Chanté Bonds watched from her living room as a young Tom Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe in Week 2 of the 2001 NFL season.
She had no way of knowing she would do the same more than two decades later.
Bonds watched Brady from home — not out with friends — because she needed to hear what the commentators said. She was hungry to analyze every play. The more she learned, the more she wanted to know.
So when Allison Cahill, the Boston Renegades’ franchise quarterback went down with a torn Achilles’ in the first round of the playoffs this year, Bonds was ready to step in.
Never mind the fact she had played defensive back the entire season.
“My preparation has made me a smarter football player, a more well-rounded football player, and it’s given me the ability to jump into a position that I might not normally play,” Bonds said.
Bonds led the Renegades to a 42-24 victory over the Pittsburgh Passion and a 32-12 win over the Minnesota Vixen to earn the franchise’s fourth straight championship. She amassed 165 total yards and two touchdowns in the title game.
“There are very few people — male or female — that would be able to make that transition,” said Renegades wide receiver Adrienne Smith. “And to not just make the transition and toe the line, but to lead the team to victory.”
Bonds will be honored with the Football Legacy Award at The Tradition, the Sports Museum’s annual gala, on Wednesday at TD Garden. The event will also honor Bill Rodgers, Lawyer Milloy, Johnny Damon, Jillian Dempsey, M.L. Carr, and Mark Recchi, and will raise money for The Sports Museum’s anti-bullying programs.
Bonds has played 11 seasons in the Women’s Football Alliance, nine in Boston. In that time, she has played wide receiver, running back, safety, cornerback, and quarterback, and also regularly appears on special teams.
But she’s not just versatile, she’s what Renegades general manager Benjamin Brown called “the master key.”
“If you have a problem in football, Chanté Bonds is the solution,” Smith said. “Because it’s not just about versatility. She will excel — beyond expectations — in whatever role she is needed.”
Renegades coach John Johnson described Bonds as “a student of the game” because in the few moments Bonds isn’t on the field, in the weight room, or teaching math, she’s analyzing film.
“She does everything she could possibly do to get knowledge,” said Renegades defensive back Briannah Gallo. “She’ll do whatever it takes to get herself and the team to the next level.”
Football on ‘its own pedestal’
Smith likes to joke that she “discovered” Bonds. It was around 2009, and Bonds was on Fire Island in New York throwing a football with some friends. Smith, who at the time played for the WFA’s New York Sharks, took notice of Bonds’s athletic build and the ease with which she threw and caught the football.
“Over a decade later, she has proven to be a game-changer in the world of women’s tackle football,” Smith said.
Though the 2009 season was the first time Bonds dipped her toe into the world of women’s professional football, she had experience running her own football league.
A fourth-grade recess league, that is.
Bonds and some neighborhood kids in Brockton — primarily boys — got to school an hour early every day to play pickup football. They’d play a second game during recess.
But when recess went by the wayside as she grew older, Bonds was out of options. She threw herself into basketball, earning a scholarship to play at Division 2 Bentley, but no matter how much she practiced or loved basketball, football was on “its own pedestal,” she said.
In recent years, however, more opportunities have arisen. This year’s WFA championship game appeared on ESPN2, the first time a women’s football championship was broadcast live.
“I’ve definitely seen an increase in representation, even if it’s one or two girls on [high school] football teams, they’re there,” Bonds said. “They’re there … and they’re playing, and they’re scoring, and they’re making a difference on the team. I wish I had that opportunity when I was their age.”
Bonds’s contributions to the sport have a lot to do with that change.
“The footprint — or, I should say, the cleat print — that Chanté Bonds is leaving on the sport of football period, but in particular football for women and girls, is extraordinary,” Smith said.
Emma Healy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.