Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Holding Isn't Legal, Stealing Is?

My June 28 post showed football players stretching the rules by holding.  I suggested that rule-stretching is a time-honored custom in sports and sometimes is worthy of applause, not criticism.  This train of thought reminded me of a remarkable play by Outlaws number forty, Dorothy Hines. 

Dorothy is a linebacker.  Linebackers are some of my favorite people because they have a mixture of responsibilities.  Sometimes down and dirty tackling close to the line of scrimmage.  Sometimes blitzing.  Sometimes pass defending in the secondary.  This particular play had Dorothy playing pass defense.  Rather than spend a lot of words I'll show you what happened...

Dallas receiver #14 catching a pass.  You can just see Dorothy,
partially hidden from view by Dallas #88 

This is a game against the Dallas Fury in 2008.  One of my favorite Dallas players is #88 - I wish I could remember her name.  (See my posting - "A Personal Note" for a reminder of my terrible memory.)  Number 88 partially blocks our view.

In this play Dallas #14 just caught a pass from the Dallas Quarterback for a gain of 10 or 15 yards to the Dallas forty yard line.  Mostly concealed from our view by #88, Dorothy is moving in to...

...well, watch.

It appears Dorothy is attempting a tackle - and not a very good one.
But really she has something totally different in mind.

Recalling the play Dorothy said she was "upset with myself!" in this game.  She had missed a few tackles (unusual for her) and she wanted to make up for it.  So instead of going for the tackle, she went for the ball.  The Dallas receiver did a spin move, Dorothy did a spin move...
It looks as though the Dallas receiver is handing the ball off to
Dorothy, and Dorothy says that's how it felt.

And just like that Dorothy had the ball.  Dorothy says when she took the ball it was almost as though the Dallas player was handing it off to her.  Actually Dorothy is strong and just wrestled the ball from the grasp of #14.  Outlaws' Monica Gauck was playing in the defensive backfield.  One of Dorothy's impressions of the play was the expression on Monica's face.  Monica later exclaimed, "You never were going for the tackle!"

Dorothy running the ball back into Dallas territory while Dallas staff watches in shock and dismay.

Ball in hand Dorothy heads back the other way.  In the photo I love the expressions of the Dallas coaching staff on the far sideline.  They can't believe what is happening.  One coach is down on one knee, face to the ground, hand covering his eyes.  Dorothy is ruining his day. 

Dorothy moving the ball into Dallas territory, with #14 in pursuit.

The play ends with Dorothy the thief being pursued by her victim until she's run out of bounds around the Dallas thirty yard line.  In my previous post I said there is a penalty for holding. If you get caught. 

There is no penalty for stealing the ball from the opposition.  In fact it can be kind of fun.  Ask Dorothy.

Random Fan Photo

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

If No One Sees is it Still Illegal?

Sometimes you have to stretch a little.  For the good of the team. 

Stretch the rules a little. 

Stretch someone's jersey a little.

Like here, the runner, number thirty-something,  is in serious jeopardy.  The blocker isn't in position to stop the Outlaw defender.  So blocker grabs the Austin jersey.  I'm sorry to report the tactic worked.  The Austin tackler didn't make the play.  The runner made another ten yards before being brought down by other Outlaws. 

Evenly matched players are always looking for an edge.  Some of the edge comes in practice building strength, improving technique.  Sometimes, in the heat of game competition, the edge comes by testing the rules, testing the officials.  Stretching a jersey.  

Outlaw grasping collar of opponent jersey.
Outlaw pass interference.
Sometimes even the Outlaws take some liberties with the rules.  (Lily insists that is not why we named them the Outlaws.)  In the photo above, that's an Outlaw's hand grasping the shirt of the Mustangs player. 

And in the photo to the right, the Outlaw defender is  - well, maybe she's doing a favor for the receiver?  The higher up the receiver goes, the farther back down she'll have to come.  And coming down can cause painful impact with the ground.  Grabbing the jersey to keep the receiver from going too high might be simply be a little bit of altruism at work. 

Or maybe she's trying to prevent a reception.

When I started looking for photos of stretched rules I expected to find a lot.  It is just a part of competition.  I was surprised at how few examples I found among my hundreds of photos.  I suspect that isn't evidence the players aren't trying hard enough.  Rather it suggests they're good at keeping the illegal techniques concealed from officials and cameras.  But I do have a few...

