Family Tradition

Members of the Tampa Breeze take the field in a recent Lingerie Football League game. For former NFL QB Mark Rypien, the league is nothing to snicker at. He's a fan for a very good reason. Doug Murray/Icon SMI

When Super Bowl MVP quarterback Mark Rypien lost his 3-year-old son, Andrew, he grieved a thousand things, one of which was this: He'd never get to watch him play football.

Fast forward to this coming Friday night, when he will pace, fritter and sweat watching another one of his kids play quarterback -- his daughter.

Six-foot-tall Angela Rypien, 21, is the starting quarterback for the Seattle Mist in something called the Lingerie Football League, a kind of half-strip-show, half-football MTV concoction that actually involves serious football, if you can get past the thongs, garter belts and rug burns.

"I didn't want to see my daughter playing football in, basically, her underwear," says Rypien, now 49. "But she loves it, she's great at it, and it keeps her healthy. It's just unfortunate that the lingerie thing is what the league initially has to do to get it off the ground."

Sure … initially.

"The first time my dad saw me in my uniform, it was, well, awkward," says Angela Rypien, who threw for three touchdowns and no interceptions in her lingerie … debut, a 42-8 undressing of Green Bay. "But it's nothing different than if we'd gone to the beach that day. Actually, I probably wear more than if I was at the beach."

That's true. LFL players don't just wear lingerie. They wear a kind of lacrosse helmet and shoulder pads, too. And they're not wearing Free Spirit heels, either. They're wearing rubber cleats.

In fact, in the Mist's opening win, Rypien's dad was able to look past the Victoria's Secret getups and become what you'd expect -- an over-involved parent. Angela got tackled in the first quarter and punched the woman who did it to her, drawing a 15-yard unsportswomanlike penalty.

Rypien marched down from his seat, onto the sideline, took his daughter by the shoulder pads and scolded, "If you EVER do that again, I'll personally come down on this field and pull you out of the game!"

"I'm in as much danger of doing stupid things as the next fan," Mark Rypien admits.

When he calmed down, he began to realize that, in some ways, his daughter is better at this than he was. "She's more mobile," he says. "More athletic. She moves away from trouble. Then again, she doesn't have The Hogs in front of her."

Not a nickname that's ever going to catch on in women's football, by the way.

Angela isn't the only LFL player from royal football genes. The Tampa Breeze's starting running back is Courtney Wilder, daughter of former Pro Bowl Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back James Wilder.

"He doesn't care too much for the uniform, either," emails Courtney, who has three TDs in three games, "but he knows how much I enjoy the game, and he's happy to see me happy."

You hope it makes her happy because she doesn't get a dime for getting crushed in her skivvies. They play for free. Angela is a stylist in Seattle, and Courtney, who also plays some linebacker, is a program manager for youth charities.

"They're talking about paying us next year," Angela says.

Sure … next year.

Believe it or not, I played on a women's pro football team for a week -- the San Diego Scorpions -- for my book, "Sports from Hell." Female football players have problems male football players do not. For instance, one linebacker was called into her human resources office at work and faced a panel of concerned co-workers.

"We see the bruises, Jessica," they said. "You can tell us. Is there violence at home?"

"I've heard all kinds of things," says Angela, a single mother of a 2-year-old. "How I'm belittling myself. How I'm taking away from the name my dad built up. How I'm disrespecting my family. But my dad taught me at a young age not to worry about what other people say."

Besides, Angela was born to do this. When she was 10 and her dad was a backup on the 2001 Indianapolis Colts, Peyton Manning would watch her on walk-through Saturdays while Rypien took his turn. "I used to try and hide in Edgerrin James' locker," she admits. Her whole life, she's treated people like Aaron Rogers and Doug Williams as uncles. One of her closest friends -- and now unpaid advisers -- is former Washington State QB Ryan Leaf.

For her dad, it's a part of his life he thought he'd lost when his son Andrew died as a toddler of a brain tumor. Now Angela is playing not-quite-pro football and his other daughter, Amber, works at Under Armour after spending four years as a secretary's assistant in Nick Saban's office at Alabama. (She made playbooks.)

"You kind of think when your son is born, 'Yeah, my boy's gonna get out there and start knocking people around, his life is going to revolve around sports,'" Rypien says, wistfully. "But it turned out to be my daughters. Crazy."

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Rick Reilly is the 11-time National Sportswriter of the Year. He contributes essays and commentary to "Monday Night Countdown," "SportsCenter," and ESPN/ABC golf and tennis coverage. He's also the host of "Homecoming," ESPN's unique, one-hour interview show set in the hometowns of legendary athletes. For more Rick, check out the archive.

Feel like taking a detour from sane sports? Try Rick's latest book, "Sports from Hell."