Darcy Leslie was ready to retire after the 2012 season, which ended last August in Pittsburgh, on the loser's side of the national championship game.
Leslie and her Chicago Force teammates were on the bus heading home and, she admits a year later, "I was done; I didn't want to feel that way again."
A few of her teammates talked to her, encouraged her to returncommitting that the team was going to return to the final game of the Women's Football Alliance (WFA) near-four month season, which includes eight regular-season games.
Sure enough, those words became reality and the dream of Leslie and her Force band of sisters became reality on Saturday night, August 3, in San Diego, as Chicago cruised to a convincing 81-34 win over the Dallas Diamonds to win the first Force national championship, avenging two previous championship game losses.
"I couldn't be happier with the season we put together," said Force owner Linda Bache. "We left no doubt, we are the best team in women's footballand everyone knows it."
"It was nice to put it all together and pretty much show the WFA what an amazing team we are. It was awesome to finally come out victorious," said Leslie, a defensive star. "Going into the game, we knew that if we played our game, we would come out victorious. Everyone and everything was rolling on all cylindersoffense, defense and special teams. We just fought, fought, fought, and never let downand it showed in the score that we were ready.
"This was my sixth season, and I've kept coming back because I've wanted to win the national championshipand it felt great. We worked our butts off during the off season, and during the season, to get back to the national championship game."
Leslie also in San Diego learned she was named the WFA National Conference Defensive Player of the Year after collecting 68 tackles and 18 tackles for a loss this season.
The award, she said, "was a surprise, but was a great feeling to be recognized and see that all of my hard work paid off."
In addition, Chicago quarterback Sami Grisafe was named the WFA National Conference Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for more than 3,600 yards and 49 touchdowns. Plus, Linda Bache was named the WFA Owner of the Year. This was Bache's 8th year as an owner, and the team has made the playoffs every year.
"It was really neat to win that [award]," Grisafe said. "But a quarterback is no good without an offensive line and receivers, and I was fortunate to have an amazing line and amazing receivers. Everything I accomplished this year was a product of the people I got to play with on [offense].
"Darcy obviously deserved her award, too; she had a great year. I'm so happy for Linda, who has given us the chance to live out our dream. I can't think of two people more deserving than those two."
Grisafe added that Force coach John Konecki was "robbed" of Coach of the Year accolades.
Grisafe and teammate Jessica Javelet were named the co-MVPs of the National Championship game as Grisafe threw for 526 yards and eight touchdowns, while Javelet had three runs for 25 yards, 11 receptions for 225 yards, and four touchdowns.
Grisafe also scored the team's first touchdownon a 20-yard run.
"That [rushing touchdown] really sparked me, got me excited," Grisafe said. "It was supposed to be a handoff, but I pulled [the ball] and ran the ball. That was a really big fire-up moment for me and the team. I'll never forget that moment."
But whether there are more magical moments in Grisafe's football career is in question. She might retire to spend more time focusing on her music career.
"Talk to me in four months; we'll see," Grisafe said. "The question is, will [football] help or hinder my [music] career. I feel great, had a great season, and can do even better next year, but I can't answer [if I'm returning] right now."
For Leslie, though, there's no doubt she'll be back in uniform next spring.
"One [championship] isn't enough … dynasty, baby!" Leslie said, laughing
Coach Konecki said the Force was "the closest to perfect" in San Diego that the team has played all season in all three phases of the game: offense, defense and special teams.
"We took control early and never were going to rescind it," Konecki said. "Sami probably played the best game I've seen her play."
The Force led 62-20 at halftime.
Leslie led the defense in tackles, followed by Jen Dulski, Angel Smith, Melissa Nelson and Kim Marks. Candace Griffin and Dorian Bridges each had interceptions.
"We were very well prepared for the game," Tami Engelman said. "I just think everyone wanted it so bad that we weren't going to let anything get in our way."
Engelman, in her fourth season on the team, even played some downs on defense. She has been an offensive guard for most of the past year and a half.
"It's been a storybook year for the Chicago Force, absolutely great," Engelman said.
The championship was particularly emotional for Engelman and teammate Liz Okey, who were both injured at the end of the 2012 season and missed the championship game in Pittsburgh.
"For this to be my first national championship game, and to come away with the win, it's surreal," Engelman said.
Engelman was one of several Force players carrying and leading the end-of-the-game Gatorade-tub dousing of Konecki and Bache.
It was all smiles on the Force side of the field, as Chicago coasted past Dallas to avenge the 2007 national championship game between the same two teams, played in Chicago and won by Dallas.
"This is the top of the top, definitely. I've been working seven years of my life to achieve what we achieved in San Diego," Grisafe said. "I can't even tell you how good it feels.
"This probably was the best game we've played all year; we rose to the occasion under high pressure, and we finished. We took care of business, period. We were a bunch of hungry women and a coaching staff that wanted this national championship more than anything; that's what it came down to."