Since childhood, Whitney Paronish dreamed of playing professional football.
She competed in midget football leagues until middle school, and then played rugby at Slippery Rock University for four years.
Yet Paronish, a 24-year-old Northern Cambria High School graduate, never imagined seeing her dream come to fruition.
All that changed when Paronish moved to Philadelphia last summer. She took a job at an insurance agency and met a friend who referred her to a tryout for the Philadelphia Passion, one of 10 teams in the Lingerie Football League.
Paronish, the daughter of Roland and Amy Paronish, partook in the one-day tryout, and later that day accepted an offer from head coach Chandler Brown to join the Passion.
Philadelphia won each of its four regular-season games and captured the Eastern Conference championship, earning a berth in the eighth annual Lingerie Bowl in Las Vegas today.
The game will be aired live on pay-per-view during halftime of Super Bowl XLV.
Unlike the regular season, in which games are played in a pair of 17-minutes halves, this year's Lingerie Bowl will be played in two 12-minute halves.
"It's awesome," Paronish said via her cell phone from Las Vegas. "It's such an amazing opportunity. When I was growing up I always imagined myself playing football on TV. Here I am, living my dream and getting ready to play in the biggest game this league has on pay-per-view."
Players in the LFL wear shoulder pads on top of sports bras, shorts, a hockey helmet on their heads and a knee pads to protect their bare legs.
The league has sparked interest from both men and women.
"I was a little bit nervous about it at first," Paronish said. "But once I saw a game, I realized that it was for real and that these girls can hit. … I would never participate in a sport that degrades women. That's not me."
Roland Paronish admitted that he, too, had doubts about the league when he first heard the news. However, his opinion quickly changed after watching Whitney play for the first time.
"I admit I was a little wary when I first heard about it," Roland Paronish said. "But I knew she'd fit in perfect if the league was serious about football. She always wanted to play football … her whole life. … But when you're 125 pounds in high school, you can't keep up with the boys."
Paronish played in three of the Passion's four regular season games before helping them win the conference championship game on Jan. 13. A defensive back/wide receiver, Paronish had one catch and three unassisted tackles.
"We're under contract and we get paid, but there's not one girl on our team that's in it for the money," she said. "Ninety percent of the girls in the league are former Division-1 athletes. We all can play and we all can hit. You've really got to see it to believe it."
In the preseason, the LFL ranked Philadelphia the No. 7 team in the league. But Paronish and her Passion teammates welcomed the label of underdog. The Passion outscored their regular season opponents 122-58 and pummeled Tampa, 31-12, in the conference championship game.
The Passion square off against their stiffest test yet when they take on defending Lingerie Bowl champion Los Angeles on Sunday.
"We like being the underdog. We've been playing that part all year long," Paronish said. "The fact that they won last year gives us that much more fire to want to take it away from them."
A loyal Steelers fan, Whitney Paronish talked about the unique opportunity of sharing the massive stage of Super Bowl XLV.
"It's crazy because all the girls on the team are from Philadelphia or Jersey, so I'm the only Steelers fan," she said. "For me it's just such an awesome opportunity. It's something I've always wanted to do."
Philadelphia calls the Sun National Bank Center in Trenton, New Jersey, its home. Although Paronish said the league's increasing popularity has spawned talks of bringing the team to the Wachovia Center.
"It's getting more and more popular," she said. "I think once people see it in person and realize that we're legit, the interest in it will keep growing. … This is real football. If you come out and watch you'll realize how serious it is."