“Obviously we don’t put the girls in those uniforms to hide anything,” Suzanne Mitchell told Sports Illustrated in 1978.Credit Dallas Morning News
Suzanne Mitchell, who replaced a squad of high school bobby-soxers with a scantily clad chorus line that became a choreographed global brand called the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, died on Tuesday at her home in Fredericksburg, Tex. She was 73.
The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, her brother and only immediate survivor, W. W. Mitchell, said.
Ms. Mitchell was an administrative assistant to Tex Schramm, the Cowboys’ original president and general manager, when the team office was swamped with calls after one of its cheerleaders was captured winking suggestively — and uncharacteristically — into a television camera during the 1976 Super Bowl.
Maybe, Schramm figured, there was more to cheerleading than met the eye. He decided to capitalize on the emerging synergy between television and professional sports by enlisting performers on the sidelines to complement players on the field.
He designated Ms. Mitchell, a former public relations executive from New York, to transform the team’s fusty cheerleader squad. She proceeded to more than double its size, from 14; gave them skimpy new costumes; recruited a choreographer, Texie Waterman; and staged a photo session for a pinup poster.
She had created what would become a pop culture phenomenon. A new era in sports entertainment, branding and marketing had begun.
Declared the “most famous group of cheerleaders in the world” by Edward J. Rielly in his “Football: An Encyclopedia of Popular Culture” (2009), the Cowboys’ revamped cheerleading squad kicked off the 1978 season of “Monday Night Football” with a television special titled “The 36 Most Beautiful Girls in Texas.”
They went on to appear on the television series “The Love Boat” and in a commercial for Fabergé shampoo. They inspired two TV movies and a 1978 pornographic riff, “Debbie Does Dallas,” which prompted a lawsuit from team officials.
Ms. Mitchell’s original roster of cheerleaders was collectively included among Esquire magazine’s “75 Greatest Women of All Time,” along with Joan of Arc and Marilyn Monroe.
Distinguished by their white hot pants, short blue vests, exposed midriffs and white vinyl go-go boots, the Cowboys Cheerleaders (as well as the raft of copycats they inspired) delivered to football fans what one commentator described as “a little sex with their violence.”
“Obviously we don’t put the girls in those uniforms to hide anything,” Ms. Mitchell told Sports Illustrated in 1978. “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.”
What the Cowboys Cheerleaders started, Bruce Newman wrote in Sports Illustrated, “has spread through the rest of the N.F.L. like a social disease.”
“Which, of course,” he added, “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.’”
Up to a point: After all, this was the South, and, Ms. Mitchell said, “Tex wanted sexy ladies out there, but he wanted them, above all, to be classy.”
To guard against a backlash in the Bible Belt, applicants had to be 18 to 26 years old and respectable: a full-time student, or a wife and mother, or someone holding a full-time job. They were put through boot-camp training and Dale Carnegie personal development courses, originally paid $15 per game (before taxes), and barred from being seen in costume with alcohol, gum or cigarettes.
In the dressing room before each game, she told Texas Monthly in 2015, “we’d lock pinkies and say the Lord’s Prayer.”
The cheerleaders would also double as good-will ambassadors. Ms. Mitchell would accompany them on morale-boosting visits to hospitals and nursing homes, and to entertain troops abroad.
They were not without their critics. John Madden, when he was the coach of the Oakland Raiders, complained that the emphasis in sports coverage had shifted to “choreographers instead of coaches.” One reader complained to the advice columnist Ann Landers about the “older, sexier and more naked cheerleaders” being enlisted to energize spectators.
But Ms. Mitchell had ready responses.
“I would call after I’d get a letter and ask what the letter writer had been doing on Christmas Eve,” she was quoted as saying in “The Dallas Cowboys: The Outrageous History of the Biggest, Loudest, Most Hated, Best Loved Football Team in America” (2012), by Joe Nick Patoski. “Then I would tell them there were 12 girls who were in the DMZ in Korea performing in minus-20-degree weather serving their country.”
She continued, “When we’d go into a radar site or to a mess hall, I would tell the girls, ‘Now I want you to go and find the pimpliest, ugliest boy in this place, because he’s the one who needs you the most.’”
Suzanne Mitchell was born on July 7, 1943, in Fort Worth, to Willis Wilson Mitchell, a commercial pilot, and the former Nell Mitcham, a nurse.
