remains of a salad. It's about 10 p.m. on a Wednesday, a few weeks before the playoffs. They're all wearing short-shorts, white tank tops bearing the Caliente logo, and full makeup — plus a thick black line under each eye. Their presence has been arranged by the bar, a team sponsor. The bar's name, Whiskey Tango, is a military euphemism for White Trash.

When they showed up an hour ago, the women were greeted over the loudspeaker. They walked from table to table, introducing themselves, smiling at the customers, inviting the patrons of Whiskey Tango to come watch the final regular-season lingerie football game, against the Tampa Breeze. According to their agreement, the Caliente players have to be at the bar for at least two hours. So after they make their way around the tables, they retire to the corner for some dinner. They discuss the rumor that a teammate may have recently posed for some photos that were rather untoward — and, more important, unapproved by the league.

"The problem is that some girls are so new to this," says Sasha Wood, a five-foot-four, 107-pound cornerback. "They get involved with the wrong people, and they get taken advantage of." Wood, a native of Belgium, has been modeling in the United States and Europe for years.

"I personally won't take anything less than $15,000 for a two-day, overnight shoot," she says. "Plus expenses, of course. Girls have to be selective."

"People have bills," says a teammate at the table. "Money is money."

Money is a frequent discussion among the Caliente players. They are professional football players in the sense that they do get paid something, but that something isn't much. They get a cut of the ticket sales (what usually amounts to about $500 per player per game), they get a few small appearance fees (like the money they get for coming to Whiskey Tango), and some get a few small modeling fees. All of the women, though, have other occupations: Some are bartenders, some sell real estate, some are students, some are teachers.

Wide receiver (and safety) Tina Caccavale, who led the league this year in receptions and interceptions, is a dental assistant. Middle linebacker (and center) Taira Turley is a makeup artist and led the team in solo tackles. Turley, who says she models her play after Ray Lewis, does most of the women's makeup before every game and every big photo shoot. "I like to make people look beautiful off the field, and I like to make people look ugly on the field," she jokes.

Wood likes to tell people she doesn't have a day job. "I only have night jobs." She's a bartender on South Beach. She was also the first member of the team. "It was a personal invitation," she says with a subtle accent, "before there was even a team or tryouts." Some of the women were recruited more for their appearance, she explains, and some more for their football prowess. She tactfully clarifies which kind of player she is: "I'm not from this country. I'd never seen football before in my life. And I'm a slow learner."

Teammate Nicole Daddona nods in agreement.

There has been some tension between the two groups.

"There is some jealousy," Wood says. She says she wanted to play because she thought "maybe it'd be a fun way to learn about American football" and because, she says with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader, "it kicks ass!" (Wood's stat line this season is a row of straight zeros.) She says the league gives women a chance at — no pun intended — "exposure," the steppingstone in that ubiquitous American aspiration for celebrity and wealth. Playing here is a chance to be discovered. It could lead to a movie role, maybe. Or a spot on a TV show. Something.

"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."

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."

Less than a year later, former Minnesota Viking John Turner was in South Florida recruiting women basketball players for a barnstorming football tour he was putting together. Turner was here watching another woman play, but after Dixon put on an impressive defensive display, Turner approached her about his team.

He said, "This might seem weird, but would you be interested in playing football?"

Thinking back, she smiles. "I was like, 'This might seem weird, but I've been waiting for someone to say that my whole life.' "

He asked what positions she could play.

"I can play anything," she told him.

He decided she looked like a running back. "In practice, he saw me run the ball, and he was going crazy," she says. "He was like, 'Oh my God, you have moves! I've never seen that. Oh, the world's gonna go crazy when they see you play!' "

At 19, Dixon was faced with a tough decision. To play for the team, she would have to quit a job she liked at the parks department, raise $1,500, and move to Minnesota, where she didn't know anybody. But she couldn't resist the chance to play football. To support herself in Minnesota, she got an overnight job stocking shelves at Wal-Mart.

