Review of We Are The Troopers

Review of We Are The Troopers

Guinan, Stephen. We Are The Troopers: The Women of the Winningest Team in Pro Football History. New York: Hachette Books, 2022. Pp. vii + 288.

Reviewed by Russ Crawford

The stories of the pioneers of women’s tackle football are starting to make their way into print. Those who follow this site have had the chance to read about the New York Sharks in my review of Black and Blue: Love Sports and the Art of Empowerment (2019) by Andra Douglas. I also reviewed Hail Mary: The Rise and Fall of the National Women’s Football League (2021) by Frankie de la Cretaz and Lyndsay D’Arcangelo. This August there will be another volume in the growing library of works on women playing tackle football in the United States: We Are The Troopers: The Women of the Winningest Team in Pro Football History by Stephen Guinan will be an excellent addition to the field.

Hatchette Books, 2022.

Guinan’s work tells the story of perhaps the greatest women’s football team––arguably the winningest in pro football history––to ever take their place on the gridiron. The Toledo Troopers dominated the National Women’s Football League (NWFL) from 1971 to 1977. They were the champions of the NWFL in each of those years, with the exception of a disputed point after that led to the Troopers being named co-champions with the Oklahoma City Dolls in 1976.

Douglas’ work is a fictionalized memoir of the Sharks and her football history, while de la Cretaz and D’Arcangelo wrote an overview of the NWFL. Guinan has written an epic saga of the Troopers. Guinan teaches English and film in Columbus, and his background in the former discipline is obvious. His prose not only tells the story of a football team, but it also grabs the reader and carries them from the formation of the team to its decline. Even when I knew the outcome of a particular game, I still found myself feverishly turning the pages to find out what happened. That is the strength of this work. Guinan writes with the style of a modern-day Grantland Rice.

We learn the backstories of the women who played, and the men who coached them, not in dry academic language but in a narrative evocative of Homer’s Iliad or Odyssey. Linda Jefferson, the star running back who rushed for 9,250 yards (12.1 per carry) and 150 touchdowns went on a journey as fantastic as Odysseus, parlaying her prowess on the field into numerous appearances in the national media. Bill Stout, the team’s head coach is the flawed hero of the story––he forged the Troopers into a machine that obliterated nearly everything in their path.

Guinan uses Stout as the center piece of the tale and we learn that, as good as his life was on the field, it was often horrendous off of it. While coaching the women to seven championships, the coach also dealt with considerable problems in his home life. As told by Guinan, it seems the only thing in Stout’s life that worked was football. Even there, he faced challenges. Recruited by Sid Friedman, the man who brought women’s football to life, he and the promoter had a bitter falling out. At the height of their success, the players staged a rebellion against him, accusing him of going too far in his sometimes-brutal practices (220). Despite those setbacks, he and Carl Hamilton, his defensive coordinator, continued to train the team to be a machine that produced victory.

The reader also learns about the lives of the players, on and off the field. What shines through in the work is the tremendous joy and sense of purpose that football gave the women. According to Eunice White, who played from 1973 to 1979, the women did it for the love of the game, nothing else. “We were no women’s libbers, but we were part of the change,” (263). Guinan argues that in the case of Frani Washington, who tried out for the team but whose mother forbade her to play, that Title IX had the unintended consequence of giving potential Troopers an alternative path to college scholarships (187).

Jefferson was the Trooper’s star running back, but she first had to convince her strong willed mother to let her play. Once that was accomplished, she would became something of a national star, appearing on The Dinah Shore Show and Donahue, winning womenSports Female Athlete of the Year, and finishing third in ABC’s 1976 Superstars competition (185).

Other Troopers were not as successful in winning their parents over to their cause. Judy Verbosky loved playing, but at the end of her first season her parents sent an emissary to let her know that having a daughter who was a women’s football player was not good for their local market’s reputation. Despite finding a home on the team, she decided that her family’s wishes were more important than her dreams (72).

Most of the players had the support of their families and friends, however, they did occasionally have to contend with the occasional heckler telling them they did not belong on the gridiron. That was a small price to pay for the majority of the women. By putting up with random snide comments, they had the chance to live out what for many of them had been a life-long dream. For others who had never considered playing football, playing on the Troopers gave them a chance to live a fantasy they never knew they had before lacing up their cleats.

Their participation on the team took them to dizzying heights. They played the Dallas Bluebonnets for the championship of Friedman’s Women’s Professional Football League in Texas Stadium, the home of the Dallas Cowboys. During the team’s heyday, they sometimes performed in front of crowds of several hundred fans. Under Stout and Hamilton’s leadership, they won 46 games, and lost only one to the Dolls in 1976. When the elder Stout stepped aside to direct the NWFL, the team added another 12 wins and 3 losses under his son Mike. The athletes compiled a total record of 58 wins, four losses, and one (controversial) tie with the Dolls.

Guinan’s book should appeal to football fans everywhere. His descriptions of the player’s backstories provide a window, often in the words of the athletes themselves, into a past when women had to struggle to play sports of any kind, let alone football. The author did not footnote, but provided an appendix with the sources for each chapter, which include interviews with many of the eighty two women who played for the Troopers. He also combed the archives of the Toledo Blade and other newspapers for his content.

The only real quibble I had was an early mistake. In the first chapter, Guinan explored the history of Toledo and northwest Ohio. He incorrectly asserted that the Wilson Football Factory in Ada, where I live, makes every “football placed on every tee in every game, college or pro.” This is true of the NFL, but not every college uses the Wilson ball. That is a small gripe, and the rest of the book rings true.

There is also a documentary of the same name that debuted September 20, 2021. According to one former Trooper, some of the former players were not happy with how Coach Stout was portrayed. Former Troopers might have some of the same thoughts on the book. Not having the same background as the players, I thought that the negatives were balanced with some incredible positives in Guinan’s descriptions of Stout.

In any case, We Are the Troopers is a compelling read. I do wish it had come out earlier, since the author uncovered some incredible information that I had not when researching my forthcoming book. Guinan’s book is good for football fans and those interested in women’s sport history; it also would be worth including in a sport history syllabus.

Russ Crawford is Professor of History at Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. His latest book, Women’s American Football: Breaking Barriers On and Off the Field will be published by the University of Nebraska Press in November of 2022. Along with several chapters on sport history, he has also published two earlier books. Le Football: The History of American Football in France was published by the University of Nebraska Press in 2016. His first book, The Use of Sport to Promote the American Way of Life During the Cold War: Cultural Propaganda, 1946-1963, was published by the Edwin Mellen Press in 2008.