Before ‘Captain Marvel’ women had a ‘Quarterback Princess’

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Since women were granted the right to vote, there hasn’t been a bigger moment in the history of the fairer sex.

Or so we’ve been told by the giant feminist PR machine surrounding the release of “Captain Marvel,” the first female-led superhero movie out of Marvel Studios.


A very fit Brie Larson is playing the part of Carol Danvers, a ‘90s air force pilot who acquires alien powers and a really cool blue superhero suit — the cornerstone of a soon-to-be money printing operation for Disney.

In the lead up to its release Friday, there have been endless think pieces on its importance to young girls, criticisms of male opinions of the film and, of course, people fighting on Twitter about it all.

Maybe in the Marvel universe, this is an IPO for the vagina. And hey, the more the merrier. But here on Earth, I was shocked to learn that we chicks have been starving for female superheroes.

Captain Marvel, I’d like for you to meet “Quarterback Princess,” whose super power was connecting with her wide receivers while an opposing lineman taunted her with kissy sounds — and then cleaning up and winning the title of Homecoming Princess in the prettiest white strapless gown you’ve ever seen.

With International Women’s Day and Captain Marvel squatting all week in my social media feeds, I decided to re-watch the 1983 CBS movie of the week, which enchanted me so much as a kid.

Starring Helen Hunt, the movie is based on the true story of Canadian teen Tami Maida, who moves to a small Oregon town and wants to try out for the high school football team, called the Grizzlies. (Hunt is also joined by a young Tim Robbins, Daphne Zuniga and “Blue Crush” director John Stockwell).

This being the early ‘80s, the townsfolk don’t want a girl tossing the pigskin around. It’s just not ladylike. Maida, who has to fight to even try out for the team, goes to a town hearing where the All-State center’s father — a Boss Hogg understudy — gives an impassioned plea to give her pompoms instead of shoulder pads.

But under the recently-passed Title IX, federal law dictates that the coach of the Grizzlies has to allow Maida a try out. It turns out she has a good arm and the cool demeanor becoming of a QB. She makes the team, and the rotary-dial phone in her home never stops ringing as reporters bombard her with media coverage.

Not that it halts the harassment. “Concerned” mothers corner Maida’s mom near a cantaloupe display in the grocery store, and Maida herself is the target of catty attacks from the girls at school, especially the cheerleaders.

Helen Hunt is a winner in "Quarterback Princess," circa 1983.
Helen Hunt is a winner in “Quarterback Princess,” circa 1983.CBS Home Entertainment

Unfortunately for the trash talkers, the girl quarterback can win football games. She earns the starting role and her teammates rally around her. But she doesn’t quite know where she fits in. The cute guy (Stockwell) who has his eye on her is a champion logger (what’s up, Oregon?), and instead of taking her on a proper date he leads her into the woods to do logging things because, well, she is an athlete.

She only has one girl friend (Kathleen Wilhoite), and her sister (Zuniga) is jealous of all the attention she is getting. Nobody knows what to make of Maida, least of all herself. She is entrenched in an identity crisis because, after all, how can a football player simply take off her pads and morph back into a run-of-the-mill ‘80s American teenage girl?

Like the real life Maida, our QB wins Homecoming Princess, proving girls can have it all: gridiron and glamour. And, this being a TV movie, she also wins over her most vocal critics.

But re-watching this as an adult, I came away with a much different appreciation for the movie, and the screen version of Maida.

Hunt perfectly portrayed a quiet but effective leader who got what she wanted by simply working hard, being smart and relying on her passion and ability to carry her over the goal line.

She wasn’t leading a march down Main Street, she didn’t sell T-shirts or wear a pink hat for female athlete awareness. In fact, I would struggle to see Maida’s character in any of the boisterous feminist memes that fill up Instagram on a daily basis.

In a world where we’re told we have to be making a ruckus to make a difference, the Quarterback Princess’ quiet resolve taught us that there are a few ways to rule the universe.



By Kirsten Fleming

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