America getting its mitts on our Heather

THE LINCOLN Town Car with Heather Mitts, A.J. Feeley and Brandon Whiting arrived fashionably late Tuesday evening at 32 Degrees on Second Street in Old City.

Mitts’ marketing guru, Michael Steinberg of Premiere Sports and Entertainment, might have been overstating his case just a touch when he called Heather and A.J. “the J.Lo and Ben of Philadelphia.” Still, there was no doubting Mitts was the star of this show and Feeley, a rather large presence in this town last winter playing quarterback for the Eagles, was just the guy accompanying the beautiful blond soccer player whose five-page photo spread in the September FHM (For Him Magazine) was being celebrated in the upstairs lounge that sometimes plays host to A.I. and a few Coronas.

Mitts, 25, began playing soccer in her native Cincinnati when she was 6. She won a national title at the University of Florida. She has been one of the top players for the Philadelphia Charge in its 3 years of existence in the Women’s United Soccer Association.

Nothing in her regular life prepared Mitts for a grand entrance, a VIP party in her honor or a spotlight normally reserved for hot movie stars. Last week, she appeared on “Extra.” Monday, she was in New York to do interviews with several media outlets, including ESPN and WB 11. She did the Philadelphia talk shows Tuesday morning. She will be on Channel 10’s “10!” this morning.

“It has just been a whirlwind,” Mitts said. “I was so excited when I did the photo shoot. Then, I had to have the patience for it to come out. All of a sudden, it’s happening. Now, I don’t feel like it’s my life. It’s kind of like a little dream world.”

Each issue of FHM sells 1.1 million copies. The magazine is not Playboy. It is not Ladies Home Journal. Tara Reid, the party girl from the first two “American Pie” flicks, is on the September cover. She is not in a wedding gown.

FHM contacted the WUSA. The magazine wanted a soccer player for its first feature and pictorial of a major female athlete.

“The WUSA felt that Heather on the field and off the field was unquestionably the ambassador of the league,” Steinberg said. “This all happened around the same time Heather became our client. When she told me about FHM, I said we can utilize this and make big things happen.”

The Selling of Heather Mitts was then set in motion. She was already quite familiar to the Philadelphia audience. FHM and the attending publicity were going to take her national.

“We’re hoping corporations and other people will see Heather on TV and see the magazine,” Steinberg said.

Mitts wants everybody to know that “soccer is first.” Soccer season, however, is over. And it doesn’t last that long, anyway. There is time for everything else.

FHM debuted in the United Kingdom 9 years ago. The American version started in 2000.

” ‘Sexy’ is such a broad definition,” said Scott Gramling, FHM’s editor in chief. “A lot of the traditional magazines just point to movie stars as being sexy. We like to show our readers there are other aspects and walks of life…Heather, in particular, was somebody who has been on our readers’ radar and rightly so. She’s absolutely beautiful and very photogenic. And, above all else, she has a certain sense of confidence.

“That really comes through in the photos she did for FHM. She feels comfortable with her body. She’s very confident in herself. You can just tell from the body language she had a lot of fun with it. She wasn’t timid, wasn’t shy. I was at that shoot and we just had a lot of fun.”

Mitts’ spread and “story” begin on Page 86. Just so nobody misses the point, it is advertised up front by saying “They’ve finally found a way to make soccer interesting – have girls play.”

Mitts had to climb a ladder and lay on a sheet of Plexiglas with an artificial turf ceiling behind her for the shoot. Imagine, Gramling said, “a bunk bed without the bottom bunk and a photographer underneath.”

Mitts remembers being “at least 11 feet in the air.”

She said she was “crawling into this little space and doing these moves, holding these poses and he’s on the ground shooting.”

FHM wanted to put Mitts in its version of her natural soccer environment. The poses are not generally among those she needs on the pitch.

Her mother, Jan, said that when Heather told her about the photo shoot, “I was a little worried, at first. As my daughter, I want her to be really careful and make really good decisions for herself. She explained to me it would be a good move and I trust her. And it has been.”

Jan drove 8 ½ hours from Cincinnati on Tuesday to surprise her daughter at the party.

“I’m so proud of her,” Jan said. “She’s so beautiful.”

Feeley, a few hours away from his Lehigh curfew, sort of just took in the whole 32 Degrees scene. It wasn’t, to be sure, a football game.

“I’m used to it now,” said Feeley, who accompanied Mitts to the April photo shoot in New York. “It’s one of those things where you realize it comes with the territory. She’s attractive, successful, an athlete. My role is just to be here to support her, ride on her coattails, be the one not in the spotlight, kind of let her do her thing.”

Said Mitts: “My main goal with all this is to promote women’s soccer and to get the word out. It’s helping.”

It also is helping Mitts. That might not be her goal, but it’s happening, regardless. This was not what she imagined when she began playing soccer.

“Not in a million years,” she said. “Even when I was in college, I never thought something like this could happen to me.”

Mitts looked like an absolute natural when she did a report for Comcast SportsNet on the Manchester United appearance at Lincoln Financial Field. Steinberg immediately fired off the tape to the big boys.

“The networks have expressed great interest in her working for them if she is not on the World Cup team,” Steinberg said.

Mitts desperately wants to be on that team. She really is a terrific soccer player. She is also getting far beyond the insular world of her sport. All of this really is happening to her.