NFL: Forum offers women opportunity for career in football

ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - Phoebe Schecter struck gold at the Women's Careers in Football Forum last year as one of 22 women who found jobs or internships in tackle football, which is often viewed as a notoriously macho world of tackle football.

Now, she returns to Florida for the second edition of the two-day event, set up by former Canadian women's quarterback Sam Rapoport, with visions of a fairytale career finish with an NFL franchise in England.

RELATED: Best Super Bowls in NFL history

Best Super Bowls in NFL history
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Best Super Bowls in NFL history

10. Super Bowl XXXII: Denver Broncos 31, Green Bay Packers 24

John Elway's helicopter run is the play that's cited most often from this game. But that happened in the third quarter to help put the Broncos up 24-17, and there was still plenty of football to be played.

The defending champion Packers tied it up early in the fourth quarter, but Denver would pull back ahead on Terrell Davis' third rushing touchdown of the game with just under two minutes left. Green Bay's ensuing possession stalled out at the Denver 35-yard line, handing Elway his first Super Bowl victory in four tries.

Photo Credit: Gary Caskey / Reuters

9. Super Bowl XXV: New York Giants 20, Buffalo Bills 19

This was the first of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances for the Bills. They infamously lost every one, but none was as agonizingly close as their initial shot at glory.

The Giants effectively kept Buffalo's high-octane offense off the field by controlling the ball for more than 40 minutes of game time. Nevertheless, a heroic last-ditch drive from Bills QB Jim Kelly set up kicker Scott Norwood for a 47-yard field goal attempt with seven seconds remaining. Norwood pushed it wide right, however, and a four-year string of title game ineptness began in cruel fashion.

Photo Credit: Gin Ellis/Getty Images

8. Super Bowl XXXVI: New England Patriots 20, St. Louis Rams 17

This was the first Super Bowl ever to be won on the final play, a feat clinched when Adam Vinatieri knocked a 48-yard field goal through the uprights to upend the heavily favored Rams and begin the Brady-Belichick dynasty.

Brady's game-winning drive was a thing of beauty that kickstarted his legendary playoff legacy, but it was Belichick's shockingly effective defensive game plan against St. Louis' league-best offense that kept the Patriots close throughout.

Photo Credit: Boston Globe/Getty Images

7. Super Bowl XLVII: Baltimore Ravens 34, San Francisco 49ers 31

It feels as though this deeply odd game will be one of those stellar championships that's forgotten by many as time goes on and matchups between more nationally popular teams stack up. But that'd be unfair.

In a coaching clash between the brothers Harbaugh, the Niners found themselves down 28-6 early in the third quarter when the power suddenly went out at the Superdome. After a 34-minute delay, the lights came back on and San Francisco woke up.

Colin Kaepernick finally figured out the Ravens defense and had the 49ers primed to pull off the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history, down five points facing a 1st-and-goal opportunity with just over two minutes left. But three straight passes to Michael Crabtree on the right side of the field all fell incomplete, and Baltimore held on after conceding a safety to help run out the clock.

Photo Credit: Rob Tringali/Getty Images

6. Super Bowl XXIII - San Francisco 49ers 20, Cincinnati Bengals 16

This was the only of Joe Montana's four Super Bowl victories in which he didn't win the game's MVP award. That went to Jerry Rice, who reeled in 11 receptions for a Super Bowl record 215 yards and a touchdown.

But this was arguably Montana's finest moment, as he got the ball with 3:20 remaining needing a field goal to tie and a touchdown to win -- then proceeded to guide San Francisco on a 92-yard drive that sunk regular season MVP Boomer Esiason and the top-rated Bengals offense.

Photo credit: Rob Brown/Getty Images

5. Super Bowl XXXIV - St. Louis Rams 23, Tennessee Titans 16

The first NFL championship of the new millennium marked the beginning of the modern, offensive-minded era that's birthed an incredible run of electrifying championships. Fittingly, Kurt Warner (24-for-45, 414 yards, 2 TDs) and the Rams were officially crowned The Greatest Show on Turf in Atlanta soon after Warner connected with Isaac Bruce on a 73-yard go-ahead touchdown in the waning moments.

Of course, Steve McNair nearly willed Jeff Fisher's crew to the title with a last-gasp drive that came up just a half-yard short when Rams linebacker Mike Jones stopped Kevin Dyson with "The Tackle." That likely qualifies as the most nerve-wracking final play in any Super Bowl, but a rather droll first half means this game doesn't quit crack the top three.

Photo credit: Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

4. Super Bowl XLIII - Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Arizona Cardinals 23

Warner was on the other side of a classic Super Bowl this time in a game that was a thriller from start to finish. Steelers linebacker James Harrison's 100-yard interception return to put Pittsburgh up 17-7 on the last play of the first half could have broken Arizona's spirit, but the Cardinals hung in there.

Some heroics from Larry Fitzgerald -- who would have been remembered as the key figure of this postseason had the Cardinals won -- on a 64-yard touchdown gave Arizona its first lead at 23-20 with 2:37 left. But Ben Roethlisberger sealed his signature moment, manufacturing a comeback drive for the ages that ended with Santonio Holmes' picture-perfect tiptoe catch in the back corner of the end zone.

Photo credit: Doug Benc via Getty Images

3. Super Bowl XLIX: New England Patriots 28, Seattle Seahawks 24

Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell's decision to pass on second down from the 1-yard line with 20 seconds left and Marshawn Lynch in the backfield (and one timeout left!) will always be second guessed, and rightfully so. But this game was about more than just a single questionable coaching decision.