She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in journalism. She married after college and moved with her husband (they divorced after several years) to New York, where she worked for the magazine publisher Ziff Davis and an ad agency and did public relations for the United States Olympic Ski Team.
When Schramm called her in the mid-1970s (she had been referred to him), she was a New York Jets fan and had never heard of him. But she agreed to a job interview.
“He asked me what I wanted to be in five years,” she recalled in the Texas Monthly interview. “I said, ‘Well, your chair looks pretty comfortable.’ He slammed his fist on the desk and he said, ‘You are hired.’”
Ms. Mitchell remained with the Cowboys as director of the cheerleaders from 1976 until the team was bought by Jerry Jones in 1989. After that, she held other jobs, far from football, but remained in touch with some of her former cheerleaders, who would remind her that she had succeeded in transforming the aspirations of many a young woman.
“I understand,” she once said, “that where little girls used to dream of being Miss America, now they dream about becoming a cheerleader for the Cowboys.”
The Houston Texans Cheerleaders, the queens of all things media, are at it again, uploading another fun Freesyle Fridays video. The video was posted on 09-30-16, but the video is from the prior week, 09-23-16.
The longtime director of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders has died at 73, the organization said Wednesday.
Suzanne Mitchell, who shepherded the iconic cheerleading squad amid rising popularity from 1976 to 1989, died Tuesday, according to a Cowboys news release.
Mitchell started her career as an assistant to club president and general manager Tex Schramm. Before long, she took over as the cheerleaders’ director, and under her leadership, the group became one of the most highly regarded squads – and certainly the most familiar – in not only the National Football League, but all of professional sports.
The squad has been the subject of made-for-TV movies and the selection process is chronicled in a reality TV series, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team on CMT.
Mitchell said that when choosing women to join the iconic squad, she looked for personality and character as well as wholesome beauty and dance skills. She worked to achieve a diversity of size, looks and grace to “represent a cross-section of American women,” she said in 1985.
Charlotte Anderson, the Cowboys’ executive vice president and chief brand officer, called Mitchell “a pioneer in the world of professional sports” and said her creativity and innovation forged a path of style and quality that other NFL squads tried to emulate.
“Her impact on our home games remains to this day, and her inspiration will always have a presence within our organization,” Anderson said.
Mitchell, born in Fort Worth, is survived by her brother, W.W. Mitchell and his wife Beverly; nephews Todd, Adam and Jake; and niece Katherine Mitchell Richardson.
Disappointing home opener this week as the Buccaneers lost to the L.A. Rams. The Bucs are home again this weekend to host the reigning Super Bowl Champions, the Denver Broncos.
Interesting side note to the game is that Tara Battiato, 3rd year Cheerleader Manager, spent five seasons cheering with the Denver Broncos, serving as team captain for four years and traveling to Hawaii as the team’s 2013 Pro Bowl Representative. Upon retiring her boots and chaps she came to Tampa.
I sat down this week for a quick Q&A with the busy Tara:
UC: Any problems separating your love for the Broncos versus your present devotion to the Bucs on game day?
Tara: I was born and raised in Denver Colorado. I grew up watching the Denver Broncos and more specifically the Denver Broncos Cheerleaders (DBC). Being a member of the DBC shaped me into the women that I am today. The DBC and Denver Broncos will always be a part of my life. However, currently working for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders as their manager and choreographer is a dream come true. Dancing is my passion and watching my choreography come to life on game days brings so much meaning to my life. I will forever be thankful to the Glazer family for my current role and will wear Red and Pewter for as long as possible!
UC: Is there going to be an invasion of your Denver family/friends at Ray Jay for the game?
YES! I am trilled to welcome my family back to Raymond James Stadium. I will have 16 family members, 4 former DBC teammates and one of my best friends attending the game on Sunday! I am most excited to introduce my 3 year old niece Clara to the TBBC.
UC: What has been the most rewarding part of your three year tenure managing such impressive talented young professional women?
It would be too difficult to select one rewarding aspect of my tenure. However, I am one of the lucky individuals in life that gets excited to go to work every day. I love meeting season pass members and Buccaneers fans every game. I love being able to make an impact in the Tampa Bay Community through our Bucs Care Foundation. But most importantly, I love attending practice every Tuesday and Thursday. The 35 members of the TBBC bring my life so much joy. I love watching them become better performers and women on and off the field.
