One day, long after the National Football League has finally abandoned football altogether and turned into a coast-to-coast string of peep shows, someone will make one of those 37-part made-for-TV movies about the Great Cheerleading War of 1978. They can call it Boots, the story of sexy, yet wholesome, young Linda Sue Ann Cheri Jo, who travels to her ancestral homeland in Dallas where she finds the secret to her past by unearthing the fossilized brassiere of her great-great-unbelievably-great-grandmommy, Dana Debbie Sue Tammy Lynn.
It's something the NFL ought to be thinking about as it boogies on down the road to perdition and Super Bowl XXX. Goodness knows, the only thing anybody talks about anymore is S-E-X and the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders. Just last week, Ann Landers had to contend with an enraged reader complaining about the trend toward "older, sexier, and more naked cheerleaders" in the NFL. "Talented baton twirlers and really good dancing...don't mean a thing," the infuriated correspondent said, asking Ann how she felt about such an "appalling commentary on American taste." How Ann felt was that such preferences were the "last gasps of a dying civilization."
Right. Certainly, whatever the Dallas cheerleaders started six years ago, with their plunging necklines and winking belly buttons, has spread through the rest of the NFL like a social disease. Which, of course, is exactly what a lot of people think it is. But as Vince Lombardi almost said, "Sinning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
The truth of the matter is it's hard to believe you could shake a "two bits, four bits" out of the dozen or so so-called cheerleading squads that have reared their lovely heads in the NFL in the last year or so. But never mind. They've got their vinyl boots and their pompons and Niagaras of blow-dried hair cascading down their backs, and you could just go to pep rallies and commit the cheers for Sunday's game to memory. Life is a series of small concessions, and this is one you can enjoy.
Recently Los Angeles Ram owner Carroll Rosenbloom proclaimed, "Cheerleaders are now an intrinsic part of the NFL." He said this about the same time Bill Allen, director of Miami's Dolphin Dolls, vouchsafed that "Cheerleading is becoming nothing more than a battle of belly buttons, busts and backsides," or words to that effect. If it follows that Allen's three B's are now at the heart of NFL efforts, then pro football must be just the thing for people who like a little sex with their violence.
Something is afoot. Last April 24, CBS' National Collegiate Cheerleading Championships went head-to-head with ABC's Monday Night Baseball, and won. The cheerleading show drew 37% of the viewing audience, baseball only 22%. And this is the National Pastime we're discussing here, not a couple of refugee jai alai guys on cable TV.
Moreover, last month in Chicago, 1,500 young women applied for 28 spots on the Chicago Honey Bears. Los Angeles recently selected 24 Ram Sundancers from a field of more than 800 candidates. In Baltimore the Colts have signed 45 girls to wear uniforms almost identical to those worn by the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders.
"Everyone is trying to out-Dallas Dallas," says Atlanta Falcon Assistant GM Curt Mosher. Indeed, the Cowboys are usually a year or so ahead of the rest of the league in everything, and cheerleading is no exception. It was back in 1972 that Dallas General Manager Tex Schramm professionalized his squad by hiring eight girls from the dance studio of choreographer Texie Waterman. Suzanne Mitchell, who came to the Cowboys in 1975 as Schramm's secretary and has since become the cheerleaders' full-time manager, agent and martinet, is now, more or less by default, the arbiter of taste and decorum for the whole league. "Obviously we don't put the girls in those uniforms to hide anything," says Mitchell. "Sports has always had a very clean, almost Puritanical aspect about it, but by the same token, sex is a very important part of our lives. What we've done is combine the two."
This state of affairs may be to some degree a result of the influence of television on sports. TV did not create the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, but its unblinking eye drove the number of applicants for the 37 spots up from 250 in 1976 to 1,053 this year, and it is responsible for the recent demise of the Dolphin Dolls, a precision dance team of conservatively dressed teen-age girls. The Dolls had been with the Miami franchise since its inception in 1966, but choreographer Allen claims he was told twice by network cameramen that the Dolls wouldn't be shown on camera until they wore skimpier costumes. Now the Dolphins are going to older, sexier girls, who will be choreographed by the legendary June Taylor. The plan is to put them in bathing suits and have them cavort in an end zone around a pool containing the legendary Flipper.