Here's some serious holding, Dallas "blocker" practically taking
the shirt from Austin #3 Avery.

I don't know who the Austin blocker is in this photo - I wouldn't say if I did because I don't
want you to think ill of any Outlaw.  And I don't know if grabbing the Mustangs defender
jersey was necessary.  The Outlaws runner is Shadana Hurd - back when she wore number 82. 
Shadana eluded all defenders and romped to the end zone.  I think she'd have made it without the help.

Here the Mustangs blocker is nearly tackling an Outlaws defender.
Unfortunately for the Mustangs, Monica Gauck #7 is still loose and
stops the runner on the spot.

Sometimes commentators will label a penalty as good.  If you're a corner back and the receiver has you beat and the pass is coming straight and true, a little pass interference is better than letting the receiver score.  Other penalties are bad.  In the photo above where Shadana was eluding tacklers and breaking for the end zone, an unnecessary holding penalty could have cancelled the score. 

Stretching the rules is part of the game.  Sometimes you get caught and have to deal with whether the penalty was good or bad.  Sometimes you don't get caught.  Which raises football's version of the old tree-in-the-forest philosophical question - if the official didn't see it, did it really happen?

Sunday, June 26, 2011


Gotta love them fans. 

I've been doing photos of Outlaw games since 2004.   Whenever there's a break in the action on the field, I like to turn my camera on the stands. I get some cool photos this way, photos of people who don't know I'm taking their pictures. 

Or sometimes I get cool photos because they DO know I'm pointing the camera their way.   Something about a camera brings out the... ah... well, you tell me.

The one in the back is Alex Allen, former player
for the Outlaws.  I don't know her friend's name.
They're acting up for the camera - they don't
always act like this.

I don't know names but I loved the enthusiasm of these fans.
On thing is clear.  They're enjoying being a part of the Austin Outlaws experience. 

Outlaws games are fun.  Fans enjoy the competition on the field - some of these players are outstanding athletes.  And fans enjoy sharing of a good time with other Austinites who have discovered Women's Professional Football.

It is unfortunate we don't have more home games.  Four regular season games with an occasional post-season contest doesn't give the team enough exposure to build a really large following.  But even with that limitation, the Outlaws fan base has been growing.  I did a "crowd" shot at one of the 2004 games and another a few years later.  You can see remarkable growth in attendance.

At the old Yellow Jacket Stadium - is that the right name?  Maybe
fifty or so fans in the stands.
In 2004 there were a few faithfuls.  If you look closely near the top left you may see the tie-dye group.  They were fans of one or two specific players and always came dressed in tie-dye shirts. 

But just a few years later the crowd grew to justify that "crowd" description.  In the second crowd photo, you can't see the tie-dye club but they're there way to the left. 

This stadium bunches the spectators together and was good for showing the strong following the Outlaws have earned

An Outlaws tradition early on was an after game up-close-and-personal greeting; fans would line up along the front of the bleachers and the players would walk along high-fiving their supporters.  This tradition is a little more difficult at the current Westlake stadium because the stands are elevated, making it difficult to slap hands.

After game reception line, players marching by the stands greeting fans.
I used to do a featured player article for the Outlaws website and now I'm doing this blog - with the idea that as potential fans get to know more about the players and the team, they'll become genuine fans.  You know, fans who wear Outlaws gear and come to all the home games and maybe even make it to an away game (Dallas and Houston aren't that far away.) 

It has now occurred to me that I shouldn't limit my focus to players. If I feature fans in my blog I'll take this getting-to-know-you theme one step further.  The trouble is that I don't know much about the fans.  With my player profiles, I meet players at a coffee shop and conduct an hour-long interview.  So I have a lot more information to share when I blog about a player than when I feature a fan. 

In most cases, the only thing I know about the fan is he/she caught my attention when I focused my camera on the stands.  And survived my editing when I studied my photos for "keepers."

Maybe that's enough? 

Yes it is!  Starting soon - starting now- I'm going to post fan photos.  One or two at a time. 

I do know this fan.  Kinda. He is
 one of the original tie-dye fans and has been
to practically evey game I've covered.  We've
met, chatted,  but I don't remember his name.
And this is Mrs. Tie-dye.  I feel like she and Mister
are my friends but I can't recall their names.  Please
refer back to my post titled "A Personal Note" and
you will understand my namelessness.  Note she is
helping me get an interesting photo by acting up for
the camera - as any friend of mine would do.