The barnstorming tour consisted of 50 young women going city to city across America — Chicago, New York, Atlanta, Green Bay — putting on a football exhibition of traditional 11-man football, with the traditional uniforms. At one point, 30 women lived in the same house. When the group divided into two teams and played each other in five exhibition games in Minneapolis, every game was sold out. Soon women's teams started popping up all over the country, including in Miami. The next year, Dixon moved back to play for the first women's football team in South Florida, the Miami Fury.

She got her job back at the parks department and has played quarterback for the Fury — where several of the players weigh more than 200 pounds — for the past ten years. Five years ago, she and a business partner bought the team. She also attends Miami Dade College, where she's a music business major, and operates her own hip-hop record label. It's called Defyne Entertainment, "because we define entertainment." She says she dates mostly guys from her neighborhood, and "they have to be football fans, obviously."

Dixon had never heard about lingerie football until Fury teammate Caccavale brought it up last year. She wasn't bothered by the uniforms. When she ran track in high school, she says, the uniforms were even smaller. She doesn't see it as exploitation. "I know I have a nice body," she says. "It's more about athletes being beautiful."

That's the first discussion she had with Caccavale. "Tina was like, 'I don't know if you'd do it, because we basically would have to be playing in our underwear.' And I was like, 'I don't care. I just want to play football.' I'd play football naked if I had to. I just love the sport."

As she answers questions from a handful of reporters and camera crews the day before the Chicago game, Dixon has a wide grin. "This is what it's all been building to," she says with a hint of glee. "I feel like a kid at Christmas."

All the players from the four playoff teams gather at the casino for a Super Bowl-style media day, but sleazier. The teams run out of a mist-filled tunnel to the sound of Mötley Crüe's "Girls, Girls, Girls" playing on the P.A. A Japanese reporter asks several players if he can tackle them. Nicole Daddona and a Chicago player are asked to pretend-fight for the cameras.

"That's it," says a photographer over a sea of shutter clicks. "Now pull her hair a little."

Mortaza, wearing a pinstriped suit and a bright-orange tie, delivers a brief address from a podium.

"These ladies have done an incredible job in really just changing perception of this brand," he says. "A lot of people are going to come in here with one perception and leave with something completely different. These girls are beautiful models, but make no mistake about it: They'll take your head off."

Away from the podium, he's asked if lingerie football is exploitative. "People who say that, it's a knee-jerk reaction," he says. "It's completely understandable, but I can assure you, I'd put my very expensive mortgage up in Hollywood that they've never seen a game. If you see a game, you're not going to come to that conclusion. These women come from all walks of life. They're confident. We have an 85 percent college graduate rate. I put that against any men's league."

A few minutes later, looking at a 20-foot Lingerie Bowl VII poster, Mortaza admits that lingerie football has come a long way from his original vision eight years ago. He says he was at the Super Bowl in 2003 when the thought first occurred to him. The Buccaneers were destroying the Raiders in San Diego. "It was a horrible game," he says. "At halftime, they had some decent acts: Shania Twain, Gwen Stefani, Sting. And those seats aren't cheap, but a lot of those folks — visibly, a lot — were leaving at halftime." Mortaza says he asked himself: "If this many people are leaving their seats in the stadium, what's happening around the country and around the world?"

Mortaza launched the first Lingerie Bowl, a $19.95 pay-per-view halftime show — the games took 30 minutes, and the teams were coached and refereed by former NFL players — in 2004, the year Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake played the Super Bowl. "We got all the heat," he says. "Turns out the nudity was at the network. We didn't even have nudity that year."

The slick self-proclaimed millionaire, whose record includes arrests for drunk driving and public intoxication, wasn't new to lowbrow entertainment. In the late '90s, Mortaza appeared on an episode of the show Blind Date. With a neon tan that glared under the high-powered lights and a shirt unbuttoned to his diaphragm, he said his nickname was "Razor" and his biggest turn-on was "toe rings." He called himself "the king of one-night stands" and told the camera, "I'm not out there lookin' for nuns." He showed up for his date wearing a black tank top, a shell necklace, a thumb ring, and a pair of designer sunglasses he didn't remove all night — even inside the candlelit restaurant.

