Quarterback Allyson Hamlin and linebacker Trigger McNair give the scoop on women’s tackle football.
By Laura Wainman
Hands raised if you knew Washington, D.C. had a women’s contact football team before you began reading this column. If I’m being honest, my hand wasn’t raised either. Make no mistake about it though, these women are serious athletes pursuing their passion while working full-time jobs to support themselves since they don’t get paid. In fact, they pay to play. Currently, the D.C. Divas are one of Washington’s winningest teams in the middle of an undefeated season and are on the move towards a championship ring. Over a Puerto Rican-inspired lunch at Mio, team captains Allyson Hamlin and Trigger McNair told me about their hidden gem of a team and shared what it is like to go from working the streets of Maryland as a detective and a correctional officer Monday through Friday to tearing it up on the gridiron on Saturdays.
How exactly does one get involved in women’s tackle football?
Trigger McNair: Well, it has been a long time for me. But in 1999 I was trying out for the WNBA with the Minnesota Lynx and there was a guy passing out cards for women’s football. The league was just starting. I took a card, tried out and 17 years later I’m still playing.
Allyson Hamlin: That’s crazy, this is your 17th season?
TM: Yep, and my knees feel every last year.
Allyson, you got involved through flag football, How did you transition from flag to contact?
AH: I was playing softball at the time and I had a teammate who said she thought I’d be really good at flag football, so I tried it. The Divas head coach at the time, Ezra Cooper, started recruiting from that league. I actually didn’t play the first year because I didn’t think it was going to kick off. I remember going to a game that year just to see what it was about and realizing I had made a mistake. So, I went out for the team the next year, and here we are. It’s the greatest sport on the planet by a mile.
AH: There’s no comparison.
What did your families say when you told them you were going to play football?
AH: Oh, they were supportive. I grew up playing with boys in other sports, so they loved it. In fact, my dad purchased the team in 2004 so it became kind of a family affair.
TM: You can’t beat that. I’ve been playing sports all my life and I just needed something to keep me in sports. As long as I was playing and happy, they didn’t care.
Allyson what’s it like to play for a team owned by your father?
AH: The key is that I was already established as the quarterback before he bought the team. Had that not been the case it might have been a tougher experience, with nepotism. At the same time, he loves the team way beyond me and is a huge ambassador of the sport.
Trigger selects the grilled steak, Allyson has the roasted chicken and I choose the duck breast over taro root gnocchi.
Where are some of your favorite places to eat in Washington?
AH: I think I’m a little bit more of a foodie than this one here. She appreciates the southern cooking, real simple.
TM: I am real simple. I like Fogo, but I’ve got to go in there with a serious appetite and I go in there and eat and drink all night.
AH: My mom lives around the corner, so I’m down here a lot. I love Zaytinya, Brasserie beck, Blue Duck Tavern. I was at Corduroy last week, which is a nice spot. But I’ve never been here so I was excited to try it.
If you could only eat one cuisine for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
TM: Steak. All day. I like skirt steak.
AH: I’m with her on that, but I’d take filet. I really like the way American food has transitioned in the last 10 years as well.
Now tell me about these nicknames you both have, Smooth and Trigg. How did they come about?
TM: Isn’t it obvious? She’s smooth and I’m just Trigg.
AH: (laughing) How long have you been Trigger?
TM: Almost 25 years, since my sophomore year of college.
AH: How’d you get it?
TM: My jumpshot was like the best thing that ever happened in college, and so my teammates called me trigger. It just stuck.
You both have pretty intense day jobs: Allyson as a homicide detective with the Prince George’s County Police Department and Trigger as a correctional officer. And you play football year-round on top of that. Tell me what a typical day is like.
TM: In season, we get up early in the morning, work all day, go home and try to get a 30- minute nap before you rush to football practice. I’ll get home around 10:30 and just try to get my mind right and relax. Then you do it all over again the next day. It can be monotonous, but it’s what we want to do. I can’t see myself not playing football so next year I am going to have to find a hobby.
Is this your last year?
TM: It’s got to be. I’ve got things I need to do that I’ve put aside because of football. It’s so time consuming that I can’t get anything situated. My girlfriend wants to have babies, and buy a house and right now I just want to play football, so I really need to make time for the other parts of my life.
AH: It’s funny you call it a day job, because I work 65-70 hours a week, and it’s on a rotating basis. Right now I have the next homicide that occurs, so if I got a call right now, I’d leave and because of that I have no life. It is tough for me to keep schedules and commitments. It’s the craziest thing in the world but it’s also an awesome job.
Have you ever missed a game for work?
AH: I’ve never missed a game for work.
TM: Knock on wood please.
AH: My coworkers and I all take care of each other. But in all my years there has only been one time that we’ve had a case come up during a game, and it wasn’t mine it was one of my partner’s so I was able to go afterwards. But my whole squad comes to all the games, and they would have my back.
