HARLEM — When she was 3 years old, Adrienne Smith had her own ritual on Sundays as her family prepared to watch football.
"My parents said I would take my teddy bear Ginger, set her up in front of the television and tackle her," Smith said.
So they weren't surprised a few decades later when Smith, an entrepreneur with an MBA from Columbia Business School, caught the first touchdown and helped the United States win the first International Federation of American Football's Women's World Championship in 2010.
In July this year Smith, who plays wide receiver, helped the United States repeat as champions, besting players from Sweden, Spain and Germany in Vantaa, Finland, before crushing the Canadian national team 64-0 in the title game.
"This has been a dream come true," said Smith, who owns Harlem Hip-Hop Tours. "I want to help grow the sport because I know there are other women who want to do this."
If the government shutdown is resolved in time, Smith and her 44 teammates from the U.S. Women's National Tackle Football Team are headed to Washington, D.C., later this month to meet with the White House Council on Women and Girls, created by President Barack Obama in 2009.
The team will be honored and they will discuss creating the infrastructure to help girls who want to play tackle football at the middle school and high school levels. The team also wants to support First Lady Michelle Obama's anti-childhood obesity initiative, Let's Move.
"Everyone should be allowed the freedom of expression through sports," said Smith, who is one of the stars of and a consultant for a documentary about her team's winning effort called "The Tackle Girls: One Team, One Mission" produced by Conneticut-based PYEWACKITT Productions.
It's rare for a girl or woman to play tackle football. Some young girls play in Pee Wee leagues around the country, but only a handful have played on the collegiate level and most were kickers.
When she was a child, Smith said the outlets that would allow a girl to play football simply weren't available, but she always knew she had the skills.
Her dad taught her to throw a perfect spiral when she was 7 years old and she always had good hands, finding a way to catch things before they hit the floor in her house.
"I saw myself as a combination of Jerry Rice and Joe Montana," said Smith, referring to the legendary wide receiver and quarterback duo which led the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl titles.
In high school and college Smith played powder puff and flag football. But it wasn't until eight years ago when she heard about the women's tackle league and decided to give it a try that her dreams became reality.
Smith plays for the Boston Militia of the Women's Football Alliance which has 50 teams around the country. During the season, which runs from February through August, she takes the bus from New York to Boston three times a week for practice. Each woman also has to pay $500 to $1,000 per year in fees.
As an entrepreneur, Smith can arrange her schedule as she likes to make time for the sport she loves. When she's not at practice, she lifts weights a couple of times per week. She averaged almost 16 yards a catch last season and scored four touchdowns.
"Every woman has a place in football," she said.
"With so much pressure on women about body types, football accepts all body types. I've seen women go from being a social outcast to being a star."
With her championship rings and medals, Smith is already a star. A group of middle school boys spotted her in a cafe on the Upper West Side while doing an interview. They ran in excited to see her USA helmet and two championship rings.
"I think it's cool because some people don't want women to do the same things as men but they are proving that they can," said Lucas, 12, a seventh-grader at Booker T. Washington Middle School as his friends jostled to try on Smith's helmet and rings.
The boys posed for pictures with Smith who said she has gotten the same response from other youngsters. She believes that from this one interaction, boys will learn not to underestimate women athletes, and by extension women in any sphere, be it athletics, academics or in the business world.
"Their response reminds me that prejudice is learned," Smith said.