European Spotlight: Tamara Shaw, queen of the German gridiron
Women — blond Valkyries, I’m assuming — playing American football in Germany? That’s a mind-boggling concept. How well did you know the game?
You know what a blitz is? Well, we had an “[expletive] blitz.” That’s where everyone on defense blitzes before the ball is snapped. The reason is, if one person on defense jumps, it’s offsides. But if everyone blitzes, it looks [to the referees] like somebody on offense moved.
I love it. The strategy. I always say football is Schach, chess. The difference is, you play it on the field with real people.
How did a nice German girl like you get on the football field?
My boyfriend played football for the Dillinger Steelhawks, near Saarlouis. All the girlfriends got together and said, “We’re going to make a team.” We got more players from Saarbrücken. The Neunkirchen Cobras. All the girlfriends from three different teams made the female teams.
You must have been a novelty in soccer-crazy Germany!
In the early ’90s, everyone knew us. We were in the newspaper. They were writing about us. “A girls football team!” People couldn’t believe girls were playing football! A novelty? Yeah, kind of. Because [American football] wasn’t really popular at the time. Of course, we had a lot of guys come watch practice. Making fun of us. But when they saw us actually tackle each other, they’d say, “Whoa!”
Did you get enough women to play much?
No, not enough for a league. We didn’t have official games, just scrimmages. But we practiced with the guys.
It was more like flag football. Not tackling, drills. Movement drills. How you tackle somebody. Passing drills. They made fun of us playing … but then [scrimmaging] they were nice. They were pushing us. It wasn’t like they thought we were clowns.
I’m guessing there’s a difference between getting hit by a man, and by a woman?
We were playing flag football, and this one guy wasn’t thinking and hit me. No helmet. No shoulder pads. He literally knocked the air out of me. I got up, but I was shocked. I wasn’t prepared. In refereeing, I got knocked down a couple of times, on purpose and by accident.
So, you refereed too?
In Germany, every team has to have three refs, and you switch out. Nobody wants to do it. I said, “Heck with it, I’ll do it,” and I got my referees license.
Ever throw any guys out of the game?
I threw a flag on this one guy for a facemask. He started cussing me, so I threw the (field position) beanbag. He kept cussing me, so I threw my hat. I took my belt off and threw it. I told him, “OK, I have nothing else to throw. You’re outta’ here! You’re gone!” He left the field and went and took a shower.
Wow, no wonder Joe fell for you. You know football! Does Joe play football?
When I broke up with my German boyfriend, I met Joe and I hooked him up with the team. I stopped playing, but he played until he got deployed to Bosnia in 1996.
You miss the game?
I would love to do it again. I’d like to get the girls together and see how tough we still are. See if we can still do 50 push-ups. Now I probably couldn’t do 10.
Interview by Terry Boyd.
Hometown: Saarlouis, Germany
Military relation: Spouse of Staff Sgt. Joe Shaw, Headquarters, Headquarters Battery, 4th Battalion, 27th Field Artillery, 1st Armored Division, Baumholder
Avocation: One of the first female German football players and referees
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