Wedded to the Game
The Real Lives of NFL Women
By Shannon O'Toole
University of Nebraska Press
Copyright © 2006
University of Nebraska Press
All right reserved.
Flowers and First Downs
In 1985, when seventeen-year-old Jacqueline Bernice
Mitchell met twenty-two-year-old Jerome Lee Rice-who
was even then already known by just his first name, Jerry,
and who would eventually become perhaps the greatest
NFL football player ever-she was a senior in high school
and he was a senior college student at Mississippi Valley
State. That they met at all was unlikely, and Jackie's first
impression of Jerry wasn't exactly love at first sight. But
sparks flew from the first moment they laid eyes on each
other. Jackie simply calls it fate.
As a Zeta Phi Beta debutante, Jackie and her high school
sorority sisters planned a visit to Mississippi Valley State
that included a campus tour and tickets to the men's basketball
game. Jerry, a Sigma Phi Beta, which is a brother
fraternity to the Zetas, also planned to take in the game
However, Jackie came very close to not going at all after
she found out the sorority sisters were all told to dress
alike in new pairs of jeans. Feeling self-conscious about
her older worn denims, Jackie was going to back out. But
Jackie's mother, Gloria, said, "Jackie, just go. I'll iron these
jeans up for you.I'll put starch in them. I'll make them nice
and crisp. They will look just like they are brand new."
Gloria worked her magic, and she and Jackie drove to the school
just as the bus was pulling away from the curb. Driving alongside,
they honked until the bus stopped and let Jackie aboard.
Not owning the right clothes and doing without were common
occurrences in the Mitchell household. With an absentee father
and a physically impaired mother, Jackie was far from privileged.
When Gloria was eighteen, she suffered a severe stroke that left her
partially paralyzed. Only three months later, she became pregnant
with Jackie, the family's third daughter. Gloria's physical weakness
made the pregnancy very difficult, but almost from the moment
Jackie was born, mother and daughter have shared an especially
tight bond. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, Jackie
helped her mother by becoming, as she says, "like the arm or the
leg that she couldn't use."
Jackie learned early on to make the best out of every situation,
and she was not the type to let opportunities pass her by. Outgoing
and active growing up, Jackie participated in almost every athletic,
academic, and community activity available. She was the type of
girl who, once she finished her homework, ran outside to play
football with the boys or shoot basketballs on dirt courts. When
she was only ten, Jackie became the first female to participate in
the YMCA-sponsored "Punt, Pass, and Kick Contest," and she just
missed making it into the top five. As she grew older, she was smart
enough to be listed in the Who's Who among High School Students
and beautiful enough to win numerous citywide beauty pageants,
including Miss Black Greenville Teen in 1984.
Perhaps the most telling incident about Jackie's character, however,
concerns her choice of college. As a high school senior, Jackie
was awarded a four-year academic scholarship to attend a private
liberal arts school in California, but she declined the offer, stating
that California was too far away from her mother. Instead, she
enrolled at the University of Southern Mississippi as a pre-med
Confident, self-possessed, and good-looking-and sporting
freshly ironed dark jeans-Jackie stood out among her wide-eyed
Zeta sisters at the basketball game that night. The sorority's Sigma
college brothers, including Jerry, were quick to take notice of her,
but Jackie was not interested. At halftime, her long-time boyfriend
was supposed to come pick her up after returning from a different
college visit, and he had his own growing reputation as a standout
high school quarterback with a national ranking.
An avid college hoops fan, Jackie quickly became annoyed by the
distracting commotion in the stands. Before the game had started,
and even after, numerous spectators, including many of what she
calls "giddy girls," began asking the soon-to-be-drafted Jerry for his
autograph. People considered him the best wide receiver to come
out of the small Division I-AA Mississippi Valley State. Jerry had
amassed an astounding career total of 4,693 receiving yards, and
he was turning the heads of NFL scouts from Green Bay to Dallas.
Her concentration on the game already broken, Jackie realized
her sports-fanatic uncles would want the rising star's signature, so
she soon found her own piece of paper and walked over.
As Jackie recalls the moment in her living room, a relaxed smile
warms her face; then she tucks one leg under the other and begins
I said, "Excuse me, can I get your autograph?"
He looked at me. I had already checked out all the little
responses he had written on the other girls' autographs. It was
usually like, "Much success" or "Good luck in the future." You
know, things like that.
He asked, "What's your name?" and I said, "Jackie." So, he
wrote, "To Jackie: a very beautiful young lady."
I look at it, and I'm like, "I can't take this home to my mom.
Can you please write something else?"
Then he wrote on there, "I would like to meet you soon." I
thought, "Oh, my God. This guy is hitting on me." So, I ran
back to my seat, thinking, "Oh, my God! He's really hitting on
All the girls asked, "What did he write? What did he write?"
I said nothing and just folded it up and stuffed it in my pocket.
