In this, her 14th and final season, Jen Olivieri is driven to play football for one reason — winning another championship.
The 41-year-old Hull mother of three already has earned a pair of national titles with the Boston Militia, during the 2010 and 2011 seasons.
Winning a third ring this season with the Militia would complete her goal of having a ring for each of her children, 18-year-old Ariel, Christian, 14, and Ben, 11, and allow her to retire from the sport she loves with no regrets.
“We have two tough games left, but we probably have the best chance we’ve had in the last couple of years,” said Olivieri, a 5-foot-9 linebacker who has suited up the past four seasons in the Women’s Football Alliance, a full contact tackle league.
“Winning a third championship would just bring my career to an amazing end,” she said.
The Militia (8-0) easily crushed Cleveland, 47-6, in a second-round playoff matchup June 21. Boston will take on D.C. Diva in the semifinals Saturday at Dilboy Stadium in Somerville. The league championship will be played Aug. 2 in Chicago.
Olivieri has feigned retirement before — at least twice — but claims this year’s decision is final.
“Whenever I tell people I’m retiring, they never believe me,” said Olivieri. “This time it’s for real.”
A defensive captain, Olivieri has defied heavy odds to play this season.
Last year she injured her left knee in the first game of the season and required surgery. What was believed to be a simple meniscus repair turned into complex microfracture surgery and a long rehabilitation period.
“My doctor told me I’d probably never be able to do any sports that require cutting ever again,” said Olivieri, who owns Nantasket Beach Adventure Boot Camp, a fitness franchise. She is also a nanny, and recently was elected vice president of the Hull Boosters.
“I eventually started to work out again and it felt alright.”
Olivieri showed up at one of the Militia’s first practice sessions in February to test the knee.
“I wasn’t intending to play,” she said, “but the knee felt OK. I said I think I can do this. It’s gotten stronger as the season went along.”
In the playoff over Cleveland, Olivieri had the knee drained during halftime and also took a cortisone injection.
“I hadn’t seen my doctor in a while, and he was there with his kit, so he drained the knee,” she said. “While the needle was still in he asked if I wanted the cortisone shot.”
Her husband, Chris, a longtime selectman in Hull, said that his wife’s repeated returns from retirement have earned her the nickname “Brett Favre.”
He knows her competitive spirit well.
“Given the damage she did to her knee last year, I’m amazed that she is able to play at the level she is this year,” said Chris Olivieri, a chiropractor with a degree in sports medicine.
“Jen is just a highly competitive person. You can’t even play a board game at our house. Her and my son Christian are both super competitive and if either one is losing, forget about it. You sit down for a nice family night of Monopoly, the next thing you know everyone is mad at each other.
“She’s been like that for as long as I’ve known her.”
Militia coach Derrick Beasley is very familiar with Olivieri’s toughness and desire to stay competitive.
“Jen has made a real impact on women’s football,” Beasley said of the 2009 Independent Women’s Football League all-star.
“She came back this year after that knee injury and was in better shape than some of these 18-year-olds.
“She’s probably one of the most durable players in the league. She has the same skills that she had 10 years ago. When she goes after you, she goes after you hard. She can still run and she loves to hit.”
She has registered 14 tackles this season, with two interceptions. Olivieri is also a fixture on special teams.
Olivieri, according to Militia quarterback Allison Cahill, is “full speed ahead all the time, and I am glad that she’s not allowed to hit me.
“You need to be a little crazy to be willing to throw your body into people like she does,” said Cahill, a teammate of Olivieri’s for seven seasons. “She takes on huge blocks from big linemen from D.C. and Chicago, and she’s never looking to run the other way. She’s attempted to walk away a couple of times to retire, but once the season starts she can’t stay away. Obviously she loves the game.”
Her love of the game doesn’t end after the final whistle; she uses her knowledge of the game to teach others. In 2009, she made history when she became the first female in the state to serve as a head coach in the youth football ranks.
She spent four seasons on the sidelines for the Hull Youth Football Association, and was an assistant coach last year. She is considering returning as a head coach this fall.
“Jen is a defensive coach out there for us making the calls,” said Beasley. “She knows what it’s like to win, and she’s teaching the other girls on the team what it takes to be a winner. The other women definitely follow her lead.”
Olivieri will not be on the roster next season, but she has left quite a legacy. Beasley expects her to be the just the second player enshrined in the team’s hall of fame.
Team owner Ernie Boch Jr. said the team may never see another player quite like her.
“There are just so many rare things about Jen,” he said.
“She is an amazing person, she is a mom with three kids, and when you take her off the field you would never, ever guess that she plays women’s football. She is an inspiration to the entire team and her enthusiasm level is just off the charts.”John R. Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.