Jane Reynolds starting playing football before the league existed, back when the team was just a tiny group of family members rousted together by a brother who couldn't stay still after leaving the Detroit Lions.
Reynolds admits she let her brother prod her into playing. At first she feared that football wasn't her speed -- even women's flag football, without tackling. Too rough, she thought.
But her brother, Carl Carr -- a linebacker with the Lions during the mid-1980s -- would not quit nagging.
"He kept saying, `C'mon, c'mon, let's do this,' " Reynolds said. "I was thinking, `Okay, he wants us to act like men now.' "
But when at last Reynolds agreed to play, the other women in the family followed in a chain reaction. Her sister joined the team. Her niece joined. Then two cousins and her another brother's wife. Even Carl's girlfriend joined. Both brothers coached, as well as Reynolds's own husband.
Reynolds, 26, plays with the Badd Girls, Prince William County's women's flag football team, part of a league that covers the Washington area. Back in 1995, Reynolds said, there were only three women's flag football teams in the region. Since the Metropolitan Area Women's Flag Football League was formed in 1997 by Carl Carr and a friend, the number of teams has grown to 11.
When Reynolds's team got started in 1995, it was known as the Fairfax County Jaguars. The team has since changed names and counties. The members are diverse: professionals and soccer moms, a receptionist, a photographer, a securities specialist, a graduate student. Players range in age from late teens to early forties.
Nowadays, Reynolds is the team's head captain, playing running back, wide receiver and cornerback, and was voted MVP last year. While she and her league-mates pull flags attached to each others' clothing in lieu of tackling, there's still blocking and shoving in flag football, and Reynolds says the roughness has become part of the appeal for her.
"The next day, half of [the women] can't go to work because they're so sore from being pushed or shoved," she said, with just a touch of proud overstatement.
"A lot of people hear you play football, and they're like, `Football?' " said her sister, Lynn Carr, who has been playing with the team for three years. But the energy of the sport, Carr said, is empowering.
"When I first started playing . . . I got hit so hard I got knocked down," said Carr, 31. "You have to learn how to defend yourself. You have to learn to hit as hard as they hit."
Four family members currently play on the team of 20 women, and Carl Carr still coaches. But the sisters say the blood connection is not necessarily an advantage. "We get no breaks," said Lynn Carr. "When you're being coached by your brother, you make a mistake, you're going to hear about it in front of everybody."
The team had its glory days in '96, when it ranked first among area teams. Now Badd Girls ranks fourth among 11, but the sisters say they're working to climb back to No. 1.
The Badd Girls practice three times a week during the spring and fall seasons, not to mention the time the players spend together at team gatherings and fund-raisers. The team is looking ahead to a tournament in Key West, Fla., in February, and the women want to be able to send everyone. Football, the players say, has come to mean a lot more to them than they ever could have imagined.
"It's the only thing I have to look forward to brighten my day," said Carr, who plays right guard and defensive end. "Right now, football is my life."
CAPTION: Members of the Badd Girls, from left, Jane Reynolds, quarterback Debra Troell, Clarissa Ward and Jane Mitchell huddle with other players during a game last month of the Metropolitan Area Women's Flag Football League.
CAPTION: Joi Smith, right, who suffered a cut forehead and black eye in a previous game, puts in her mouth protector before taking the field. Below, Purple Bombers' Brenda Watkins, carrying the ball, is stopped by Badd Girls players Trina Denny, Jane Reynolds, with flag, and Katrina Terry.
CAPTION: Badd Girls, from left, Kimberly Coast, Carolyn Carr, Jane Carr and Clarissa Ward clap to psyche themselves up before a game.