Friday, June 24, 2011


I don't see the game when it is happening.  I see it in freeze frame on my computer.  I see it through my photo editor, Photoshop.  Close up - I see expressions on player's faces.

Julie Wilke, now doing other things, looking for a
receiver as she sees tacklers closing in.
The runner is one of my favorite players from Dallas -
I can't recall her name - but love the effort here in a losing cause.

I see the intensity of the battle going on out there.  The all out effort as athletes fight for one more yard, one more score. 

This is Shadana dragging tackler for a few more yards.

This is Veronica using all her strength and
leverage to protect the runner.

There's the battle in the line as blockers take on would be tacklers in a battle of strength and will.

There's the bone-jarring collision when the tackler gets a clear shot at the runner

Soho stopping the runner cold.  In stop-action, there's the suspense - a collsion with the ground is coming...

More often there's a scramble to get any kind of grip on the elusive runner in the open field

Griff getting enough of a hold to bring the runner down.

Open field tackles are tough.

And then the scene repeated so often on my monitor of Shadana or Monica breaking away from the pack and heading for the end zone.

In stop action close up I see the intensity of the game in a special way.  The photos posted here may give you a sense of why I love doing sports photography.  Sports because of the dramatic effort of the athletes, photography because I get to see the intensity in a way I think we miss watching the game live.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Player Profile - Monica Gauck, #7 (Part 2)

At practice few years ago, a full week after a win at Dallas, the players were still all abuzz about Monica's game-winning touchdown.  I pointed my digital recorder at Monica and asked her about it.  She relived the play, the excitement almost as though we were there in Dallas.  "...following two blockers to the left saw the sideline and certain amount of Dallas jerseys and looked right saw open space changed direction everything slow motion didn't hear the buzzer didn't hear anything saw the goal line crossed it exhausted physically emotionally..."

Later when I interviewed Monica for this profile I asked what was the highlight of her Outlaws experience and I assumed it would be that score.  Nope.  She said her highlight was "After-game celebrations. All of them."  

Dozens of Outlaws have said being an Outlaw is like being part of a family.  The camaraderie, the caring for each other, the sense of belonging - made this team special.  Sharing the happiness of victory, the disappointment of loss.  This spirit has played a huge role in the success of the Outlaws as they have stayed together for now eleven years.

And Monica is a big reason for the spirit.  In another interview she talked about winning a championship game and the "...feeling we have.  Not just me alone.  It isn't so much fun for me alone but fun when there are twenty some people sharing the victory."

Running Back
Monica's dedication to the team is apparent in her willingness to do whatever the coach asks.  She has played running back, quarterback, defensive back.  She has been the holder for place kicks.  She has passed the ball.  She has caught passes (not her own, though - there are limits.)

Defensive Back  

Holder on Place Kicks


Pass Receiver
Saturday's game (June 18, 2011) the temperature was 105 at game time.   Monica played both offense and defense.  That's a testament to her skill and also to her physical conditioning. Her energy. Monica says her hobbies are "anything outdoors" especially near water.  She was a competitive water skier in college.  Like the cartoon character Road Runner, for Monica, running is her idea of having fun.  Long distance running.  She has lifted weights.  She owned her own landscape company, loves climbing trees and clearing land.

She owns dogs, a horse, a boat. She has just moved into a new home, one suitable for her horse and dogs. 

And she plays football.

When the Outlaws were in crisis mode about eight years ago, Monica joined Lily in putting up personal resources to get the team admitted to the NWFA.  Of that time, Monica says "I was the positive attitude person - we can do it!"  She credits Lily with having the managerial skill to make the team succeed.  Lily "wants everybody to be happy but she's willing do the tough love bit."  Lily will say what it takes, even if it means making someone unhappy.  Monica says she and Lily make a good team, complimentary of each other. 

Lily and Monica are best friends.  And have been for as long as I've followed the team.  Both are responsible for the Outlaw's success, Lily as skilled and effective manager who has and projects a sincere commitment to the good of the players; Monica as an inspiration through her play and her wanting everybody happy. 

Lily plays in the offensive line and hears her name on the public address system only during pre-game introductions.  Monica benefits by Lily's blocks, has the high visibility.  Her name is called frequently during the games.

Well, kinda sorta. 