UC: Winning in Denver seemed to come easy, losing in Tampa has been consistent. You are an organizational insider, when can the loyal Buccaneer fans expect to see their cheerleaders on the sideline of a Super Bowl?
The TBBC are the most talented, hardworking and kind women in the NFL. They inspire me to be a better coach and woman every day. They are world champions and do not need a ring to prove it. However, I wouldn’t mind choreographing routines for a playoff run sooner than later!
Thank you Tara, Tampa Bay is lucky to have you here. Photos are courtesy of Tara and the Buccaneers.
Tune back in tomorrow when we publish our album from the Rams game. Buccaneer web site is here
After 40-year wait, fans give 28 dancers a thumbs-up for first game.
They bounded onto the field with the energy and athleticism of many of the players who’d soon follow them.
The Detroit Lions Cheerleaders strutted, kicked, twirled, arched, jumped and danced Sunday afternoon during the Lions’ home opener against the Tennessee Titans — a home opener of their own more than 40 years in the making.
Clad in blue abs-baring shirts, short white shorts and white shoes, waving shiny blue pom poms, the 28 women did what the team calls long-form performances after the first and third quarters.
Their routine in the west end zone after the first quarter was set to Detroit native Aretha Franklin’s classic “Respect.” The one after the third quarter was choreographed to “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses.
The Detroit Lions cheerleaders perform during the home opener game against the Tennessee Titans on Sunday, September 18, 2016 at Ford Field in Detroit. Rashaun Rucker, DFP
Both performances were heavily dance-inspired, as is the norm in the NFL, as opposed to the gymnastics-inspired stunts style popular on the high school and college levels. During each, though, one cheerleader put down her pom poms for some quick gymnastics moves.
They also did a short pregame dance, stood at attention — with one leg cocked each — during the singing of the national anthem. While the game was played, they divided into four groups and hung out in of the four corners of the field — in formation, but breaking out into enthusiastic jumps and moves when the Lions did something great. During breaks, they also did mini-dance routines.
Cheerleading coach Rebeca Smoker was pleased with how the debut went. She said she’d give them a 9 or a 10 out of 10, adding that they’d done “an amazing job.”
“We’re there to connect the fans to our players and add as much spirit as we can and keep everybody involved to help support them,” she said. “And it’s certainly sad about a loss, but we have faith in them. They’re a good team.”
The cheerleaders cheered their own performance.
Briana, a former high school and college cheerleader who works as a recruiter but whose last name was not made public, said she was crying during the cheerleaders’ first performance.
“The fans’ reaction was amazing and they made us all feel comfortable, so that’s what eased our nerves,” she said. “We didn’t know what to expect, but honestly the outcome was very, very amazing.”
Agreed Nicole, who’s new to cheerleading, but has danced since age 4: “The crowd was amazing. They were super supportive. They were cheering us on the whole time. It was incredible.”
The last time the Lions had cheerleaders was during the 1974-75 season, when they played at the Pontiac Silverdome, according to team spokesman Ben Manges. Fan demand is what inspired their return.
“It adds a vivacity; it’s exciting,” said Monica Chown of Metamora, located in Lapeer County.
The 43-year-old physical therapist thought they should be called the Lionesses, though.
Her husband, Rick Chown, 50, a banker, remembers the Lions cheerleaders from four decades ago.
“These are better,” he said. “They look like they’re great dancers.”
He doesn’t think the addition of the cheerleaders in 2016 will translate into more filled seats at games.
“They’re not going to have an impact on ticket sales,” he added. “It’s the product on the field.”
And the cheerleaders are not the product.
Jeannette Anderson, who drove eight hours from Marquette to attend the game, said feminism is about having the right to choose what a woman wants to do.
“I love it, because it brings more women (to games),” said the 33-year-old gas station attendant. “Who doesn’t want to see pretty women dance? They want to do it. We’re supposed to do what we want to do.”
During halftime, one of the two teams playing, the Eastside Eagles, had cheerleaders.
Zoe Carrie, herself a former high school cheerleader, wasn’t wowed by the pros.
“They’re good. They’re something different. They look nervous to me,” said the 20-year-old Northern Illinois University student. “They were out of sync to begin with. I want to see more tumbling. It gives more depth to the performance. It’s more skill.”
