FORT WORTH, Texas -- In the NFL, while the guys play with their footballs, the women take care of business.
And they oversee plenty of business: financial, medical, legal, charitable and logistical. They negotiate, communicate, orchestrate and, most of all, ameliorate. Women, in other words, do everything in the NFL except play and coach.
But, make no mistake, even without stepping onto the field, they've changed the game: They've made it better.
Charlotte Jones Anderson is the Dallas Cowboys' executive vice president of brand management. Think about that: Think about managing the brand, meaning the image, reputation and marketability of the Cowboys. Their brand is one of the most valuable in the entire sports world. Beneath that extensive brand-management umbrella huddle all things blue and silver.
As the EVP of brand management, Anderson does "everything," she said, "but X's and O's." Or, as she explained, her job is to "make sure everything in the organization is as good as it can be."
Her job also included leading the effort to bring Super Bowl XLV to Cowboys Stadium: "My responsibility," she said, "was to galvanize the region." And she made what turned out to be the winning presentation to the NCAA in getting the 2014 Final Four in Arlington.
Self-assured but affable, with a disarming smile and an articulate candor, Anderson could be the high-heeled, svelte version of her father, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones. But the women of the NFL aren't involved with the sport because Doak Walker was their hero or because they're trying to recapture the adrenaline rush of their college days. Looking at the sport differently, more expansively perhaps, than their male predecessors, they envision an array of possibilities that professional football has only just begun to realize.
Kimberly Williams, for example, graduated from Connecticut College, which doesn't even have a football team. In 2003, as the league's chief financial officer overseeing a $3.5 billion budget, she helped launch the NFL Network. She became its chief operating officer in 2006.
More than 60 women work in the executive offices of the NFL and its teams. Other women work as consultants or physicians, such as Robin West, an orthopedic surgeon with the Pittsburgh Steelers. And a few have slipped into professional football's backroom to be certified as agents. They're the super women in this Super Bowl, and, yes, they've come a long way.
The early history of the NFL suggests the league began as a fraternity; it was all about good ol' boys out to have a sporting, testosterone-fueled time rolling in the dirt and mud. In 1919, the Indian Packing Co. gave Curly Lambeau $500 to outfit his small-town football team on the condition that it be named after its sponsor.
Two years later, the Packers joined a new professional league. And a decade after that, Art Rooney of Pittsburgh bought his pro football franchise with his winnings from Saratoga Race Course, where he had bet on some successful long shots.
When the game evolved into a sport that became big business, women's involvement became inevitable. And here, as in all things, somebody had to lead the way. Linda Bogdan, a daughter of Bills owner Ralph Wilson, was the first female scout in the NFL. She worked for more than 20 years in the Buffalo organization, and when she died two years ago, she was vice president and assistant director of college and professional scouting.
In 1997, Amy Trask became the first female CEO of an NFL team. Starting with the Oakland Raiders as an intern while still in law school, she later took a full-time job in the legal department and steadily worked her way to the top, where she's generally regarded as owner Al Davis' "right-hand man."
Kristen Kuliga, an attorney whose father was a high school athletic director, became the first woman to represent an NFL star. Becoming a certified agent in 2000, she negotiated Doug Flutie's $33 million contract with San Diego and then put the quarterback's mug on a box of Flutie Flakes.
Making an impact
The women of the NFL could have convened in a phone booth in 1990, when Anderson received a fateful phone call. Two years removed from Stanford with a degree in human biology, she was working in the nation's capital, where, she recalled, she hoped she could "change the world." And maybe she did, but not from her office in Washington.
Her father telephoned, she recalled, to ask for her help with all those cheerleaders who at that very moment were lining up outside his office. And so began her work with the Cowboys.
The strength and momentum of her ideas pushed her duties far beyond cheerleaders, not that she ever underestimated their importance. But Anderson quickly found ways for a franchise that was bleeding money to cut costs and increase revenue.
She transformed an expensive training camp, for example, into a moneymaking possibility. And she immediately recognized the importance of the Cowboys' image to its marketability.