Remember the Jermaine Kearse catch that preceded Malcolm Butler's interception? How about the Patriots putting up 14 points in the final quarter to set up Seattle's fateful faux pas? And Chris Matthews (four receptions, 109 yards, one touchdown) coming out of nowhere to lead the Seahawks in receiving? Matthews' dominance led to Belichick benching cornerback Kyle Arrington -- and inserting Butler in his place. This battle between the NFL's top two teams was about as good as it gets, but there are a couple that top it due to their massive historical significance.

Photo Credit: Timothy A. Clary/Getty Images

2. Super Bowl XLII: New York Giants 17, New England Patriots 14

Patriots owner Robert Kraft began the process to trademark "19-0" and "Perfect Season" before New England had even won the AFC Championship over San Diego -- a process that inexplicably ended this week in the team's favor.

But we all know how the Patriots really finished that season: 18-1. And that's thanks to one of the greatest upsets in sports history, which was sparked by one of the best plays in NFL lore: The Helmet Catch.

That set up Eli Manning's 13-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress with 35 seconds left, marking a Super Bowl record third lead change in the fourth quarter. You couldn't have asked for a more exciting finish for what was then the most-watched Super Bowl of all time on a potentially historic night -- or a more nightmarish conclusion to New England's otherwise fairytale season.

Photo credit: Jim Davis/The Boston Globe/Getty Images)

1. Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots 34, Atlanta Falcons 28 (OT)

This game had something for everyone. Falcons fans (and Patriots haters) got to experience a thorough bashing of Brady and Belichick -- complete with a pick-six from Touchdown Tom -- through three quarters. But New England finally woke up and stormed back for the greatest Super Bowl comeback of all time, scoring 31 unanswered points to seal the fifth championship for the franchise’s unparalleled two-pronged dynasty.

Brady threw for a Super Bowl record 466 yards to best regular season MVP Matt Ryan, who had a perfect passer rating through three quarters but took a couple costly sacks in the fourth. After wide receiver Julian Edelman gave the Patriots a miraculous catch to negate all the heroic receptions that’d been perpetrated against them for the decade prior, it seemed like destiny was guiding New England through the rest of the game. By the time the Pats won the coin toss in overtime -- the first ever extra period in Super Bowl history -- it was clear to every football fan watching how this was one going to play out.

Photo credit: Al Pereira/Getty Images


The forum was created by Rapoport to level the playing field and open doors for qualified women to enter the workforce of the most popular U.S. professional sport.

Schecter, who coaches men's and women's tackle football in Britain, works with youth programs and captains the national team, emerged from last year's inaugural forum with a training camp coaching internship with the Buffalo Bills that led to a season coaching at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

Now working to grow the game for NFL UK, Connecticut native Schecter wants to continue to advance in coaching and dreams of an NFL franchise in London with British players and a home-grown female coach working on the sidelines.

"That would be incredible. Shall we just slide in the resume now? We can all dream," Schecter told Reuters at the NFL-sponsored forum on Friday, just days ahead of the Super Bowl.

"A lot going on in American football over there, especially the huge deal with Tottenham (Hotspur) having the three (NFL) games consecutively there. The sport is about to explode."

Rapoport, now NFL director of football development, has spent much of her career dedicated to getting more women involved in the game.

"We wanted to create a bridge between females who have a strong passion for football but don't have the same connections to football that men have," Rapoport told Reuters.

"Have them interact with executives that strongly believe in the power of diversity and who believe that if you can help me win, I don't care what you look like or who you are."


For a league challenged by falling TV ratings, concerns over players' health, safety and behavior, and backlash over those kneeling during the U.S. national anthem, encouraging women to pursue their football dreams sounds a positive note.   

This year's event included high profile speakers such as NFL Human Resources chief Tara Wood, NFL senior vice president of football operations Dave Gardi, Carolina Panthers head coach Ron Rivera, Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager Scott Pioli and Minnesota Vikings chief operating officer Kevin Warren.

Canadian Football League commissioner Randy Ambrosie and Toronto Argonauts director of football operations Catherine Raiche also participated, along with Stanford University head coach David Shaw and Bryant University's James Perry.

Nine candidates had international connections including two from Britain, four Canadians and one each from Germany, Panama and Australia.

Any worries over entering an inhospitable macho world were dispelled by the natural meritocracy of the gridiron, the women said.

"I was expecting it to be overwhelming but it wasn't," Ohio's Stephanie Balochko, a defensive coordinator and player for the U.S. women's national team, told Reuters about her coaching internship with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I worked with the defensive line and eventually I ran some film sessions... football is football. If you know football you should be fine.

"All the players have been wonderful. I didn't run into any attitudes."


Rapoport disputed the notion that the NFL is a bastion of male chauvinists.

"There is a misconception about the attitudes of people on our clubs," she said. "Executives believe in the best person for the job. Forty-five percent of our fan base are female. Women love the sport in this country. Why in the world would they not work in it?"

While numerous women have thrived in business positions with clubs, women have been under-represented on the sidelines, Rapoport said.

"There are so many women in this country who know football. We're opening the door a little wider."

Other professional sports leagues have taken notice of the forum program.

"We've had many conversations with Major League Baseball, the Canadian Football League and off-the-cuff conversations with all the major sports leagues," Rapoport said.

"We're working very closely with MLB to combine efforts to start to change the culture in sports in America."

By this time next year, there may be many more Phoebe Schecters chasing their dreams in American sport.

(Editing by Christian Radnedge)

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