Chosen from an open audition of more than 300 this spring, the cheerleaders have trained as much as 12 hours a week under Smoker, herself a former professional cheerleader. Most have dance or cheerleading backgrounds; they have day jobs ranging from a Blue Cross Blue Shield account manager to a Beyonce backup dancer.
She was thrilled to get the job — but then had to secure a visa. She now has one, given on the basis of “extraordinary talent”. After being unable to join the first month of training, Watts said she faced a big catch-up before the season starts next month.
After being unable to join the first month of training, Watts said she faced a big catch-up before the season starts next month.
“I’ve been on the outside —— I wasn’t allowed in just because of the legalities,” she said.
But it is set to be a glam life for the former Mackellar student, who has just got an apartment in West Hollywood, close to Sunset Blvd and the Hollywood Hills.
The squad has a reality TV show on channel E! and she will be involved if another series is commissioned.
“I’ve never thought about myself going on reality TV — when the time comes I’ll have to deal with it,” she said.
“The girls all had fun last year and they’re hoping that there is a season two.”
The only overseas dancer in the squad, Watts said her teammates were still getting used to her lingo. Pictured at Dee Why.
Watts, also a former Cronulla Sharks and Sydney Kings cheerleader, has already been on a trip to Las Vegas, where everything was free.
The only overseas dancer in the squad, Watts said her teammates were still getting used to her lingo.
“I said something about a rig and they were like, ‘What’s a rig?’ and I said, ‘Your body!’ ” she said. “They find it hilarious.”
Watts, whose parents Jan, 56, and John, 61, live in Dee Why, began dancing at aged four at Dance North Academy in Narraweena, where she also recently taught.
LA Clippers reality show
She also worked as a personal trainer.
She said she was not earning a Hollywood wage.
“I wouldn’t say it’s well paid,” she said. “We do it for the love and not the money.”
Time: Registration Starts at 9:30am (Auditions begin promptly at 10:00am)
Location: Anthony Munoz Community Center (1240 W. Fourth St, Ontario, CA 91762)
The Ladies of Fury uphold a high standard of quality dance performance and community involvement to represent the Ontario Fury with professionalism on and off the field. During the audition process, applicants will be judged on dance ability, showmanship, physical fitness, crowd appeal, and individual applications. Final round dancers will participate in a group interview and display their own choreography highlighting strengths and specialties (music will be provided).
To ensure a professional and relaxed atmosphere for all participants, the auditions will be closed. No guests or spectators allowed.
Perform at Ontario Fury home games at Citizens Business Bank Arena
Participate in the annual team photo shoot
Serve as ambassadors for the Fury organization as well as the Inland Empire Community
Be a role model to young dancers and children in the community through Jr. Dance Clinics and various appearances
Possible travel opportunities
Give back to the community through the Fury Foundation and other charity events
Invaluable friendships and memories with fellow teammates
You must be at least 18 years old by date of audition
All dancers must have flexible schedules for rehearsals, games, and appearances starting immediately
A total commitment is required to the Ontario Fury for 1 year
Must be able to attend all Ontario Fury home games
Must be available for mandatory mini-camp on Saturday, October 8 – Sunday, October 9
Rehearsals every Sunday from 3:30pm-6:00pm
All interested applicants should complete an application
A 5×7 or larger (head shot or full body shot) photo is required (photo will not be returned)
What to wear
2-piece attire (crop top w/ athletic shorts or briefs)
Skin colored nylons
Jazz, dance or athletic shoes
Hair worn down; Full hair and make-up
All tattoos must be covered up
For further information, contact Dance Team Director, Lynae de Leon at Ldeleon@ontariofury.com. We look forward to seeing you there!
* * * * *
Editor’s Note: I have been covering the Ontario Fury and their predecessor organization, the Anaheim Bolts for several years now and Lynae de Leon has a knack of developing dance talent that make it onto major league dance teams in the NFL and NBA. This past season, four of her 2015-2016 Ladies of Ontario Fury dancers (Sativa-Skye, McKenzie, Lizzie and Kellie) made it to the Rams Cheerleaders, 49ers Gold Rush, Clippers Spirit and Sacramento Kings Dancers. And several others on that squad were finalists.
So if you are an aspiring professional cheerleader, you might want to hone your skills with Lynae de Leon and the Ladies of Ontario Fury.