The Herricanes — New Documentary Tells the Compelling, Untold Story of 1970s Women’s Football
The Herricanes Review
A SXSW world premiere, directed by the daughter of one of the players, tells the story of women who played for the love of the game.
Football has a long history of upstart, non-NFL football leagues, but none were quite like the National Women’s Football League. That women’s football league operated throughout the 1970s and included a team called the Houston Herricanes.
The Herricanes, a documentary premiering at South by Southwest this week, was directed by Olivia Kuan, whose mother, Basia Haszlakiewicz, was among the players. At the festival, the film won a Special Jury Award.
The documentary interviews numerous former players while also sharing video footage of practices, although actual surviving game footage is scarce.
The film also attempts to tell the multi-decade story of women’s football more broadly. It features interviews with women who play for a women’s football team in the present day, as well as the handful of women who have been hired as assistant coaches in the NFL. Also interviewed is Frankie de la Cretaz, who wrote a book about the league called “Hail Mary.”
The women in the league all had day jobs, and when it came to football, they weren’t paid- in fact, in some cases, such as the Herricanes, they had to pay for their equipment and the right to play. There was racial tension among the players, and yes, some of them were gay, in some cases finding comfort with one another in a time and place (1970s Houston) where being a lesbian wasn’t so easy.
The launch of the league took place shortly after the 1972 passage of Title IX and coincided with changing ideas, at the time, about what gender roles looked like. It was also a time of the Steel Curtain Steelers and the Ken Stabler-led Oakland Raiders when men’s football might have been in its most macho era in history.
The original idea of the league was to do some similar to the Harlem Globetrotters, although the league ended up not really being so comedy-oriented. And no, unlike the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, they were not made to play in skirts, although the players did fear that at one point.
The film ends with a reunion many years later, much as A League of Their Own did, one that was filmed when the players got together in 2019.
The NFL, for quite a few years now, has made it clear that it wants women to be fans, and as part of that, you may notice that say, Super Bowl commercials, which were glaringly sexist not too long ago, are much less so now. Yet at the same time, you’ll hear an occasional pigheaded comment from a football figure.
The Herricanes does not yet have distribution, but it is a fascinating look at some fascinating hidden sports history.
- Stephen Silver