The game continued, and soon one of Jerry's frat brothers was
attempting to get Jackie's attention by passing written messages to
her up the bleachers.
She says, "I thought it was very immature. So, I said, 'You know
what? If you want to talk to me, come up here and talk. Or, I can
come down there. But stop passing notes.'"
Eventually, Jackie was seated next to the frat brother who had
been passing the notes, with Jerry on her other side. But when
the frat brother began making sexually suggestive remarks, Jackie
quickly turned her back on him, so that now she was facing Jerry.
Jackie was expecting her boyfriend to arrive at any moment, and
while she waited, she and Jerry exchanged some small talk.
Jackie says it didn't take long for the two to get into "this really
deep conversation." Taking an immediate liking to her, Jerry fibbed
about his age, styling himself as two years younger so that perhaps
he might seem less intimidating to the high school senior.
At intermission, Jerry excused himself to visit the concessions
stand. Before he left, he asked Jackie if she would like anything to
eat or drink. She said no.
Jackie says, "So he goes, and he stays gone for like twenty minutes.
Girls are coming out from all over. He'll stop and talk to this
girl and then stop and talk to that girl. And I'm just sitting there."
Her boyfriend was still nowhere to be seen, and when Jerry finally
returned to his seat, Jackie, both ignored and stood up, was a force
to be reckoned with.
"I said, 'Look, that was very rude what you did! I was just left
sitting here. Either you can sit here and talk to me, or I can go back
to my seat.'
"He said, 'Oh! You're spoiled. You have to have everything your
"I said, 'No, I don't, but just because you're Jerry Rice, don't
think you need to have everything your way!' "
They sparred back and forth, "going at each other's throats and
everything," Jackie says, even after the second half of the game
started. When they eventually settled down, Jerry suggested starting
over, and Jackie readily agreed. They exchanged phone numbers,
and when the game was over, Jerry attempted to walk her outside,
but autograph seekers pulled Jerry in one direction while Jackie's
chaperones pushed her in another. Before becoming completely
separated, Jerry called out, "Okay, I'll call you tomorrow at noon!"
Completely disbelieving that a college football star would ever call
a high school senior, Jackie replied, "Okay, okay."
Cupid's arrow must have flown across that hardwood floor with
dead aim because at exactly noon the next day Jerry did call Jackie,
and three hours after that, he was at her house. When Jackie's
mother, Gloria, entered the room to meet him, he promptly stood
up to introduce himself and shook her hand, leaving Gloria immediately
impressed by the charming young man.
The couple spent the afternoon and evening riding around
Greenville's parks in his sports car. By Monday, when he picked
her up from school, everyone was already talking about "Jackie and
Jerry." Not long after this, Jackie said farewell to her quarterback
boyfriend-the one who never showed up at the basketball game
to give her a ride home.
At Jerry's invitation, Jackie and her sister were soon traveling to
Mississippi Valley State for weekend dances. After the dances, Jerry
would hand Jackie the keys to his prized Nissan 300Z. The sisters
would jump in the sports car and cruise the campus.
Some female coeds didn't appreciate that a high school senior
was now the object of their star athlete's affections. They nicknamed
her "the Baby" and began making anonymous, threatening phone
calls to her house.
"What do you think he'll want with you?" they would say. "You
are just a baby and he's a man. We don't want to see you over here
After a trace was put on the phone, Jerry confronted the jealous
parties and the calls stopped.
It took a while for Jackie to believe the football star wasn't going
to treat her like another female hanger-on, especially with their five-year
age difference. His friends and roommates assured her that
Jerry did, indeed, find something special about her. They had never
seen their friend act this way about a woman. Then one of Jerry's
roommates cited perhaps the final proof of his friend's devotion.
"Gosh, he must really like you," the roommate told Jackie, "because
no one ever drives his car."
When asked what attracted Jerry to her, Jackie replies, "He said
I was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Then after talking
to me, he found out that I was really smart and that I wanted
something out of life."
After dating for three years, Jackie and Jerry married on September
8, 1987-and they have been happily married ever since.
A Typical College Romance
Both Jackie and Jerry are uncommon individuals in their own right,
and in many ways their marriage is also exceptional, given its
strength and longevity in the face of all the stresses that come
with such high levels of professional achievement, celebrity, and
wealth. However, the story of how they met is actually shared by
the overwhelming majority of NFL women I interviewed. With few
exceptions, women met their future husbands in college or even
high school, and they often married by their early twenties, when
the man's football dreams were just that, dreams, and a successful
life in the NFL was anything but assured.
