When Tracy Weand's son first watched an NFL game on television, he was confused.

"I didn't know guys can play football," he said quizzically to his mother.

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All her now-8-year-old son Dillon had known at that time about football was Weand dressed in a helmet and pads as part of a National Women's Football Association team - something that a lot of people in Philadelphia still have not caught on to.

After several surgeries due to football injuries, Weand is now a defensive line coach with the Philadelphia Phoenix. Last week on a chilly night, she was on a field in the Northeast helping the Phoenix prepare for last weekend's game at Connecticut.

"I think a lot of people think we're girls trying to play a man's sport," Weand said. "I like to go out there and be intimidating, but we're normal people who just love to play football."

The Phoenix do not come close to receiving the fanfare of the other Philadelphia football teams, but they are working to build their fan base while aiming to win the NWFA championship.

The Phoenix (1-2), who are in their fifth season, face the Pittsburgh Passion on the road May 12 and play at home against the Baltimore Burn on May 19, at Northeast High.

Some of the team's veterans also played on the original Philadelphia Belles team.

The Phoenix are made up of players ranging from women in their 20s and fresh out of college to mothers in their 40s, balancing full-time jobs with football practice.

"Everyone has their role," said Roseanne Cappacio, 27, a rookie who also helps with the team's public relations.

Cappacio, who played softball at Archbishop Ryan, said she got "sucked in" to the game after watching the Phoenix play a scrimmage at a game of the Arena Football League's Philadelphia Soul.

With some urging from a friend on the team, she tried out.

She typically faces the same questions most of her teammates hear when they tell people they play contact football.

"First, they want to know if it's touch or flag," she said. "People underestimate the intensity of our games. We're very serious. We want to go all the way."

The Phoenix practice twice a week for three hours and gather to watch film before games.

They have an influx of young, athletic players - 27 new ones - on the 41-woman roster this season.

"I think our team has very good potential," said coach Andre Shuford, 39. "It's good they're showing so much enthusiasm."

Shuford was an all-city linebacker at Bartram and played safety at Iowa. He was not sure what to expect when he took over coaching the women, but he did not underestimate the players.

"I was curious," Shuford said. "I knew they had to have had the mentality and a commitment and love for the game. I did not understand what the talent level would be."

He has been pleased, implementing schemes from his days at Iowa.

Getting the Phoenix to win is one thing. Selling them to the public is another challenge, but co-owners Tawana Grayson and Chris Donnelly are optimistic.

Grayson, 39, stopped playing as a defensive tackle this year to focus on her job as an owner. Donnelly, 40, a defensive back, has a bet with a younger teammate about who will have more interceptions at the end of the year.

The team tries to earn funding through sponsors and fund-raisers, such as a golf outing it has planned for May 20.

"This year, we're seeing greater interest," said Donnelly, a guidance counselor at Bok High.

At the home opener, a win against the Central Pa. Vipers, about 500 people showed up.

Donnelly's students at Bok - some of them gigantic football players - could not believe that she played football.

"They said they're coming to the next game," Donnelly said.

For most girls who love football, their only option has been to watch guys play. Some dabble with flag football or "powder puff."

For athletes such as linebacker Kelly Shunk, 29, playing for the Phoenix is more than a hobby.

"This is pretty much fulfilling my dreams," she said.

Contact staff writer Shannon Ryan at 215-854-5503 or sryan@phillynews.com.