Some of the women wanted more out of their lives, others just wanted a chance in front of a camera so they decided to play some soccer! Yes, right, women bikini soccer. The more serious competitors thrive on athletics and jumped at the chance to be part of a team.
Inside a cavernous warehouse in an office park west of Brandon, 40 candidates for a fledgling women's football league sweated out drills testing their speed, strength and endurance. They jumped, ran, pivoted and ran again.
"I am passionate about this," said Jill Papapanu, an out-of-work executive assistant who spends most of her time these days keeping in shape. She wasn't concerned about the implications of playing for the Lingerie Football League.
"I work hard for this body," said Papapanu, a former college soccer player and U.S. Navy rescue swimmer. "We all do. We're proud of how we look."
Athletic feats, then, are just part of the appeal of The Lingerie Football League, started as a pay-per-view game between models that aired – without NFL sanction or approval – during halftime of the 2004 super bowl commercials.
The following year, the lingerie league announced it had formed four teams. Just a couple of games were played, but a championship was always scheduled during Super Bowl halftimes, targeting male football fans with little interest in acts like Mick Jagger.
Christopher Martin, business affairs director of the California-based lingerie league, said a Tampa team will form in May. Players will attend class to learn gridiron terms and the nuances of the game.
In November, they begin practice.
Then four of the 10 teams will be a part of Super Bowl weekend in Tampa. The night before the big game Feb. 1, 2009, The Tampa Bay Breeze will play the Miami Caliente and the Los Angeles Temptation will play the Phoenix Scorch.
The winners will play somewhere in Tampa during halftime of the Super Bowl. Later, the team will play a 10-game season Friday nights.
Martin said most players have regular jobs – some are doctors and lawyers – and enjoy their time in the league.
"It's an incredible life experience for them. In Los Angeles, we had 1,500 women vying for 12 spots on a team."
He rejects the notion that women bashing against each other while wearing a bra and panties is in any way degrading.
"To say it's degrading, well, these girls are empowered," Martin said. "If you watch, this is not fluff football. We've had broken collarbones and busted knees. Sure, they are beautiful and that's how we draw the audience but the tenacity of the girls maintains that audience."
The Tampa tryout drew women from beyond the area.
Azuree Hewing, a 22-year-old Hooters waitress in Atlanta, learned about the tryouts online. Her mom, Stephanie McDaniels, flew from Las Vegas to support her.
"She played quarterback for a girls team in high school," McDaniels said. "She did really good."
Jacy Jarrell is a 22-year-old Hooters waitress from Tampa. "I just love football," she said. She's only played the flag variety, "but I'm ready," she said.
Shannon Gestring, a 19-year-old model from Spring Hill sporting a Warrick Dunn Buccaneer jersey, figured she had as much of a chance as anyone else.
"Hey," Gestring said. "It's football."
Jeff Kamis, spokesman for the Buccaneers, had this to say when informed another football team is coming Tampa Bay's way.