Making history doesn’t always mean walking on the moon, going fast enough to break the sound barrier or becoming the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.
Sometimes it’s as simple as becoming the first female to take the field in a Power Five conference football game.
So that’s what Vanderbilt’s Sarah Fuller did at the start of Saturday’s second half at Missouri, launching her powerful right foot into a kickoff during the Commodores’ otherwise depressing 41-0 loss. It wasn’t anything spectacular, other than the fact that young women everywhere might justifiably feel spectacular pride in shattering yet another glass ceiling exactly 25 days after Kamala Harris, as Joe Biden’s running mate, was elected as the nation’s first female vice president.
“It’s just so exciting,” Fuller, who had a “Play Like A Girl” sticker on the back of her helmet, said afterward. “The fact that I can represent all the girls out there that have wanted to do this or thought about playing football or any sport really, and it encourages them to be able to step out and do something big like this, it’s awesome.”
It could have been even more historically awesome in a historically wretched year if the Vanderbilt offense wasn’t about as threatening as a 3-week-old puppy.
“I would love to get out there and score a field goal, I would love to go out there and get an extra point and everything,” she said. “I love the team. They are amazing. The entire staff has been so incredible in this transition.”
But the chance to put at least one point by her name in the record book will apparently have to wait until at least next weekend, when the Commodores are supposed to face Georgia, the coronavirus willing. But seventh-year Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason certainly didn’t sound like he was unwilling to make this more than a one-game experiment at the close of the team’s eighth loss in eight games during this increasingly bizarre season.
“If she wants to kick, if she’s available, we’d love to have her,” Mason said a few minutes after the game ended.
She’s definitely available. Because the NCAA canceled all fall sports championships other than football back in August due to COVID-19, Fuller won’t be attempting to lead the Commodores women’s soccer team into the NCAA playoffs after her goalkeeping skills helped them capture the Southeastern Conference tournament title the weekend before in Orange Beach, Alabama.
“I’m having so much fun,” she told the media on Saturday. “I want to learn more about how to kick and how to do things better, because I think I really can refine it and get better from here.”
Fuller gave the team a pep talk during halftime, when Missouri led 21-0, and said she wanted to see more energy on the sidelines. But she added that she had to keep herself calm to avoid getting too pumped up.
“Football is a lot slower; there’s a lot of lull time,” she said of the difference between the two sports. “In soccer, it’s just one after the other; you’re constantly engaged.”
“I was just really calm,” she added about making the kick. “The SEC championship was more stressful.”
All of this began because of coronavirus contact tracing knocking out a number of Commodores kickers, as well Thanksgiving break presumably sending home any male wannabe kickers among the Vanderbilt student body in Nashville.
But according to the SEC Network, Fuller had already begun dreaming of making history during the league’s women’s soccer tournament, telling her teammates how cool it would be to kick a field goal for the football team.
Mason believes it may even have been due to some otherworldly intervention.
“I think there was something bigger at work here,” he said. “I’ve always believed that women are capable of doing fantastic things. I know we think of football as being a man’s sport, and it is for the most part — 99.9% of it is dominated by males, if not close to 100. But today she broke some history, she made some history.”
This season is on the verge of making all sorts of unfortunate history. As COVID-19 appears to be on a roll mirrored only by the Alabama Crimson Tide, you begin to wonder if the virus won’t have the ultimate say in which four teams make the College Football Playoff and which don’t.
Ohio State was forced to cancel its Big Ten game at Illinois on Saturday due to COVID-19 and may now not have enough victories to qualify for the conference title game despite appearing to be the league’s best squad by a mile.
This doesn’t mean the CFP selection committee still couldn’t pick The Ohio State University, but it also now calls into play the old argument of whether you pick the field by virtue of an eye test or by which four teams deserve to be chosen by their performances on the field.
And judging by the virus’s surge over the past couple of weeks, are any of us sure that one or more of the league title games may not be canceled or backed up by COVID-19?
But during a Thanksgiving weekend that may or may not have made the pandemic worse, Fuller’s all-too-brief appearance against Mizzou was something sports-minded women young and old alike can give much thanks for having occurred.
Or as Fuller said Saturday afternoon: “All I want to do is be a good influence to the young girls out there … I just want to say that literally you can do anything you set your mind to.”
At least you can as long as COVID-19 stays out of your way.
Wiedmer writes for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, Tenn.