Maggie Bermudez never played any sort of organized sport growing up.
But now, on the brink of turning 44, this Feasterville resident is breaking boundaries as a proud member of the Philadelphia Phantomz — an all-female professional football team.
“When I was younger, this wasn’t even available,” she told The Times. “It didn’t exist. Boys grow up learning how to play this stuff. They can mirror Michael Jordan or Jalen Hurts. But we didn’t have that. So never in a million years would I have thought that I would be doing this.”
For Bermudez, a wife, mother of two and personal trainer at Newtown Athletic Club, her journey all started about a year ago, when a colleague discovered the Phantomz and wanted to get involved. By the time Bermudez took interest, tryouts had already passed.
Still, this delay may have been for the best.
“I thought I was too small at the time. The other girls were so big and I was petite. I actually took the entire year to put on weight, put on muscle, hit the gym,” she said, explaining that, although she was already physically fit thanks to her day job at the NAC, she thought she was too lean to make for a tough contender on the field.
Bermudez also needed to hone her football skills and knowledge, and called on her husband — an avid fan of the game — to assist. Temporarily, she asked him to put their marriage aside and become a full-fledged coach.
Throughout the summer, he did just that to ensure Bermudez would be where she needed come tryouts in October. She recalled one particular day at the Poquessing field, when he tasked her with running a suicide sprint in 90-degree weather, in addition to other drills. Though Bermudez’s breakfast almost found its way to the ground, she was filled with happiness and pride.
She was finding her strength, both physically and mentally.
“I think at that moment, a lot of people would’ve given up,” she said. “It’s hard. It has not been easy. But no matter what, I know that I want to move forward. And each time that I get through, whether it was a tryout or a practice or something like that, things that I’ve never done before, I’m like, ‘Wow, I just did that.’ And it actually motivates me more and makes me want to do it even more and become more invested in it.”
The first tryout took place in October and was far from easy. In true NFL style, over the span of two hours, aspiring players were tasked with completing a 40-yard dash, three-cone drills and a 30-second pushup challenge (she knocked out 29 proper-form ones). The second tryout, also two hours, was no easier, and tasked the women with one-on-one drills like passing the ball. From there, interviews were conducted by the Phantomz owner and coaches.
After successfully advancing through each round, Bermudez earned a spot on the team.
“I was so excited,” she said. “With having that determination of knowing that I want to do this for the past year, it kind of solidified it like, ‘Wow, all that hard work paid off.’ ”
She joins a team of ladies who hail from all backgrounds and locations, including Reading, Tennessee and even Mexico. All are over the age of 18, but according to Bermudez, the majority are in their 20s and 30s. In fact, she’s pretty sure that she’s the oldest player on the Phantomz, which she said is quickly feeling like a sisterhood.
Along with the 18-plus team, ahead of tryouts, the Phantomz typically host the camp program I Got Her Back to introduce girls 18 and under to the sport.
The Phantomz are currently in practice mode, with their season kicking off in April. The Women’s National Football Conference comprises 16 teams across the country, with each playing six games, three away and three home. For the Phantomz, their first game is in Jacksonville, Florida on April 6, and their first home game is April 13. If they make the playoffs, there will be additional games.
When she spoke with The Times, Bermudez had yet to receive her official Phantomz number. However, she fittingly requested No. 44 to commemorate the age she’ll be when games begin. Once team members receive their numbers, replica jerseys emblazoned with their names will be available for purchase.
Ultimately, Bermudez hopes that she can serve as inspiration for young women with similar aspirations, and that women’s sports continue on an upward trajectory.
“2024 is projected to be the biggest year in women’s sports, with over a billion dollars in revenue. That proves that there is viewership,” she said. “Rookies don’t get paid in the league. I want to do it to be a part of history, to help this sport move along for the younger generation. I know that many women wouldn’t even attempt this. But because I know I can physically, I feel that it is my responsibility to do that for all those young women out there.”
Bermudez stressed that the WNFC doesn’t make the game any easier for its female players. The intensity is just as high as the NFL, and the sport is full contact.
“If you look at the Eagles, full padded, helmet, shoulder pads, everything, the same exact thing is what we’re doing,” she said.
The Phantomz’ current lineup was officially signed on Jan. 5 in King of Prussia at Dick’s Sporting Goods, a national sponsor of the entire league. Bermudez is thrilled that such a major brand like Dick’s, as well as Adidas, is backing the WNFC. Still, she encourages even more businesses — especially local, women-owned ones — to partner with and invest in the team.
“The No. 1 thing is getting exposure, getting the word out,” she said. “That’s the only way in today’s world that it’s going to move along. And I truly believe that it is going to move along, but we need everybody’s help.”
Samantha Bambino can be reached at email@example.com