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Tri-Cities Thunder to play in Nissan Stadium

Tanner Cook • Nov 6, 2018 at 5:04 PM

The Tri-Cities Thunder women’s football team is entering its fifth season this winter after coming off a third consecutive appearance in the United States Women’s Football League championship game.

The Thunder won the championship in 2017 and are looking to get back to the title game this season, but they also have a big game in Nissan Stadium in Nashville on Dec. 30 — directly after the Titans host the Indianapolis Colts.

Women’s football is exactly like the high school version with the same set of rules, but the ball is just smaller. Also, the team is a nonprofit organization.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I cannot say how overwhelmed I was when the man talked to us about playing a game there,” said team co-owner and founder Jennifer Johnson. “Everything that has been going into planning this has to run through the NFL and it involves so many little things. It goes all the way down to the gear we can wear to where our ladies can park at the stadium and even the posters we can put out have to be NFL approved. It’s so time-consuming, especially where I play on the team as well as working with people behind the scenes.”

Johnson and her husband, David, got the idea for creating a women’s football team when the drive to the nearest team — in Chattanooga — three times a week became too much.

“We decided that there needed to be one closer,” she said. “We started from scratch and at the end of the first season, we had 13 players. However, in that first season, we went 8-0 and won our division. We even broke the scoring record for (our) league, but we ended up losing in the conference championship game.”

Now, four seasons later, the team has grown to 20 players and the ladies come from all walks of life.

“We have all sorts of ladies come out,” Johnson said. “This is like an outlet for them from their regular jobs of being nurses, doctors and others. This is when they get to come have fun. We hold all of our ladies to high expectations and we expect them to come to practice ready to run plays and work on fundamentals. A lot of them do their own personal workouts at home or at the gym to get better. They want to get better and I think that’s the reason we’ve had the quick success that we’ve had in such a short period of time.”

Winning the championship in 2017 was one of the best feelings in her life, Johnson said, but the opportunity to play in the same stadium where the Titans play will be something completely different.

“I really can’t compare the two feelings,” she said. “When you win a championship, you get to put the word ‘champion’ beside your name and no one can take that away from you. Getting to play in Nissan Stadium is an amazing opportunity and something that a lot of college or high school kids dream about.”

The team is also raising money to send children from the Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital to the game.

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