Samantha Grisafe sets historic gold standard with victory in Vancouver

Already one of the immortals in female football, Samantha Grisafe is more than a cult hero, whose achievements in the game shall be passed to future generations so they can appreciate her brilliance. With 2017 representing a memorable year in which many significant milestones were attained, it was the ideal denouement to an immensely popular career.

A transcendent figure whose musical proficiency has also revealed another compelling side to such a marvelously talented individual, Grisafe is admired just as much off the gridiron as on.

Grisafe enjoying a break in play at the 2017 IFAF Worlds, wearing her familiar number 15 with Team USA (Photographed by Debra Carlson of Diz Ruptive Photography)

Having competed in football since high school, Grisafe’s career is defined by a pioneering presence, which also involved wearing the US jersey at the inaugural IFAF Women’s World Championships in 2010. Following it up with a WFA national championship, plus another IFAF crown as a member of Team USA in 2013, she established herself as one of the game’s luminaries.

Along with the empowering presence of Dr. Jen Welter, whom Grisafe played with on the 2010 and 2013 editions of Team USA, the growth of women’s football during the decade of 2010s has grown by a quantum leap. With women now occupying officiating, coaching and executive positions in the National Football League (including Canadian Samantha Rapoport), this captivating expansion in the importance of women in the game is one that is much richer because of the contributions of competitors such as Grisafe,

“I am extremely proud to have been a part of women’s tackle football in these formative years. Football has been a very important part of my life. I am happy more women are getting to experience what I have been lucky enough participate in for so much of my athletic career. We have a long way to go, but the growing number of young women getting involved with football proves the future is bright.”

Entering 2017 with the desire to contribute to the final chapter in the history of the Chicago Force, where she established herself as one of the greatest field generals in the history of the Women’s Football Alliance, it was also part of a comeback that elicited strong emotions. Running parallel to the path towards the IFAF Women’s World Championships in Vancouver, British Columbia, it rekindled her intense passion for the game.

Undoubtedly, one of the headliners in Team USA’s drive towards a third consecutive gold medal at the IFAF Worlds, it was a year that also brought with it significant Canadian content.

From the outset, Team USA’s training camp was held in Orlando, Florida, just days before both the Women’s World Football Games and the annual AFC-NFC Pro Bowl. Coincidentally, the WWFG included Carly Dyck and Lisa Gomes, who would go on to wear Canada’s colours in Vancouver.

Dyck would etch her name in IFAF lore, scoring the opening points of the gold medal game vs. Team USA. Of note, it marked the first time that any opposing team actually held a lead against the dominant Americans in the history of the IFAF Women’s Worlds.

In addition, Gomes would cross paths with Grisafe in the WFA regular season as the Detroit Dark Angels and the Chicago Force renewed rivalries. With the contest signifying Grisafe’s first appearance on the fields of the WFA since 2015, she displayed the talent that has made her the gold standard among the game’s signal callers, propelling the Force to a convincing victory in which they scored on every offensive possession.

Both displayed remarkable commitment in getting the chance to suit up for their respective teams. Gomes, who joined the Detroit Dark Angels after several seasons with the Calgary Rage in the WWCFL made the weekly commute from her new residence in the Greater Toronto Area to the Motor City in order to compete against American talent. Grisafe also logged significant miles, traveling from Los Angeles, where she is currently based as a singer/musician (the song All-Un-American is one of her latest singles), to Chicago, dedicated to being part of the Force’s final season.

Statistically, Grisafe ranked second among all WFA quarterbacks with a solid 1591 passing yards, trailing only Karen Mulligan of the New York Sharks. Her 112 completions ranked second, while she led the WFA in completion percentage and touchdown passes, with 21. She trailed only Janice Masters as the league’s most accurate passer, with a sparkling 126.3 rating. As the Force ranked third overall in league circles in team scoring, Grisafe was essential towards such lofty heights.

As the 2017 WFA season also saw the Montreal Blitz join the league, competing in Division II play, becoming the only team north of the border to compete, there was an even more profound Canadian connection for Grisafe.

Canada’s Emilie Belanger, an alum of the Chicago Force, shares a postgame hug with Grisafe (Image obtained from Instagram: )

Cassey Brick, who also serves as Grisafe’s backup at the quarterback position, made her international debut for Team Canada at Vancouver. Statistically, she was a key figure for the Force on offense, amassing 139 rushing yards, while ranking second with 332 receiving yards, trailing Tamika Robinson.

Worth noting, Brick would also rank 11th in the WFA in punt returns. As a side note, Brick was not the only Canadian-born player in Force history. Emilie P. Belanger, who has also played for the Blitz and the WWCFL’s Regina Riot (winning championships with both teams) also spent a season with the Force. Heading into Vancouver, she called Brick a teammate on Canada’s contingent.

This season, Brick was joined by another distinguished international competitor on the Force’s roster. As head coach John Konecki (who also coached Team USA in 2010 and 2013) served in a consulting capacity with the Australian national team, helping to evaluate talent, he welcomed star running back Kristy Moran, who captured a SummerBowl title down under, to join the Force’s ranks for the 2017 campaign. Joining Moran in Chicago were fellow Aussies Tracy Day and Daniela Stosic.

Moran would finish as the Force’s rushing leader, recording a solid 640 yards, while displaying a tremendous versatility by ranking seventh in receiving. As a side note, Jeannette Gray, who would also compete in Vancouver for Team USA, finished the season fourth in receiving.

Grisafe (left) and Jeannette Gray with the IFAF Women’s World Championship Trophy (Image obtained from:

For Grisafe, the chance to call such distinguished talent as teammates on the Force added significant luster to her season. Although there was a slight tinge of irony in the fact that the WFA took a mid-season break, resuming competition and the subsequent postseason following the aftermath of the IFAF Women’s Worlds. The result was that players such as Brick and Moran went from teammates to rivals, and back to teammates.

“The Chicago Force will always be my second family. The presence of ALL the Force players in the tournament: those on Team USA, Team Canada, and Team Australia was special.

There was one night before the World Tournament began where we all secretly got together and listened to our team song and held each other. I shed more tears of pride and joy this year than I would like to admit. The Chicago Force organization: the management, coaching staff, and the players are not only phenomenal at their jobs on the football field, they are also fantastic human beings. I am and will always be proud to be Chicago Force.”

With the 2017 edition of the IFAF Women’s Worlds contested a few days before Canada’s sesquicentennial celebrations on July 1, this integral chapter in the nation’s female sporting history would see Grisafe place her unique mark.

Gaining the start in the opening game against Mexico, an eventual 29-0 shutout win, Grisafe would share quarterbacking duties with Allyson Hamlin of the DC Divas. Going through the air for 64 yards and a touchdown pass, she would improve on her performance in the USA’s second contest. Decimating Finland by a 48-0 tally, Grisafe went 10 for 14, recording 124 yards, almost doubling the previous performance, while recording a pair of touchdown passes.

Considering that it was the first time that the IFAF hosted the Women’s Worlds on North American soil, the sense of history was enhanced by the fact that Canada became the first host country to qualify for the gold medal game. Although the ambitious Canadian squad had visions of a golden outcome against the powerhouse American team, a victory that would have certainly enriched the sense of national pride, united in victory, the final result was one where fans witnessed an historic feat that shall be recounted in legend.

Becoming the first female quarterback to capture three consecutive IFAF gold medals, not only does it add to Grisafe’s amazing legacy, but the fact that it was achieved in Vancouver shall see her become intertwined in sporting Canadiana. Prevailing in a 41-16 final, on the strength of four rushing touchdowns, Grisafe’s final touchdown pass of international play resulted in connecting with longtime teammate Jeannette Gray. With said pass taking place after Dyck’s field goal, Grisafe’s poise helped set the tone for the US, as they would never relinquish the lead again.

“Honestly, my favorite part was not winning the gold for a third time, it was helping the 2017 Women’s U.S. National Tackle Football Team win its first gold medal.

There were a lot of players on the team who were experiencing their first and last moment on Team USA. I wanted to do everything in my power to make sure they came away with the Gold. I am glad we did.”

Entering Vancouver as an opponent, Grisafe emerged as a hero. Embraced by the fans for her iconic yet entertaining performances, a wondrous woman whose gifts go beyond the final score did more than just grab the game’s holy grail.

Capturing the hearts and minds of fans and players alike in Vancouver, tugging at their heartstrings, the fact that the sun was setting during the game brought with it pathos. Like fellow Chicago sporting icons Michael Jordan and Walter Payton, when they announced their retirements, wishes from ardent fans that such careers would never reach its conclusion. Such feelings were just as evident as a darkened Vancouver sky covered the vast expanse of the gridiron, a sullen realization that the superlative athletic displays of Grisafe was truly in its twilight.

Image obtained from:

Although Grisafe would return to the Force, providing an extension for the euphoric appreciation of such a charismatic talent, while gaining one more final glory, as Franco Harris presented her with the league’s MVP award, there is no question that Vancouver shall always hold a treasured place in her heart.

“As always, my favorite part of the WWC experience is getting to know the women behind the facemasks. With all the cattiness, hate-mongering, and corruption in our world, it is nice to be a part of something that brings people together.

I got to know a lot of remarkable women, as I did in 2010 and 2013. Two and a half weeks created friendships I will have for the rest of my life. The older I get, the opportunity to build new relationships seldom arises.

When you add a high-stakes game like football to the equation, it is magical. I am grateful to have played with and against such fantastic competitors.

My family watched me play on the live stream and I enjoyed receiving messages from them throughout the tournament. They were supportive of me from my first football practice at 10 years old all the way through my last snap at 32.

When it comes to love and support, I hit the jackpot with my family and friends. I am reminded every day of how fortunate I am and I hope they know there is no way I could have accomplished anything without them.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

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