Baltimore Charm, a new Lingerie Football League team, plays up sheer talent

The Baltimore Charm is one of Lingerie Football League's expansion teams this year. The team makes their home debut against the Tampa Breeze Friday.
By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2010

TRENTON, N.J. -- In the tunnels beneath the stadium, the locker room and rituals of the Baltimore Charm -- one of this year's expansion teams in the weird and wonderful Lingerie Football League -- offered a whole new version of pregame festivities.

For one, the players in the locker room are buxom young women wearing little more than René Rofé lingerie (tight-tight boy shorts, fringe-cut sports bras), shoulder pads, garters and small helmets with clear plastic visors across the face.

Second, the mascot for the Philadelphia Passion, Baltimore's opponent on this night, is a shirtless muscle-bound guy walking around in green face paint and gym shorts. "Dude, you're like a dude mascot for a women's football team? Really?" one of the Baltimore coaches asks him, sneering.

Down the hall, the last of the players are doing their green-screen and promotional shots for MTV2, which will be broadcasting the game. There's no fire pole involved, but the concrete floor has been sprayed down with water and the women are posed provocatively, with hips or shoulders turned to emphasize curves and cleavage. In a meeting room a few doors over, the television director reminds a cameraman to "get lots of great [rear] shots."

Then, just before kickoff, league commissioner Mitchell Mortaza (who grew up in Centreville) gets both teams together at midfield to urge them to taunt and intimidate at every opportunity. And when a receiver comes across the middle of the field, "knock that [expletive] out," he exhorts.

"Let's put on a show out there!" Mortaza barks.

Loathe it or leer at it, Baltimore, but the unholy cultural meltdown of attractive young women playing tackle football in bedroom lingerie comes to 1st Mariner Arena on Friday night when the Charm make their home debut against the Tampa Breeze. Sure, it sounds like Jell-O wrestling with shoulder pads, a league with infinite double-entendres ("True Fantasy Football" is the league's official tagline), but in just its second year, the 10-team league already has a nationwide cable television broadcast partner; corporate sponsors for everything from Rofé lingerie to Cutters, the sports performance gloves; and is finalizing a contract for a reality television series next summer.

Is this progress? Cultural decadence gone berserk? Mortaza says he's merely filling a market void. He came up with the idea for the LFL while hosting a promotional party at the 2003 Super Bowl. Despite the A-list halftime entertainment, Mortaza observed, people were leaving their seats in droves.

"If people had paid all that money to get to that game and wouldn't sit still for a free show, I thought of what must be happening in front of millions of television sets. . . . I thought, what would it take to get people to stay put?" He figured all you had to do was add beautiful women in skimpy outfits.

And thus the Lingerie Bowl was born as a pay-per-view event broadcast at halftime of the Super Bowl, featuring model-gorgeous women playing tackle football in their undies. Last year, this morphed into the Lingerie Football League, with teams (all backed by Mortaza) playing in cities such as New York, Miami, Dallas, Chicago and Seattle. Mortaza said attendance increased as the season went on by more than 20 percent.

"The good-looking athletes, particularly in women's sports, do much better [financially] than the rest," he says. "Look at [NASCAR's] Danica Patrick, [softball's] Jennie Finch and [volleyball's] Gabrielle Reece. What we wanted to create was a league of Danica Patricks."

The first year was turbulent, yes, with two franchises not making it. At least one game was canceled, some coaches were dismissed (Mortaza cites a problem of dating players) and some players quit, but Mortaza said the sexiest show on turf ended its initial season in the black by "six figures."

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