Mortaza has also been accused of dodgy business practices. Though this year's championship is called Lingerie Bowl VII, there was no Lingerie Bowl VI. Last year's game was canceled when Mortaza and the luxury nudist resort where he hoped to hold the game couldn't agree on a nudity policy for the audience. More recently, the website the Smoking Gun published an email reportedly from Mortaza to a player who had written to him about disorganized practices. Mortaza replied: "Let me give you a little advice and this goes for any other player creating unnecessary drama. Simply SHUT UP and play football." He added that he wished the player would stop showing up "so we have reason to terminate you and assess the termination fine."

In December, when a group of former players complained that the league should be covering their medical bills, league lawyers sent out a threatening letter saying, "Evidence gathered indicates that you have all participated in the posting of false and defamatory internet posts regarding the Lingerie Football League, its current players, and league staff... These posts give rise to a cause of action for defamation, among other things."

At media day, Mortaza did not disclose how many pay-per-views the league sells or how much revenue is generated except to say they have "millions of fans." After the speeches and introductions, three players from each team are selected for a media Q&A session. Most of the photographers immediately start packing their cameras. When a publicist asks if there are any questions for the players, there is an awkward, extended silence.

The day of the Chicago game, the Caliente players have to be at the Hard Rock by early afternoon, though the game is scheduled for 11 p.m. It's the Thursday before the Super Bowl. The women spend most of the day wandering around the resort and casino — legendary wide receiver Jerry Rice is hosting a party ("Miami Rice") the same night on the other side of the massive Seminole property. One by one, Taira Turley does the team's makeup and tries to cover tattoos. The team warms up around 8, before a single fan is in the stands.

Two Seminole police officers watch as Dixon and Caccavale work on pass routes. At one point, Dixon drops back about two-thirds of the way down the 50-yard indoor field. She holds the ball in her right hand and softly taps it with her left, envisioning a set of speedy defensive backs swarming across the field. She plants her left foot in front of her and brings her left hand away from the ball, extending it slightly as if she's tearing apart the field in her mind, clearing a path for her pass. She twists at the abdomen, and her right arm fires with a surprising explosion of force. The ball is a tight spiral, ripping through the air so fast that it's audible.

It travels the length of the field in an instant. At the other end is Caccavale, her five-foot-nine frame turning, leaping into the air, her arms extended fully. And just when it seems certain the ball will sail out of the end zone, into the seats overlooking the field, it comes to a halting stop midair, in Tina Caccavale's white gloves.

The officers exchange a look, eyebrows raised. They're taken aback.

"I couldn't make that throw," says one.

"I couldn't make that throw or that catch," says the other, still incredulous. Now they can't take their eyes off Caccavale. "Wow."

After a few minutes, the Chicago players begin their warm-up at the other end of the field. The Miami players study them from a distance. They're a bit heavier, a little rougher-looking than the Caliente players. The Bliss is undefeated this season, beating most of their opponents by double digits. Chicago has a few great players of its own, including Tasha "The Tank" Pryor, a grinding, hard-to-tackle running back.

"Jesus, look at her," says Sasha Wood, pointing at Pryor. "How am I supposed to tackle the Tank? Look at me. She would kill me."

There are about 200 people in the audience at the Hard Rock. There are a handful of women, but the crowd is almost completely men ages 25 to 50. Three men have bras painted on their shirtless chests to show support.

Before the game, there's a dance contest for the chance to tackle a lingerie football player. Dozens of men volunteer. By applause, the crowd picks a heavyset man in jeans and a bright-orange T-shirt. Keyace Sims is given a ball and starts at one end of the field. She's built up so much speed by the time she gets to him that he doesn't have a chance. He falls on his face reaching for her as she passes.

The game begins with Caccavale kicking the ball deep to a Chicago player, then running down the field and making the tackle herself.

The Bliss start out pounding the ball. Even when Miami players can catch the ball carriers, they seem to bounce off. Within three minutes, Chicago is in for the first touchdown of the game.