With few exceptions, cheerleading for a pro football team is hard, demanding, underpaid work. Dallas cheerleaders get only $15 per game ($14.12 after taxes), must clean their own uniforms, attend innumerable practices (miss two and you're out), and be at the stadium two hours before each home game. Other teams pay even less and perks are minimal. Dallas may hold the record for penury by bringing their girls to New Orleans a few hours before the Super Bowl and sending them right home afterward on the pretext that there had been no hotel rooms available.
When not being penurious, the Cowboys try very hard to put their girls over as not only beautiful but also bright. Mitchell is forever trotting out Connie Dolan, a nuclear-medicine technologist, and Shannon Baker, a 4.0 student at SMU who just happens to have danced a solo turn with the Bolshoi Ballet.
The tryouts that have been taking place in NFL cities all over the country this spring are an indication of what lies ahead, and of how the professional cheerleading war is hotting up. The Atlanta Falcons auditioned more than 150 girls for 18 to 20 cheerleading spots. Three of them somehow managed to wiggle out of their tops, and only one bothered to stop dancing and regroup. One entry arrived with her record broken, but disported herself with such charm that the platter problem was overlooked. In Baltimore they're "definitely showing more skin this year," according to the Colts' front office, and in Cincinnati even conservative old Paul Brown has given the O.K. to a plan to dress the Ben-Gals in sarongs decorated with hand-painted tigers.
Still, a girl can't make it on the three B's alone. Last week at the final tryouts in Dallas, the contestants were interviewed, took a written exam on football and the Dallas Cowboy organization, and then pranced in groups of four onto a makeshift dance floor. There, in a swirl of disco music, they proceeded to dance their brains out, which in some instances did not take very long. Two networks and a film crew from UCLA were on hand, and Fleet Street was represented by a man from the London Daily Express.
These tryouts are a one-day, now-or-never proposition, with no consideration for the fact that even cowgirls get the flu. "Most of these girls would be here even if they were having an appendicitis attack," said Suzanne Mitchell.
This year's candidates began converging on Texas Stadium at 8 a.m. last Saturday, 78 of the fairest and finest tributes to the American cosmetics industry the world has seen. High cheekbones, higher cheekbones, cheekbones as high as an elephant's eye, all of them seeming to shimmer like sunlit promontories under the high-intensity movie lights.
Many of the girls had been unable to sleep the night before, but there was so much adrenaline flowing in the tryout room you had to be careful not to step in some, slip and break your concentration.
Contestant No. 3, Suzette Scholtz, was smiling so hard she nearly drove her eyeballs into her forehead. Eva Stancil had come all the way from her home in Alabama, ready to move to Dallas—as the rules required—if she was selected. She wasn't. Nineteen-year-old Robin Sindorf, a striking brunette, had tried out because cheerleading for the Cowboys would be "something to do," and because her heart belongs to daddy. When her name was announced as one of the chosen 37, she kept repeating, "This is going to make my father so happy. He's a big Cowboy fan."
It's hard to say where all this will lead. As Shannon Baker has noted, "Even Charlie's Angels could only stay on top for so long." But Oakland Raider Coach John Madden, holding forth on the subject of cheerleaders the other day, had what sounded like a good guess.
"I can see what this game is coming to," said Madden. "Choreographers instead of coaches. It will be a contest to judge which set of girls gets more TV time. After the gun sounds, the losing choreographer will tell the press, 'We lost our momentum. We couldn't maintain intensity. That's the name of the game—intensity. We'll have to regroup, go back to fundamentals. Put it in the paper, we'll be back.' The losing side will complain about the judges' decisions and the case will go to the commissioner, who will appoint a seventh judge. And after the girls have competed, the football players will come out at halftime for their exhibition, but the press won't notice because they'll be too busy watching replays of the cheerleaders."
WALTER IOOSS JR.
Eager finalists for the Dallas Cowgirls were really moving last week, but that sure is no locomotive.