"As we experienced the success of the 1990s," Anderson said, referring to the team's three Super Bowl victories, "we began to recognize the magnitude of the Cowboys' image and how it's affected by everything we do, both on and off the field."
In 1997, Anderson accepted a challenge to make the experience of going to a game uniquely entertaining. She transformed what had been a banal halftime show during the Cowboys' annual Thanksgiving Day game into an extravaganza, producing and orchestrating it, and ultimately combining it with the start of the Salvation Army's Red Kettle campaign.
And she persuaded Dick Ebersol of NBC, who had just been named the most powerful person in sports, to broadcast the whole show.
Football games were suddenly about much more than football. Over the years, the Thanksgiving halftimes have featured such performers as Sheryl Crow, LeAnn Rimes, Reba McEntire, Toby Keith, Clint Black, Randy Travis and the Jonas Brothers.
"Our biggest competition is the home theater," Anderson said as she relaxed into a chair in one of the suites at Cowboys Stadium. "We want to offer an experience that can't be duplicated at home. For us, that means providing fans a great experience whenever they come out here."
Jerry Jones once said he gets credit for many of his daughter's accomplishments, which is to say the Cowboys often benefit conspicuously for what she has achieved inconspicuously. From the memorabilia to the uniforms to the office furniture, from booking concerts to organizing charitable fundraisers to pursuing major sporting events, she has touched everything but the X's and O's.
Anderson also, by the way, continues as president of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and she is the team's vice president in charge of charities. She has also served on the Super Bowl Host Committee and on many boards, including the NCAA Leadership Advisory Board.
"I'm most proud when we can take the visibility of the Cowboys and use that for the benefit of those who really need help, Anderson said. "And if we can help somebody who's struggling, then we've made a difference. We have a responsibility to use the Cowboys brand in positive ways."
Responding to a Harris Poll, women identified NFL football most frequently as their favorite spectator sport. More than 45 million women watch NFL games on television each weekend during the season; more women, according to a poll, watched last year's Super Bowl than the Academy Awards broadcast.
And 30 percent of the people who describe themselves as "avid" football fans are women.
Women watching in increasing numbers could be a major reason for the NFL's popularity, according to Peter Roby, the director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. Of course, another factor could also be at work: women drawn to professional football in part because of the modern changes born of feminine influence.
Either way, though, with such a large female audience, the NFL and its teams have a powerful incentive to involve women in management decisions, Anderson said. And a few women are influencing decisions on a personal, player level.
Business is business
Kelli Masters represents many athletes, including Gerald McCoy, who last year was selected by Tampa Bay with the third pick in the NFL Draft. A registered sports agent since 2004, Masters said she was a "novelty" when she first went to the NFL Scouting Combine, but everyone soon realized she was not only dedicated but exceedingly capable.
"It seemed like the NFL was the last frontier (for women)," she said. "So much seemed to be testosterone-driven. But the NFL is a business . . . and I can tell them about business."
A partner in a prominent Oklahoma City firm, Masters went to law school with the scholarship she won as Miss Oklahoma. Practicing business litigation and nonprofit law, she worked with Olympic athletes to negotiate endorsements and appearances.
She soon represented several athletes, became a certified NFL agent and founded KMM Management. Her company offers a wide range of services, including draft analysis, combine preparation, contract negotiation and media training. (Masters also has a degree in broadcast journalism.) And while her position at the forefront of such a company might require some to adjust their thinking, the progress of women in professional football has been not only inevitable but essential, she said.
"Women control most of the consumer-spending decisions, and if the NFL is going to continue to grow its audience, I think women will continue to play prominent roles," Masters said.
They're roles that bring women to the Scouting Combine, to boardrooms and executive offices and, of course, to the Super Bowl. Since 2006, Rita Benson LeBlanc, an owner and executive vice president who graduated from Texas A&M, has overseen the day-to-day operations of the New Orleans Saints, the winner of last year's Lombardi Trophy.