Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

To Cheer, or Not to Cheer – That is the Question

Sitting high up in the stands on a bright sunny day at the Ralph (as in Ralph Wilson Stadium) in Orchard Park, NY, we had our eyes transfixed as the Buffalo Jills performed to some song that I can’t remember, in their signature oh-so-tight-in-all-the-right-places outfits.  Being a mile away from the field didn’t matter of course because we could extrapolate and infer on what the performance would have looked like.  For us twenty-somethings, having cheerleaders at the game added that je ne sais quoi.

Reflecting back on my time as a Bills season ticket holder in the early 2000’s, I wonder what exactly cheerleaders bring to the gameday experience besides you know, the pom-poms.  Is it really as simple as sex appeal?  Perhaps.  Probably.  I’d be willing to bet most squads will sell some form of calendar featuring its members in something that covers just enough.  I’m not complaining, obviously, and oftentimes proceeds go to charity making the venture also morally responsible.   I’m sure some of it has to do with branding and marketing, neither of which I know a thing about, but what I do know is that the tradition dates back decades and has become a regular part of most teams’ gameday product.

A simple Google search yields a few reasonable places to begin learning about the history of cheerleading and when exactly it became en vogue to feature them at football games.  It was interesting to learn that not all NFL teams even have cheerleaders at the game – there are six teams currently without an official cheerleading squad.  The six are the Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers – who have college cheerleaders perform, though unofficially.

The Steelers and Giants organizations both point to focusing on winning football, not on making sideline eye candy and selling calendars, as their motivations behind not having cheerleaders.  And from strongly worded statements, it doesn’t appear that will change anytime soon.  Those are two teams that appear to truly have no interest in entertaining the idea of sideline cheerleaders.

In Chicago, while they cite the reason the squad was disbanded in the 80s was to focus on hard-nosed football, there is a large group of fans trying to have the cheerleading team re-formed.  For the Lions, there is an unofficial group called the “Pride” who perform regularly at games.  There is a push to have them recognized in a more official capacity.

As for the Packers, here is their official stance: “The Packers haven’t had official cheerleaders since 1988, however cheerleaders from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and St. Norbert College appear at home games throughout the season. The Packers discontinued their squad of official cheerleaders in large part due to fan indifference. There are no plans to return to official cheerleaders.”

Now that we’ve discussed the teams that do not have cheerleaders, there are cheerleading squads worth mentioning.

The very first cheerleaders to grace the gridiron were those who were a part of the Philadelphia Eaglettes in 1948 and the Baltimore Colts Marching Band in 1954.  It can be argued that a squad performed at Packers games well before that – as early as 1931 in the days of Curly Lambeau – though those were just high school squads recruited to also perform on the Packers sidelines.  With groups also forming in San Francisco and Green Bay before the end of the decade, the real momentum began in the 60’s, and at some point in that decade most teams jumped on board and began their own squads, some of which have stuck since.

Three such groups that have survived since as late as the 60s include the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders, the Buffalo Jills and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.  As aforementioned, the Eaglettes, the original name of the Philadelphia Eagles Cheerleaders, were formed in 1948.  Their name was changed to the Liberty Belles in the 1970s before settling on their current name.  One interesting tidbit is that the team is one of only a few to release their signature swimsuit calendar as a mobile phone app – $1.99 on Android and iPhone.

In 1960, a group of Buffalo State College cheerleaders formed a team and became the Buffalo Bills Cheerleaders before the name was changed to the Jills in 1967.  Now the obvious reason for the name is that “Jills” is a rhyme for “Bills” – makes sense.  But there is a more “urban dictionary” meaning behind “Jills” that many quip about in the parking lot – I’ll give you a minute to go check that out if you don’t already get the innuendo….  Today, the Buffalo Jills are a definite presence in their community, making many appearances.  They must be recognized for having made visits to troops stationed overseas, including touring Iraq in 2006 to lift military personnel’s spirits.

The Cowboys Cheerleaders, along with the NBA’s Laker Girls, are world-renowned and they perform off-field as well – no, not like that!  Actually, they make many appearances at various functions are truly an extension of the organization.  For the past 9 years, they have even had their own reality television show “Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team”, and are designated by FIFA (soccer’s international governing body) as a delegation to promote World Cup 2022.

The original name of the team was CowBelles & Beaux as the team was comprised of high school young men and women.  They were renamed the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders at the end of the 60’s and were given a completely new image.  Gone were the flips, twists and turns reminiscent of high school cheerleading routines, an in its place was a much more dance-choreographed number.  In 1972 was the big change though, as the team adopted a policy of accepting applications only from those girls over 18.  As a result they were able to offer more revealing outfits.

My original intent was to decide whether cheerleading is an important part of football.  Not an easy question.  Having spent some time reading about the history, and yes, looking a picture or two (or 10), I’m still a bit torn.  The teams I most identify with are those hard-nosed, traditional, old franchises – Pittsburgh, Green Bay, NYG, etc.  And what I discovered is that teams I most revere happen to be the ones who don’t have a cheerleading team (though I have a soft spot for the Bills).  Coincidence?  Probably not.

I have no problem with their being cheerleaders on the sideline – actually, like many of you I rather enjoy that to be honest.  As I get a bit older, however, I must say it has lost some if its caché.  I guess I’ll put it this way – if a team wants to have cheerleaders and sell the calendars, I’m fine with it.  If they want to project a hard-nosed, no-nonsense football image, I can do without as well.  I suppose it just isn’t enough to make or break my gameday experience…

…though I suppose it could make a tough loss a little more cheerful.

Find more of my sports history articles at Peculiar Side of Sports.



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