The Pittsburgh Passion, a member of the Women’s Football Alliance, is kicking off the 2011 season this week with its first practice Tuesday and a new member of its ownership team, Pittsburgh Steeler hall-of-famer Franco Harris.
Harris officially takes over a “significant” share of the eight-year old organization’sownership this month, said Co-Owner and Head Coach Teresa Conn.
“For us, Franco has been a help from day one,” she said. “He has believed in us, mentored the program and just been outstanding to our team in every way a person could be.”
Harris declined to disclose how much of a stake he has in the organization, but he said he is pleased to be part of the team and looks forward to helping the league gain more fan acceptance.
“I love sports, I love football and as I mentioned, this is one sport they said women would never do and I am just thrilled to see they are doing it and at the level they are playing,” he said.
Conn noted that Harris’ official involvement with the team will add credibility since he is not only respected in the football world, but also in the business world.
This season, the team is returning to its home field of Cupples Stadium on the South Side following two seasons playing in Wexford. The team’s average game attendance is about 5,000, Conn said, and various television deals, including FSN Pittsburgh and a new deal with ESPN 3, have team games shown in 72 million homes.
The team is starting the season with 65 players, and its first game is slated for April 2 against the Pittsburgh Force in Ambridge. The season is the first under the umbrella of the Women’s Football Alliance, which was created to unify various women’s football leagues.
Harris recalled that when he first heard about women’s football, he was skeptical, but he caught his first game and his mind was changed.
“I was really surprised by the talent and the level of play,” he said, noting he became a fan. “One of the things that sold me on it was Teresa herself, not only the level of play she expects on the field — Pittsburgh Passion is always a top team — but the commitment to the community off the field.”
Harris is scheduled to speak to the team at its first practice and he has some words of advice he has been thinking about:
“Football is a great sport and that might be because of you, you have opened up this sport to women and you guys are the guys that are pioneering this. You are the people that are laying the groundwork for the future and it’s not easy and I realize the sacrifice that you are making with your family and jobs at this time to be able to play this sport.”
He added, “And I just want to thank them for their commitment and for what they are doing.”