Before they met their future NFL husbands, most of these young
women were strong-willed and goal-oriented, with high self-esteem,
a far cry from the stereotype of the shallow, calculating gold-digger
the media sometimes portray. In fact, for many couples, the
man's eventual success in the NFL would not have been possible
without the emotional and sometimes financial support of his girlfriend
or spouse. While the stories of how couples made it to the NFL
will be told in the next chapter, the stories of NFL romances serve to
illustrate that usually both partners began life together quite young,
and neither had any clue if a life in the NFL was possible, nor how
long or hard the road to get there would be. In other words, they
were no different from college couples everywhere.
Among the women we'll meet in more detail below, Kathryn Lee
Karr met her future husband, Mike Waufle, at a high school dance.
They went to different schools and had come to the event with other
people, but the minute they made eye contact, they began angling
for a way to dance with each other.
Kathy says her attraction was simple: "He looked really good. He
had a ton of hair and long, long sideburns, which were totally in at
the time. I just remember his eyes were beautiful blue. I didn't even
know Mike was a football player. He was wearing his letterman's
jacket-which said 'Bubba'-but it didn't mean all that much to
It was 1970, and Kathy says she was a "hippy dippy"; that
night she was wearing "Indian moccasins and bell-bottom tie-dyed
jeans." Finally, after hours of circling around each other, Mike
approached Kathy. They danced to one fast song, and then it was
the last song of the night, a slow one. As the teenagers embraced,
Kathy says, "I melted." The couple married about two years later.
Then there is Kimberly Glick. Kim was a standout high school
tennis player who had every intention of joining the pro circuit until
she broke her leg in an accident after her high school graduation.
The gorgeous, blond-haired, 5-foot-9-inch athlete then turned to
modeling; she won numerous international bathing suit competitions
and even earned bit parts as a movie extra. She was a college
student at Notre Dame when she met her future husband, Tim
Ruddy, in Notre Dame's bar, The Linebacker. Tim was a center for
the Fighting Irish with a genius-level IQ. Kim had dated athletes
before, but she says, "I didn't really date athletes that were into
brutal sports. Football was less of an attraction for me. The whole
limelight I'd already had with tennis. It just wasn't really that exciting
for me, that whole aspect of sports."
However, Kim and Tim began dating and eventually married.
Kim says matter-of-factly, "It just worked out. We connected real
Kori Bevans was a junior at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology,
studying mechanical engineering, when she traveled to California
for a summer internship and met her future husband, David
Shaw. A friend of Kori's took her out to a dance club in Oakland
because she thought she needed to meet more people. Kori gave
her phone number to several guys that night, but the next day she
was waiting for only one call, from David, who had just graduated
from Stanford University, where he lettered in football. He did call,
and they got together every single day afterward for the rest of the
summer of 1995.
"When I met David he had just finished with school, and he was
realizing that he wasn't going to play football professionally. He
wanted to coach. When he told me he wanted to be a coach, I didn't
think anything of it. It was an afterthought. It wasn't until much
later on that he told me his dad coached in the NFL and that he also
had aspirations to be in the NFL."
Gina Nedney was a cheerleader and her future husband, Joe,
was a player for San Jose State's football team. It sounds like the
classic football romance, but Gina says, "San Jose State isn't a big
school that has a lot of players who go into the draft, so I didn't
even think about that. I was attracted to him because he was an
environmental major. It helped that I knew him through football
and through sports. My parents are huge football fans. I grew up
loving football. I think one of the reasons Joe was attracted to me
is that I knew all the rules and I love the game."
Kim Courtley met her husband, Mike Singletary-the future Hall
of Famer for the Chicago Bears-when she was a freshman and he
was a sophomore at Baylor University in Texas in 1978. Mike already
had a growing reputation as a football star, but the teenagers were
more interested in each other's character.
Kim says, "I was not comfortable at Baylor. All the girls looked
like Miss Texas and they were cheerleaders. I was not. I was not even
Miss Michigan. I was from Detroit. I just started getting to know
some of the football players, and I had a reputation as a girl who
was basically not going to have sex with them, which was attractive
to Mike. He came from a very religious background, and girls that
did that were not attractive to him. He says he knew as soon as he
saw me that he was going to marry me. He is that type of person.
He is a dreamer. He is a visionary."
Pat Kennan and her husband, Larry, were high school sweethearts
who met in biology class, and Pat laughs when she explains
her attraction: "Honestly, he was cute. He was interested in me,
and I was boy-crazy, and he was a jock."
When I met my future husband, John Morton, I was a sophomore
at Western Michigan University. I had been awarded a full
university scholarship to play softball for the college team, and I
was hoping to escape my tame, rural Michigan upbringing on the
strength of my arm and determination. My parents and siblings all
excelled in sports, and they strongly supported my softball goals and
achievements. However, I knew athletics would carry me only so
far-despite the prominence of women's softball at recent Olympic
games, a professional league does not exist-so I was also studying
sociology and criminology with the intent of becoming a federal
Excerpted from Wedded to the Game
by Shannon O'Toole
Copyright © 2006 by University of Nebraska Press .
Excerpted by permission.
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