A perfect interview: What it meant to meet Linda JeffersonWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
It’s not often you get to meet a hero.
When I found out a certain guest was coming to the Newsradio 1370 WSPD “Eye on Your Weekend” studio on May 16, I will admit to being as nervous as I have ever been in advance of a show. Panel member Irene Alby revealed that it was a possibility that Linda Jefferson — the legend of Toledo women’s football, no, the legend of Toledo football, full stop — might appear on our show. Then, when word came that she would definitely be there, the knot in my stomach intensified.
I had no firsthand experience of Jefferson’s incredible feats on the gridiron. When the Toledo Troopers of the National Women’s Football League (NWFL) had the last of its seemingly impossible string of undefeated seasons in 1977, I had barely been born. But I had stories. My father told me of Jefferson and her team’s exploits years later, spinning tales of how dominant and incredible Jefferson was on the gridiron.
It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started looking up Jefferson’s stats and story myself. I was astonished. However incredible my father’s stories had made Jefferson’s on-field career sound, the reality was even more remarkable. In her first season, she ran for over 1,300 yards and 32 touchdowns. She would always seem to find a hole, always finding a way to score. Over the next four years, she would average 14.4 yards per carry. That’s impossible, right? No one could rack up such numbers.
Yet she did. She was the star of a team that would dominate the NWFL, racking up five — five! — undefeated seasons. In a row. Jefferson was the story of Toledo athletics in the 1970s. She was named the first “Woman Athlete of the Year” by WomenSports magazine in 1975. She was inducted into the Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002 — the first African-American woman to receive that honor.
Reading these records, these accolades, made me determined to do an interview with her. I had to know the stories behind the numbers. I tried in 2010 to track her down for a Toledo Free Press interview, but ran into dead ends.
The failure disappointed me more than most any missed opportunity I’ve had in my time with the paper. When a cover story written by Chris Schmidbauer appeared in 2011, detailing her life, career and work at the Jefferson Center’s Toledo Head Start program, I was as envious as it was possible to be.
And now, the opportunity was here. A movie is being made based upon the story of the Troopers and its heralded halfback, titled “Perfect Season.” (Understating it, to be sure, seeing as how the team had five of them. In a row.) Directed by Toledo native Brett Leonard, creator of sci-fi films like “The Lawnmower Man” and “Virtuosity,” and co-written by Guy Stout, the son of team coach Bill, the film will bring the largely forgotten tale of the Troopers to a whole new generation.
Leonard and Stout were also there that Friday morning to discuss the film. But the star — like always — was Jefferson herself. When I walked in and saw her there, it took more courage than I thought to introduce myself. As the show started, I was grateful that our opening segment was on Jam City — it took my mind off my nerves.
Then when the Jefferson segment began, all nerves flew away. She was as down-to-earth and humble as it is possible to imagine. Asked about her legacy on the field, she insisted repeatedly that it was a team effort — she couldn’t have done it without her fellow Troopers. It was always about “us.” Never her. And she was funny as hell, to boot.
When the segment was over, I finally confessed my passion for her story to Jefferson, telling her of my father’s tales of her accomplishments. I admitted that I had tried to track her down for a story — contacting the Semi-Pro Hall of Fame, exhaustively searching on Google and elsewhere, even seeking out old newspaper clippings — with no luck.
Jefferson smiled at me and said, “Well, did you ever try looking in the phone book?”
That’s No. 48. Always finding a way to score on you.
Tags: Brett Leonard, Chris Schmidbauer, Eye on Your Weekend, Irene Alby, Linda Jefferson, National Women’s Football League, Newsradio 1370 WSPD, NWFL, Semi-Pro Football Hall of Fame, Toledo Head Start program, Toledo Troopers, Toledo women's football, WomenSports magazine, “The Lawnmower Man”, “Virtuosity”