Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan
Former Providence Christian Academy student Brittany Morgan, now 26, is the starting quarterback for the Atlanta Steam of the Legends Football League. The Atlanta Steam play their home games at the Arena at Gwinnett Center in Duluth.
IF YOU GO
• What: Atlanta Steam vs. Omaha Heart
• When: 7 p.m. Saturday
• Where: Arena at Gwinnett Center
• More info: Gwinnett’s expansion team from the Legends (formerly Lingerie) Football League will play its inaugural home game. Tickets range from $15 to $75. For more information, visit lflus.com.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- Let's go ahead and get a few things out of the way.
Yes, the Atlanta Steam is an all-female team that recently kicked off play in the Legends Football League.
Yes, that organization, prior to a recent rebranding effort, used to be called the Lingerie Football League. And yes, the ladies on this team -- which will play a pair of home games at the Arena at Gwinnett Center -- will be gathering on the gridiron essentially in bikinis, shoulder pads and helmets.
There's no denying any of that, or that barely covered flesh is part of the draw for an organization that has filled stadiums across the country (and Canada).
But don't sleep -- the league is full contact, 7-on-7 tackle football. Scantily clad or not, these girls are playing ball. Hard.
Just ask Brittany Morgan, the quarterback of the Atlanta Steam.
"I think I only didn't hit the turf two or three times," she said last week, fresh off her team's 48-0 beatdown at the hands of the Jacksonville Breeze.
About 5-foot-10 in cleats, Morgan grew up in Dacula and spent her early high school years as a standout athlete (in pretty much every sport) at Providence Christian Academy. Her family moved to Nashville, where she lettered in nine different sports and was one of six national finalists for the Wendy's High School Heisman.
Morgan came back home to attend UGA on an academic scholarship. She ended up getting an MBA and winning a few flag football national championships (yes, that's a thing) while she was there, too.
Through flag football, she came to know a few girls who played for the LFL's Tampa (now Jacksonville) franchise. They tried to recruit her, but the drive was too far.
When she heard Atlanta/Gwinnett was getting an expansion franchise, though, she was the third person to show up for a November tryout in Fairburn. Morgan arrived even before the folks from the LFL did.
"I have two older brothers; I've played football forever," Morgan said. "I was always the freakshow at Georgia tailgates that was in my dresses and my heels and throwing the football 30 or 40 yards."
She made the team, and -- on a squad made up of former high school and college athletes -- was eventually crowned quarterback.
On Saturday, she'll led the Steam into its first home game in Duluth.
"She keeps a cool head, she throws strikes and she's doing a great job," said Steam head coach Ray Norell, a former offensive lineman for the Arena Football League's Georgia Force. "She has the intelligence, she has the demeanor, the cool, calm, collected persona that she gives out."
Athletes are athletes; but women learning the ins and outs of football is a little more complicated.
"We have to do what many men have done in 18 years, in like three or four months," Morgan said. "All of our linemen -- that's not a natural movement for girls, they haven't done that in any other sport. There's a very sharp learning curve and it's been really fun to watch everybody do it."
The team began biweekly practices at several different facilities between Cumming and Norcross a couple weeks before Christmas, and have been going on ever since. Norell and five other coaches, most former arena league players, run practices (most of which take place late at night and well past midnight) like they would with anyone else -- long, tough and honest.
Morgan said trainers have her and her teammates in the gym six days a week ("not for looks, for strength"), and she's constantly studying film and the 100-something-play playbook. Morgan has even sought out University of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray for a little tutelage.
The rules are generally akin to those in arena football (a shorter and narrower field), plus there's no punting and very few occasions where special teams come into play at all.
"Some of these girls will run through a wall and keep going," Norell said. "There's a lot of the girls that are really tough, really strong, really athletic."
Then there are the uniforms.
The league has ditched its traditional lingerie-y look and no longer makes its players wear lacy garters or choker necklaces. The uniforms are still plenty revealing, but have adopted a more high-performance bikini type of feel.
Morgan said she was hesitant at first (as were her parents, briefly), but was all in after watching a game and seeing the women "playing for real."
"It's been interesting," she said. "I think there's always a moment where they're like, 'Oh, wow, that's ... different.' But they've been really supportive. My dad's excited. They knew it was just like me."
"For dad, he was like, 'OK, yeah, I can see that,'" she added. "And he was like, 'Of course you're the quarterback, because you want to be the captain and you want to be helping the team.'"
No doubt some will call the LFL and its attire demeaning, objectifying or just plain objectionable. But Morgan doesn't see it that way -- the uniform, she said, is just a means to an end.
"If that's what it takes, then great," Morgan said. "We just want to show that we've got what it takes to play. I look at it like it's what a beach volleyball uniform is. So there are other women's sports that are wearing the exact same uniform, if not smaller, so it's almost a non-issue. Plus I've got shoulder pads on and a helmet and a mouthpiece in, big long socks. There's not a whole lot of skin actually showing."
That final statement is a debatable one, but one thing isn't: Turf burn, no matter where it's at, isn't any fun.