The Diesel Daisies are celebrating 20 years, a journey of sports, camaraderie, friendships and fun, said one of the team founders, Linda Wagner.
"My, how time flies," said Wagner, 59. "We started out as a C-league team and over the years have added a more competitive B-team. The Daisies compete in flag football tournaments around the country."
Wagner and others were playing softball decades ago on a team called The Pitts, which was sponsored by the restaurant Zazu, owned by Julie Ansell and Orla O'Keeffe. At a party one night, Ansell had the idea that they should get a team together for the upcoming flag football season. All agree and thought it was a great idea, Wagner said.
But, "we had no idea what we were getting into," she said, laughing. "The idea of playing flag football sounded like fun, and provided us all with an opportunity to see our friends after softball. Unfortunately for us all the other teams had a bit of experience. The rules were a lot different back then and the game was much more physical. I can remember not being able to walk up the subway steps on Monday mornings because I was so stiff from the beatings during the games [played on Sundays]. There were no rules on attire and we had teammates who played in jeans and cut-offs."
The Daisies didn't have a playbook back then, "but we had a lot of enthusiasm … and beer," Wagner said. "It took us six games before we got our first first-down, and when that happened, all the players and fans stormed the field as if we just won the Super Bowl. We had to have won at least one game because I don't remember going 0-8. After the games, the team would hang out and nurse our wounds."
Memories, though, are priceless.
"I remember one Sunday, a couple of weeks into the [first] season, and we pulled up to the field and saw our opponents who were rather large and tough-looking with mouth guards on chains. I realized that knee-knocking caused by fear was a very real phenomenon," Wagner said. "After a couple of seasons, we started to get more organized and even used some plays from my son's junior football team, and a player from another team actually commented on how unbelievable it was that we actually had a play book.
"One particular game was getting a bit heated, with 'pleasantries' disguised as expletives being hurled by players on both sidelines. One of my teammates came over to some of us who were yelling and asked why we can't all just get along and have fun. I remember thinking that either she was Mary Poppins or I was Attila the Hun. We call her Mary Poppins to this day."
Wagner and BJ Negrete are only ones still playing from the '94 team.
Daisies have included lawyers, doctors, teachers, cement workers, policewomen, artists, accountants, engineers, social workers, hair stylists, librarians, professors, researchers, bakers, and even a judge. "That we all connected is magical," Wagner said.
The team's first sponsor was Marina Cartage, hence the name Diesel Daisies. Another long-time sponsor, Tre Kroner, still supports the Daisies. A current sponsor is Mullen's Bar and Grill. "In addition, we have a very loyal fan base, many of whom have watched our team since the beginning," Wagner said. "We always thought about advertising for fans with coolers, but word of mouth did the trick.
"We have a reputation for being a boisterous, fun-loving team. During one game, after being a couple of touchdowns ahead, the offense scored, and the players went off the field over to the grill and were munching on hot dogs and beer, never noticing that the defense intercepted [the ball]."
The referee actually had to whistle for the offense to return.
The Daisies competed in the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago, which Wagner said was an honor.
"We played against a couple of teams we met many a weekend before [the Games started] in our Sunday league, but here we were playing on the Midway in Hyde Park. It was unique and memorable," Wagner said. "We organized fans to come and watch us compete, including a famous mystery author and co-workers in uniforms and noise-makers. The crowning achievement was winning a bronze medal. The victory party at Carol's Speakeasy was also unique and memorable."
One season, the Daisies played in the local championship game, but lost to a team called Mood Swings, which ended up in the competitive A-Division. Another season, the Daisies went 8-0 before losing in the playoffs.
The Daisies also have dressedand playedin costumes around Halloween, which was a tradition until the league clamped down on attire, Wagner said. "We also played in a game that became known as the Mud Bowl, where everyone was slipping and sliding and the referees couldn't keep up with the flags.
"During one game, our coach, who is a mild-mannered Swede, was seeking clarification from the ref on a call, to which the ref yelled to her across the field, 'Shut your pie hole.'"
Wagner is certain the Daisies will continue to shine as the team always has an influx of new, younger players. "My partner Janine [Hoft] and I have talked about retiring from playing, but will come out to the games and broadcast play by play, which will certainly include color-commentary.
"The team is always rejuvenating, reinventing itself. We look for fun, competitive women to join the Daisies. We have standards. Rookies have certain 'responsibilities' to help the team. We've had great coaches throughout the years, and our two teams are guided today by Leslie Wallin, BJ Negrete, Linda Horwitz, and Sally Kolin. Sometimes during games it's really hard to hear their instructions, but they love us anyway.
The Daisies were the lone female team competing last summer in the annual Pride Bowl, held in Chicago, featuring teams from across the U.S. and Canada.
"It was a great experience to wear our blue and yellow and hear the name 'Diesel Daisies' pass the lips of new competitors and officials," Wagner said. "We were treated as royalty, although we did not actually score more points than any team we played. We won the tournament's Spirit Award. We so enamored one referee that he pulled a Daisy aside and whispered he would look the other way if she just clocked her opponent."
Wagner's ever-present humor side shined brightly when asked her 2014 goals: "Stay out of the ambulance, hospital and emergency room," she said.
Wagner, who usually plays offensive guard and has been nicknamed "Shredder," said the team's longevity is attributed to "the fun, the competitiveness, the frustration release that comes with playing flag football."
Wagner added: "Not to sound like a clichÃ©, but the Diesel Daisies are really one big family. These guys are my besties. I feel very lucky to be able to be a part of this wonderful group of women. There's not one I couldn't call at 3 a.m. … well, except for one or two.
"We sat down and tried to remember all of the people who have played for the football team over the years and the list was over 100. Once a Daisy, always a Daisy. Each year we celebrate our season with a Daisy Banquet, where we are all treated to very creative awards, written and performed by our coaches, BJ and Leslie Wallin.
"I never thought we'd be at it this long, but it's really rewarding. We laugh a lot and enjoy being with each other. Then there's the babies. A number of Daisies are mothers, some even grandmothers. The Daisy seedlings can be found on the sidelines at most games. It's a family affair."
Here's a look at some of the members of the 1994 Diesel Daisies:
Julie Ansell, who now lives in San Francisco, is a lawyer who was the executive director of Chicago's Lawyers' Committee for Better Housing and currently serves a chair of the board of Frameline, a nonprofit media arts organization that produces the San Francisco International LGBT Film Festival.
Linda Wagner is now the chief financial officer of the Chicago Foundation for Women.
BJ Negrete started the competitive Daisies team and is its quarterback. She is an artist and laborer.
Cheryl Tadin and Sandra King worked for the City of Chicago. Tadin's brother's trucking company was the team's first sponsor.
Kathleen McNamara was known as "Mary Poppins" for her sunny disposition and intrepid optimism, is a social worker with a suburban Police Department.
Abby McEnany is an actor who performs internationally with Second City.
Gina Olson was a student and activist who currently works at the University of Chicago.
Cathy Traceski, known as Cat Lady, played most of her football career as wide receiver with the Daisies until she moved to Connecticut last year.