As the United States looks to win its second consecutive gold medal, a key element in their ambitious plans rests on the shoulders of quarterback Sami Grisafe. Team USA will be defending their world title at the 2013 IFAF Women’s Tackle Football Championships in Vantaa, Finland.
At the inaugural IFAF World Women’s Championships (held in Sweden in 2010), Grisafe helped Team USA to the gold medal. In three games, Grisafe had a remarkable passer rating of 262.53. This was complemented by 309 passing yards and six touchdown passes, respectively.
Considered by some to be the best female football quarterback on the planet, she will have the opportunity to stake her claim at the 2013 Women’s Worlds. With the 2013 season being her last in football, a gold medal would solidify her standing as one of the greatest women to compete at the position. Hailing from Redlands, California, the 28-year-old quarterback has established a new home in the Chicago area.
The relocation to Chicago was not motivated by football; rather it was a love of the dramatic arts (which she studies at Roosevelt University). Despite her love of the arts, facing her destiny as a football player was inevitable.
In 2007, Grisafe joined the Chicago Force (currently competing in the Women’s Football Alliance) on the recommendation of the office manager at Roosevelt’s theatre office. Upon joining the Force, her love of the game was reignited.
Early in her career, she had the opportunity to help the franchise win a historic game. An April 19, 2008 match served as the franchise’s first-ever night game. Competing against the 2007 IWFL champion Detroit Demolition, Grisafe led the Force to an 18-7 victory.
Since joining the Force in 2007, Grisafe has led the club to a sparkling 50-6 record. While playing with the Force in the IWFL (2007 top 2010), Grisafe had a 26-6 mark with the Force. Since the Force joined the Women’s Football Alliance in November 2010, Grisafe has never lost a regular season game in the growing league. During her playing career, she has had a lifetime passer rating of 131.3, better than any NFL quarterback.
The one accomplishment that has eluded her is a national championship. In the 2008 IWFL title game, Chicago was defeated by the Dallas Diamonds. At Heinz Field (the first NFL stadium to host a WFA title game), Grisafe and Chicago were bested by the San Diego Surge in the 2012 championship.
Her first brush with the game occurred at Redlands High School. Grisafe made national news in 2001 when she became the first female quarterback in the history of California Interscholastic Federation Division 1 athletics to compete in a varsity game.
Growing up, her favorite player was Joe Montana. Grisafe also played boys’ baseball in California for nine years and became the first girl in Redlands to be named to a boys' baseball All-Star team.
With the Chicago Force, her abilities and strong skills were on full display. Her first five seasons resulted in five All-Star selections. In 2011, she logged 1,746 passing yards and 24 touchdown passes, respectively.
One year later, Grisafe would be part of female football history by competing with the Force in an unprecedented event. On August 4, 2012, Grisafe led her squad to the first-ever WFA football championship game played on an NFL field. The competition was held at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh as the San Diego Surge claimed the title.
Despite her athletic prowess, Grisafe (like all other competitors in the WFA) is not compensated. While working as a bartender to make ends meet, Grisafe has also re-explored her love of the arts. She would use her musical skills to record a theme song for the league titled "Fourth and Inches". Her love of music comes from her parents and her aunt, who performed throughout Southern California.
Originally part of a musical quartet known as The Wick, Grisafe was the band’s lead singer. She also helped to co-finance their first recording effort, a 13-song album called The Wick on Wax. Openly gay, Grisafe also recorded a song with The Wick in tribute to The Trevor Project, a group that looks to prevent suicide among young lesbian, gay and transgender individuals.
Currently part of The Sami Grisafe Band, she recorded an album titled Atlantis while performing in Chicago, Nashville and New York. In 2013, she earned a Chicago Music Award as Best Rock Entertainer, and performed at the South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas.
On May 18, 2013, Grisafe had one of her finest performances ever. In an 82-20 road victory against the Indy Crash (at Marian University), she threw for 501 yards, completing 64 percent of her passes and contributing seven touchdown passes. Her 501 yards were a franchise record, while the 82 points and 12 touchdowns also surpassed previous franchise marks.
In the first quarter, she would register two touchdown passes. On the first play of their second possession, Grisafe connected with Ashley Berggren for a 28-yard score. With their following possession, Grisafe found Jessica Javelet for an amazing 64-yard pass and a 12-0 lead.
A punt return for a score, followed by three touchdown rushes made it 40-6 for the Force with 2:35 remaining before halftime. On the last possession of the first half, Grisafe would earn her third touchdown pass of the game, connecting with Berggren again on a 25-yard play for a 48-6 halftime advantage.
Grisafe would only get stronger in the second half, with four more passes for touchdowns. Berggren would be the recipient of two more passes, giving her four touchdown receptions on the night, complemented by 176 receiving yards. Brandy Hatcher and Jessica Javelet would each get a touchdown in the second half, as Javelet led all players with 205 receiving yards.
The final regular season game was another lopsided affair as Grisafe led the Force to another undefeated season and division title. The June 8 contest against the West Michigan Mayhem resulted in a 56-7 final.
Having scored touchdowns on their first five possessions, Grisafe would contribute with three touchdown passes (Jeanette Gray, Ashley Berggren and Karlee Quaritsch were the recipients). Grisafe would add another touchdown pass in the third quarter as she connected with Brandy Hatcher.
Named Offensive Player of the Game, Grisafe finished with 386 yards, 68 percent pass completion (23 of 34) and four touchdowns. She would finish her regular season as the WFA leader with 2,582 passing yards, 178 completions and 32 touchdown passes. The second closest to her in passing yards was Lisa Horton of the Pittsburgh Passion with 1,802 yards (trailing Grisafe by 780 yards). In addition, the Force would finish the season as the highest scoring team, while Gray was the WFA receiving leader.
Through the first 10 weeks of the 2013 WFA season, Grisafe had a 62.5 completion percentage, 2,582 passing yards, 32 touchdown passes (compared to merely three interceptions) and a sparkling 131.3 passer rating. For her efforts, she was one of four quarterbacks recognized as a WFA All-America selection (the others being Allison Cahill of Boston, Lisa Horton of Pittsburgh and Allyson Hamlin of the DC Divas).
Shattering the glass ceiling and proving that women have the same right as men to compete on the gridiron, Grisafe is a pioneer in her sport. Her courage in admitting her sexual orientation makes her a true role model, while providing inspiration to those who are struggling with their own choice to declare their preference.
While Grisafe’s superlative career with the Force has established her as a Chicago sporting hero, she is far from being a one-dimensional character. Complemented by an ambitious musical career which is testament to her vitality and personality, Grisafe is quickly emerging as a figure in popular culture.
Even if a championship never looms on the horizon, by no means will it diminish her legacy. As she announced that this season would be her last, the pressure is mounting for a storybook ending.
While the pressures of playing quarterback are accompanied by expectations of championships, legendary pivots such as Dan Marino and Jim Kelly never won a Super Bowl, but are NFL Hall of Famers. In Chicago, legendary figures such as Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers never won a championship, but their place in the hearts and minds of sports fans will never be forgotten. To a whole generation of young women, Grisafe can proudly say that she now occupies that same place.