By Monica Alonzo
By Stephen Lemons
By Jason P. Woodbury
By Dulce Paloma Baltazar Pedraza
By Ray Stern
By Pete Kotz
By Monica Alonzo
By New Times
The players are a combination of relaxed and attentive. "Have fun like I said before. We have a very, very, very good chance of winning out. But we need to start tonight. Don't take this team lightly at all. They're in their own crib. You know how that is when you want to defend your own turf. Come out hitting hard.
"Defense, I'm calling the plays, so look at me. Offense: same as always. No bickering tonight. Start it up right now. Start having fun, right now. Enjoy the weather. Score first. Win first. Battle all night long. Win the battle, win the war. All right. Accept nothing less than perfection."
They draw into a knot. "Everybody, could you grab somebody. Please, grab a hand, grab a jersey."
They recite the Lord's Prayer. "Amen" is drowned out by whoops and the report of clapping.
"Silent going out. It's Game Time. Put your game faces on. Silent but deadly." Rodriguez is still new to the art of haiku chutzpah. "Team on three. One. Two. Three. TEAM."
It was not the Knighthawks' finest hour. They won -- 27 to 0 -- but they didn't play sharp. Starting quarterback Paige O'Hanlon was distracted, possibly because her mom and twin sister, also a quarterback, were in the stands. When she got her shot, Kutchinsky was uneven.
After the game, Naberhaus, Kutchinsky and Schmelzer head to Motel 6, where a number of teammates are staying. Schmelzer flops on one of the beds in wide receiver Julia Kelly and linebacker Glenda Taylor's room. She covers her head with a pillow. Kutchinsky and Naberhaus take turns using the shower.
Some of the team convenes at an Applebee's across the parking lot. It is past 1 a.m. when the three climb into the Jetta.
Schmelzer hadn't suited up because of an ankle injury (and this unsportsmanlike truth: No injured player should take a chance when the Amazons could be handled by the healthy or merely hurting teammates).
She lasts about an hour on the road before relinquishing the steering wheel to Kutchinsky. "I'm a firefighter; I'm used to getting only three hours of sleep," Kutchinsky keeps saying. Naberhaus has already taken out her contacts and wedged the pillow under her head. She'll be crashed if there's a crash.
On a stretch of road 65 miles outside of Blythe, the fuel warning light comes on.
"Oh, crap," Kutchinsky says. "Oh, crap." She then begins a soliloquy of faith and disaster befitting Abraham.
Fifty miles. Thirty miles. Eight miles. Around five miles, Schmelzer is awakened. Around four, a prayer is said. Blythe glows.
There have been moments over the course of the Knighthawks' winning season where the dance between Knighthawk bravado and doubt has been extreme. There were the back-to-back losses to Houston. Later, in Austin, the Knighthawks got the feeling that the Rage hadn't really expected them to show up, like maybe they might run out of money and be forced to forfeit. A possibility.
But two nights before that scuffle, at 10 p.m. on a Thursday, there the team was, at the Tempe Sports Complex fields. The lights had been extinguished, and in the darkness of the parking lot stood players, cell phones in hand working the hotels and motels of Wimberley, Texas. They made it to Texan Stadium.
The Rage, which played in last year's WPFL Super Bowl, was brought up short. The Knighthawks scored on their very first possession. It happened so fast that Rodriguez nearly missed it. "I had turned around and was talking to a player. All of a sudden I hear this shouting and clapping and see Arlene going 56 yards for a touchdown. The very first play of the game," says Rodriguez. "Oh, it demoralized them. They had no clue. They didn't want to be out there."
It has become do-the-math time. Two weeks ago, the Dallas Diamonds gave the Knighthawks something jagged to think on, when they topped the Knighthawks 27 to 22.
Now, the Knighthawks need to win their remaining games, both against the Amazons. The Diamonds have to win their next two games, both against the Energy. One is tempted to heave a sigh of relief at that scenario. The Knighthawks have to hope Houston (undefeated at 27 games and counting) is invincible. At least until they've dispatched Dallas. This is sports cliché and the unknown all wrapped into one.
And the "ladies" know it. "They're a quarter of an inch away from tasting it," says Rodriguez. "We have a lot of hungry girls."
In the car on the way back from lunch one afternoon, Red Jansen remembered like it was an afterthought the most important thing to her about this whole crazy undertaking.
"Not too long from now they're going to remember these years as the pioneer years," she said. "Some little girls are going to feel the way about us that I did about women softball players. And I will have been a part of that history."