What are your goals post football? Do you have a dream career?
TM: I want to be a chef, go to cooking school and get my certificate and get a food truck actually.
AH: I really can’t imagine my post football days, even though I know they will come soon. I hope to still be involved somehow, but I want a family too and its hard because you either have to be all in or out. You can’t dip and dab. We do have some retired players as part of the coaching staff, which is amazing, and I would love to be a part of it, but it’s tough to stay away and not have it be your entire life.
TM: A couple players have asked me already if I am going to coach next year. And I’m like if coach I might as well play, because then I’ll be around. I have to walk away from it completely or I’m going to play.
What lessons have you learned from football that can be applied to daily life?
AH: Just seeing the confidence that football has built in my teammates, and how it transcends their whole life is really cool. They are doing something they never thought they could do and they feel powerful.
TM: Absolutely. After last week’s game, I work at the same place as one of the other girls, Dee, and she was walking around with the biggest swagger I’ve ever seen in my life. Her confidence is at a peak right now because of football. You get on this team and it elevates everything. Your confidence goes through the roof because you are part of something big; something bigger than you.
Whom do you admire within the franchise?
AH:. I really admire our front office, who are all men, and have had our back from day one. They believed in us way more than we believed in ourselves, in a sport that really isn’t backed by men yet.
TM: I feel the same way, but at the same time I look up to Aly here. Always have.
How is the fan support both of the Divas and women’s football as a sport in general?
TM: It is a struggle for sure.
AH: I always thought if we built it, they would come. I really did. But we’ve been successful for a long time now and I don’t know if it’s just that there is so much going on in D.C. or Saturday nights are tough for people, but it is not where I thought it would be.
What do you think it will take to build that support?
AH: We need more reputable news outlets covering us and taking us seriously. For example, the Washington Post doesn’t even have a box score for us. We have local papers giving us coverage, but we need to get some of the big guys.
Do you think there are any misconceptions about women’s football?
AH: When you say women’s football, if people have never seen it before, they automatically picture these big, scary women who look like men, that aren’t feminine. It’s not the reality, and its an overall societal issue to think women cannot possibly be feminine and powerful at the same time. It’s slowly changing, and we’ve seen it progress over the last 20 years, but people still think we don’t hit hard, we don’t know the sport, it’s powder-puff, all that crap.
How do you deal with that?
TM: Tell them to come to a game and see for themselves. I was at dinner the other night with my girl and I was wearing my Divas shirt because I wear it everywhere and this guy came up and asked me if I play. I told him yes, and he goes “y’all are bad ass.” I asked him who he knew on the team, but he didn’t know anyone. He was coming to games just to watch.
What do you see for the future of women’s football?
TM: I am hoping it grows, but I’ve been hoping that for 17 seasons. Hopefully before I am 60 I can see it on TV every Saturday. They’ve got pool and badminton and everything, why not women’s football?
AH: For D.C.,a championship run would really help the sport.
The Divas are one of the most well-known and successful teams in women’s tackle football. You rank in the top five in women’s football history in victories, seasons played, games played, playoff appearances, and division championships. Currently, you are undefeated. To what do you attribute that success?
TM: The hard work that is put in. There is a commitment level here on this team that you want to keep up with. When you come from another team you realize how much more committed the Divas are. It’s a whole other level.
AH: We’ve had a lot of other players come to us from other teams and they’ve never been challenged or they were in an environment that wasn’t conducive to success or being their best selves. They come here and they blossom into different people, on and off the field.
You both have one championship under your belts from 2006, but what will it take for the Divas to bring it home again?
AH: We’ve been fighting to get back there, and this year I think we truly have what it takes. I’ve felt like we had championship caliber teams many times but in recent years, this is by far the best team we’ve had.
TM: We just need to stay hungry. We are physically beast. When it comes down to it, it is going to be mental. We have to see how we handle adversity, because we haven’t seen any yet this season.
Favorite TV Show?
TM: “The Walking Dead”
AH: I don’t watch a lot of TV but I did watch American Idol this year. I used to watch a lot of CNN but being a police officer it’s very painful these days and I don’t watch it much anymore.
Last book you read?
TM: Coach Cooper’s Coaching Philosophies. I was reading it this morning.
AH: That is our old coach who passed away, his book. Our coach is giving it out to a player each week that is like him, or the way he was. “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed was my last book.
Best piece of advice you’ve been given?
TM: When I’m ready to give up, I hear my dad saying “Don’t quit, baby. “
AH: Ezra Cooper used to always say “It’s not about the name on the back but the name on the front.” It relates to everything. You’re playing for the guy next to you, not yourself.
If you could sit next to anyone at a dinner party, alive or dead, who would it be?
TM: Tupac. I still want to know what happened man.
AH: My grandfather [Dallas Townsend]. He was a CBS News anchor for 40 years and covered all the presidential elections. I would have a million questions for him.
See the edited interview from our June 2015 issue below: