For the St. Louis SLAM’s Tiffany Pugh, the image seen on I-70 last May was a bummer.
While in commute, the hard-hitting linebacker for the local women’s professional tackle football franchise saw a billboard that promoted “St. Louis’ Football Team.”
It was a campaign for the Mizzou Tigers.
Pugh was frustrated…and rightfully so. In their fifteen season history, her squad had won three national championships, including back-to-back trophies in 2016 and 2017. Unfortunately for herself and her ring-wearing teammates, the organization suspended operations last season.
That was disappointing for the seven year veteran for numerous reasons. For starters, the SLAM wouldn’t wouldn’t be able to rightly defend their crown. Pugh knew she wouldn’t be able to take to the field with the squad that she’s been playing with since 2010.
Most importantly for Pugh, the SLAM’s absence would make people forget that winning professional football had existed in the city and getting audiences to return when they would inevitably return would be difficult.
“The SLAM has been around since 2003 yet so few people know that we’re here,” Pugh said. “I think people are missing out on good football. We obviously aren’t here for the fame. I definitely wouldn’t have lasted as many years as I have if that were the case, but it would be great if the city would eventually take notice and we could gain more local support and respect.”
The SLAM get a chance to regain that support as they return to the field for the first time in over twenty months this Saturday as they begin their 2019 campaign in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA) in a road contest with the Arkansas Wildcats.
“We are definitely excited to be back on the field this year,” Pugh said of the team’s return. “I don’t think we realized how football literally becomes life and a part of our normal day-to-day routines. I know I personally struggled with all of the free time that I wasn’t used to having.”
Saturday’s game in Benton marks the first of eight regular season SLAM games that includes the April 13 home opener against rival Kansas City.
St. Louis, competitors in the American Conference – Midwest Division, have used the last couple of weeks to shake the rust off.
“The weather finally broke, so we’ve been able to get out on the field more regularly,” said Pugh. “Being outside and being able to see the big picture definitely helps us kick up the intensity level. With the year off, I think our biggest obstacle was getting back in football shape and getting our conditioning back up. From a football knowledge or game perspective, I think the vets were able to mostly pick up where they left off.“
That familiarity to the playbook already makes the SLAM a projected post-season favorite even before the first snap as numerous players who were pivotal in the team’s back-to-back national championships make returns.
Quarterback Jamie Gaal threw for 1,248 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2017, seven of those snared by wide receiver Danielle Price. Running back Taylor Hay punched in four touchdowns while kicking 25 PATs behind an offensive line anchored by center Caitlin Ericson.
Altogether, the SLAM’s powerful offense racked up over 2,200 total yards in 2017 for a 300 yard per game average.
Even more impressive was St. Louis’ defense. In a collective that included Pugh, Keyonna Smith, Raven Williams and Kaylee Neutzling, the team only surrendered 137 points in thirteen games in 2017.
Despite the sabbatical, over a dozen rookies are a part of the team’s charter.
“They’ve collectively they’ve taken very well to the team philosophy, vision and our overall goals as an organization,” Pugh said of the new crop. “I credit that to our coaching staff. We had a team meeting during our first practice, and the coaches made it very clear what is expected of us. They are also, not afraid to hold us accountable, if they feel that we are not reaching those expectations.”
Their opponent this weekend, Arkansas Wildcats, looks to spoil the SLAM’s re-entry to WFA play and have high expectations themselves this season. The 2017 WFA Tier III National Champions won eleven straight games in 2018 before falling to the Orlando Anarchy in the tier’s trophy tussle last July.
Arkansas is propelled by an extremely powerful ground game, paced by running back Kiara Vinson, who scored twenty touchdowns last season. The defense is also stingy as in their eleven wins they recorded six shutouts.
Pugh states that the SLAM’s philosophy is always to “do what’s best for the team” and the motto is “We’re back!”
“To us, we’re back means can apply to a few different things,” she said. “We’re back together as a team. We’re back on the field. After not playing in 2018, it’s no longer our championship to defend. We’re back to show that we’re still a competitive football team, that hopes to be a contender for the championship this season. The team is eager. We’ve been practicing since January, so we’re definitely excited for Game Day and ready to hit someone other than our own teammates.”
Season tickets for the SLAM’s four-game schedule at St. Mary’s High School are $40 apiece and can be purchased AT THIS LINK.
For more information on the SLAM, go to their official website.
Arch City Media will provide continuous coverage of the SLAM for the 2019 season.