I've heard public address announcers pronounce Monica's name a in a variety of ways.  Most common is GAWK.  I once asked Monica how to pronounce Gauck.  She said if you can say cow, you have it.  G-ow-ck.  I've never heard an announcer say it correctly.  I'm beginning to wonder if I have it wrong.  Monica?  How do you say Gauck?

Monday, June 20, 2011

"Kill him, Kill the Umpire..."; Some Photos from Saturday's Game

You'd think the coaches and officials at football games would understand we photographers are the really important ones.  We're recording the Outlaws deeds for posterity.  Why don't coaches run plays to the side of the field where I'm standing with my camera?  Even with my fancy 200mm lens, it is difficult to reach clear across to the other side for good shots (I could buy a 300mm for $600 but I'm too thrifty for that.)

Then the umpire - yes, they have umpires in football - is so inconsiderate that he steps right between my camera and the action.  In this photos, I think Ski is tackling someone but I can't see because the umpire is in the way.  This blocking of my shots happens not once, not twice, but often.

Look closely and you can see the football and carrier - but not
clearly because the umpire is block our full view.

Someone is making the tackle but I'll never know because the
Official is in my way. 

Saturday's game was not the way you want to end a season.  I shot hundreds of photos - some of which I'll post to my photo-sharing website later today.  When I can shoot around the officials, I sometimes get decent shots.  Even when the action is clear across the field, I can sometimes capture an Outlaw doing good.

Ski making a tackle way over on the Dallas side of the field.

Some of the fun for me is creating interesting photos.  To make the shot below, I did some editing.  In the original photo there was action in the left side of the frame and the three Diamonds are reacting.  I removed the action.  What's the expression in physics - for every action a reaction?  If you remove the action and leave the reaction to stand alone you get a funny result.

"Hold it!  I just thought of something..."

I love the intensity of the effort as athletes battle for one more yard.  This intensity is sometimes reflected in their faces. When I overcame my "thrifty" side to buy my Nikon D-40 camera, I learned even a novice photographer with just a 200mm lens can get remarkable detail in digital photos. If you visit my photo-sharing website you'll see a lot of experimenting with tight cropping - the following is a sample.

I was standing on the sideline Saturday trying to see around the officials so I could record the action.  On one play the coach actually did run the play to my side of the field.  I kept shooting as the action came my way.  An advantage of even a low-level zoom lens is that the objects in the lens are not as close as they appear.  The objects in my lens - a dozen or so well conditioned physically strong fast running women in football helmets - looked very close.  And getting closer very fast.  Unlike the dedicated photographers who cover the Dallas Cowboys, I will not sacrifice my body for a photo.  I scrambled out of the way and avoided injury.

I was struck by something I've observed before - these ladies play with a high intensity, high commitment.  They're going all out, full speed.

Which is just what you expect of athletes. 

Which is why it is so much fun to watch the Outlaws in action.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Player Profile - Monica Gauck, #7 (Part 1)

I always think of Monica as quarterback.  The quarterback is the on-field leader, the one person who best understands strategy, who knows every player's assignment.  The quarterback is in charge.  The quarterback's performance is most important of all because she handles the ball on every single play.  If I'm coach, my best player is playing quarterback.  That's Monica, the best player on the Outlaws team. 

But Monica is only a part time quarterback.  To her credit.

Monica grew up a competitor.  She took on her brother Darren, two years older, in "knee football" on a gymnastic mat in their home in Iowa Falls, Iowa.  Her younger sister Allison was conscripted to referee the competitions.  Younger brother Chris enjoyed watching Monica nearly whip Darren - and wondered (but never tried) if he could beat her.  When the weather permitted, she and Darren went outside and battled for pass receptions as her dad played quarterback.  She had another brother, Rex, ten years younger and a "gentle game player" who respected sportsmanship.
Monica's mom is a musician - flute - and gave lessons in the home.  She tried to interest Monica in music and Monica did play the trombone through high school.  Monica says "I was just adequate"  but mom has a different opinion - she says Monica brought tears to her eyes at solo performance competitions.  Mom is a serious golfer.  They live near a lake in Iowa where the weather isn't like in Texas.  If it is 30 degrees and sunny, mom says it's a great day for golf.

