Patrice Bowman: Experience on the Line

By Rich Cook

This profile was written in 2006.

Football has always been a game for the young. The physical rigors of such a demanding sport take a cumulative toll; the human body can only take so much punishment. With each passing year skills erode and bodies break down. Time is the merciless enemy: eventually, age catches up to even the most gifted of athletes.

Patrice Bowman, the dean of the D.C. Divas, takes great satisfaction in throwing convention to the wind and defying father time. At thirty-seven she is nearly geriatric in football years, the gridiron equivalent of the biblical Methuselah. At a stage in life when most players call it a career, she continues to play with a zest and enthusiasm that defies her age.

“I think women just peak later athletically than men,” Bowman reasoned with a laugh. “At thirty I was just getting started. I don’t have any plans to slow down. The age thing doesn’t come into play at all. I plan to play at least until I’m forty.”

Her longevity is all the more inspiring due to the volatile and demanding nature of the position she occupies. Bowman makes her living playing in “the trenches” as the Divas’ veteran starting center. Nowhere on the field is the game more violent.

Bowman brushes off the brutality of the sport with a modest laugh. “Sure, it gets rough in there sometimes, but I think I’m one of the most athletic centers in the league. Our style of play means I have to do a lot of pulling. I get the freedom to freelance a little. My job is to hit the first person I see.”

“[Offensive line] Coach [Tim] Smart wants us all to be versatile,” said Bowman, who has played nearly every position along the offensive line, as well as linebacker. She is also an occasional lead blocker out of the backfield in a special package known as “Metro.”

“Fullback is the ultimate position. That’s my favorite thing. After the first time I said, ‘I have seen the light.'”

Bowman’s experience makes her a natural leader and an on-field extension of the coaching staff. At the line of scrimmage, she communicates blocking assignments with her fellow linemates using a special trick word vocabulary. Between plays, Bowman offers encouragement before prepping the huddle for the quarterback. “I try to get everyone to settle down. My favorite thing to say is, ‘Shhhhhh, I can’t hear the play!'”

But when Bowman talks, teammates tend to listen. “There’s a respect factor there, but not because of my age. As an older woman, I understand it all a little better – the technical aspect of the game, technique, all of the little things. I guess I’m just a take-charge person.”

That resolve was put to the test last year during an off-season trip to California. Patrice was part of an all-women’s team that played a full-contact “Gender Bowl” against male counterparts. “It was tough, but I think we earned some respect. I was in there fighting it out against guys twice my size. It went down to the last play, but we lost it, 13-6.”

Ironically, the worst injury Bowman ever endured was a broken leg suffered during a game of flag football five years ago. But each step back can lead to a giant leap forward. The next season, she joined the Divas and has been a mainstay ever since.

Her toughness is nearly legendary to her teammates and coaches, as is her stamina. As an Operations Manager for Federal Express, Bowman is always on the go. “I’m up around 5 AM every work day. I manage an on-road work group, so I’m jumping in and out of a truck eight hours a day, at least three days a week. Football is my release.”

The juggling act doesn’t stop there. Bowman also has two young daughters, Heather and Joy, who serve as her inspiration. “I tell them all the time, it’s hard every day. But whatever you put your mind to, you can do.”

Perhaps that rationale is best defined by her commitment to the sport she loves. “I finally found my niche. I live for this. After a game, my energy level is completely sapped. I’m totally spent physically and emotionally. But when you get a win, it’s all worth it.”