When Miami gets the ball, it's clear the Chicago defensive strategy is to double-cover Caccavale and apply as much pressure as possible to Dixon. It works. On the next drive, Dixon is hit on nearly every play. Still, she fights back, evading defenders and dumping the ball short. When the Bliss pushes Miami to fourth and 11, Dixon launches a 20-yard strike to the back of the end zone. The score is tied at seven.

During the next Chicago drive, Dixon plays defense — both cornerback and free safety. But it's no use, and the Bliss moves the ball easily with a series of runs and screen passes. With 1:43 left in the first half, it's 14-7, Chicago.

When Dixon gets the ball back, she seems particularly determined to tie the score before halftime. As she breaks the first huddle, she's nodding to her teammates. Chicago stops her just shy of midfield, though, and it's fourth and long.

That's when Dixon takes it upon herself, ducking, faking, spinning, slamming her way to a first down. For a second, as the crowd and the lights and the bright jerseys become a blur, she is Vince Young in the National Championship or John Elway sacrificing his body for every last yard in the Super Bowl. It's the moment she used to dream about as a little girl. She braces for the hit, holding the ball tightly to her ribs. The impact knocks her shoulder pads out of the top of her jersey.

As she struggles to her feet, something doesn't feel right. Her shoulder. It's tingling. She felt a pop. She'll soon learn that the collision with the Bliss defensive back has separated her throwing shoulder; the trauma was enough to rip a ligament.

Though they have the first down, a small scuffle after the collision allows most of the time to tick off the clock, and at halftime, Chicago is still up 14-7.

Watching the game from the sideline is actor Michael Clark Duncan. Not far from him is Sports Center anchor Steve Levy. Just above the Caliente bench are Bob and Sue Caccavale, Tina's parents. They're holding a piece of cardboard with "GO TINA" painted on one side. Their daughter grew up playing football with her two older brothers, the parents explain. She's been obsessed with the game for as long as anyone can remember. They drive from Punta Gorda for every game.

"Honestly, I was really surprised by how physical it is," Bob says. "But Tina is a competitor. She's always competed in anything she could, any chance she got. She absolutely can't stand losing."

In the second half, it's clear something's wrong with Anonka Dixon. Her passes, usually lasers, flop out of her hand like wounded birds. And the beatings from the defense continue. On the first play of the half, a Bliss player is called for a late hit, roughing the passer. From the sideline, Chicago Coach Keith Hac yells, "That's fucking stupid! What the hell are you thinking?"

Dixon is slow to get up again, but she refuses to come out of the game. On every play, it seems she's cutting, weaving, spinning to pick up every inch she can.

Both teams alternate short drives until nine minutes are left in the game. Then Chicago starts to move. Tasha "The Tank" takes a screen pass, breaks two tackles, and rumbles in for a score.

With Chicago up 20-7, Miami is unable to move the ball. When Chicago gets the ball, it runs it over and over, methodically eating away the clock. It's looking hopeless. But then the mighty Bliss makes a mistake. With 1:11 left on the clock, a Miami defensive end steps in front of a screen pass and takes it the other way. She makes it all the way to the Chicago five before a swarm of Bliss players drags her down.

It's a long shot, but if Miami can score quickly and recover an onside kick, it has a chance. On second down, Dixon pump-fakes right, tucks the ball, and runs left. As she gets back to the line of scrimmage, the hit from two Bliss defenders sends her backward and knocks the ball from her hands. Dixon dives into the pile, but to no avail. Chicago has the football. And the game.

After the final knee, Chicago begins the celebration. Two nights later, it will lose a closely contested Lingerie Bowl VII to the Los Angeles Temptation.

Several women pose for photos with one another, smiling for the cameras. There is a lot of hugging and polite well-wishing as the players leave the arena.

Dixon, however, isn't smiling at all. She's rubbing her shoulder, grimacing in pain. She lingers quietly, long after the other players and coaches are gone.

Members of the security team warn Dixon that the lights over the field will be going off soon. They file out. She stares out at the painted green turf. It's quiet now. There are no more cameras or screaming fans. No more annoying DJs, blaring pop music, or businessmen in overpriced suits.

What's left is a football player on a football field. And that is beautiful.

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