Her dad was a gymnast at the University of Minnesota and "was very good".  He kept a gymnastic mat in the home which served as the football field when Monica and Darren played their home-made game.  After playing, "we'd roll the mat up and put it in the closet.  Or roll my sister up in it and put her in the closet." 

A story about her dad - he was doing trampoline gymnastics during a basketball game when the tramp collapsed and he broke his foot.  He ran out of the gym, ignoring the pain, so no one would know he was hurt.   Monica showed similar toughness years later playing hurt for the Outlaws, sneaking back into the game after coach had sidelined her with cracked ribs.  At 5'7" and 135 pounds she is often smaller than opponents - so being tough is an asset.

That's Monica in the black doing battle with
three defenders.
I wonder if Monica remembers this particular play.  Looks painful. 
Toughness isn't the only trait she inherited from her dad.  He recognized early on that she shared his love of competition and he encouraged her in her sports.  In high school Monica played basketball, softball, volleyball, cross country, track.  She went on to play basketball at Casper (Wyoming) Community College on a team ranked eleventh nationally among junior colleges.  She won a basketball scholarship to Southwest Texas State University where she also played softball as a walk on.  After college she played in the Texas Hoop-it-up tournaments and was selected to try out for the WNBA  (Women's National Basketball Association).

In Austin she heard some women talking about playing for the Austin Rage women's professional football team.  Monica asked one of the players about trying out.  The player gave Monica a quick eye-scan and said "I don't think so."  Monica was shocked by the put down, speechless.  Then someone told her there is another team, the Outlaws. 

The Outlaws signed her up - and ten years later she remains a team leader and star player.

Because of her outstanding athletic talent, Monica has been able to play where ever she was needed, offense or defense.  She was a running back when I first started covering Outlaw's games.  I recall hearing the public address announcer calling her name over and over as she escaped tacklers for big gains and often touchdowns.

I don't recall if she escaped this time but there are
only two un-blocked tacklers - makes it about an even chance
Monica went on to score.

This did go for a touchdown - no way they're going to catch
her.  She scored at least twice in this game.

In my next posting I'll cover more about Monica, her role as spiritual team leader, her ability to play different positions on the field.  And how to pronounce

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Player Profile - Hollie "Hamm" Rhodes - Retired

First she was tall.  Then she wasn't.  By fifth grade in school, Hollie was 5 feet tall, the tallest girl in class.  Then she stopped growing.  The rest of the kids didn't stop growing.  Soon everyone was taller than she. 

Being vertically challenged might be considered a weakness but Hollie's philosophy in life is "find your strength and go for that."  When she played basketball she learned to position herself to draw fouls as taller opponents ran over her back.  She was great at fighting for rebounds and very strong from the three-point line.  In volleyball, she was a great server and digger in the back line.  In track and field, she did the discus, javelin, and shot-put, events where height isn't an issue. 

She has always been stocky -  her football playing weight was about 230 pounds. But she is strong; in working out with weights, she could lift more than many of the guys.  And she has always been in excellent physical condition.  Her love of sports kept her active and in shape.  While playing for the Outlaws, she also participated on two recreation league softball teams.

 Football was never an option until Hollie discovered the Austin Rage.  She played for them until the team folded and then she moved to the Outlaws with several other Rage players.  She compliments Lily and the Outlaws for welcoming Rage players on board even though they may have been rivals before the Rage folded.

Hollie's physical strength and competitive spirit made her a natural for the defensive line where she lined up nose-to-nose with the offensive center.  Her low center of gravity made her a serious challenge for anyone trying to block her.  (I once tried to persuade Outlaw's center KJ to help me create a funny photo sequence with Hollie.  I wanted diminutive Hollie to get low and follow the ball through KJ's legs as KJ passed it back to the quarterback.  It never happened - Hollie with shoulder pads was too wide.)

Hollie slipping free of the blocker to get a shot at the ball carrier.

Hollie played football for about five years but had to "retire" when she enrolled in nursing school.  She had worked as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) when she lived in Oklahoma so a nursing career was consistent with her "find a strength and go for it" philosophy.  She is currently working in the VA Hospital in San Antonio, on the pre- and post-op floor. 

Her work and family keep her too busy to do much in sports but she still manages to get in some travel - Europe, Vegas, Disney World.  She does deep sea fishing twice a year. 

Hollie has been working on weight loss, including surgical procedures, and is currently a slim 200 pounds, down from her playing weight of 230 (and a bit more than that after retirement from football.)