While college cheerleading has been a part of football for more than a hundred years, the NFL didn’t incorporate cheerleaders into the mix until the Baltimore Colts did it in the 1950s. It wasn’t until the 1970s, however, when professional cheerleaders made it into the national spotlight with the arrival of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. Here’s how it all happened.
The first Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders looked nothing like today’s version
In the 1960s, with the NFL increasing in popularity due to its television exposure, Dallas Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, who had an extensive background in television, envisioned a blend of cheerleaders and football action would provide a perfect entertainment experience for the fans.
Early in the 1960s Schramm hired professional models to walk along the sidelines, thinking the attractive women would appeal to the predominantly male audience. It failed miserably.
A year later, Schramm came up with a second idea. He hired local male and female high school students from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to become the “CowBelles & Beaux,” a co-ed cheerleading squad that supported the team.
It was technically, a cheerleading squad, but Schramm felt something was missing. In 1967, he figured it out.
Birth of the modern-day Cowboys Cheerleaders
In a game at the Cotton Bowl against the Atlanta Falcons, a local stripper named Bubbles Cash generated a buzz in the stands as she walked up and down the stairs, provocatively dressed, toting cotton candy in each hand.
Schramm spotted Cash and immediately imagined a cheerleading squad dressed in similar attire. That next season the organization dropped the men and the name. It would be an all-female squad, and would be called the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, recruiting new members each year.
During the next few seasons, Schramm and Dee Brock tinkered with the look and composition of the team. Eventually, they settled on all women older than 18 and they would work with Texie Waterman, a well-known New York choreographer, who would teach them various dance routines intended to generate more fan spirit.
In 1972, seven women, who had spent the summer perfecting their routines at a training camp with Waterman, made their debut and were the first to appear in Texas Stadium wearing the now iconic, and more-revealing, star-spangled uniforms.
The women were a huge hit with the fans.
How they became a national sensation
While the Cowboys cheerleaders quickly became fan favorites at home with Dallas fans, they had not yet been exposed to a national television audience. That all changed on a Monday night in 1975 at Texas Stadium when the Cowboys hosted the Kansas City Chiefs.
That’s when the temporary director of ABC’s nationally televised game, who typically oversaw college football broadcasts, instructed his camera operators to get numerous shots of the cheerleaders throughout the game.
One particular cheerleader caught the director’s eye. With a camera trained on her much of the game, eventually, the cheerleader noticed. She responded by flirting, posing, and even winking at the camera. It was one of the defining moments in the squad’s history.
Several weeks later, something similar happened in a contest between the Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers. This experience proved to be much more significant, however, because it happened in Super Bowl X, with more than 70 million people watching. This time the camera focused on Cowboys cheerleader Gwenda Swearingen. Swearingen, much like her teammate a few weeks earlier, played up to the camera and winked.
The Cowboys lost the game, but from that point forward, as Texas Monthly later noted in an article, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders had “their essence perfectly symbolized in one tantalizing gesture and forever captivated the hearts and cameras of the world.”
The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders today
After that famous wink, the squad went on to be featured on posters and regularly appeared on television including a made-for-TV movie in 1979 called The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders. It received 48 percent of the national television audience.
The squad has continued to grow in popularity through the years appearing on calendars as well as entertaining U.S. troops around the world in United Service Organizations (USO) tours.
In 2006, the squad debuted its own reality television series, Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders: Making the Team. The show is still in production and airs on Country Music Television (CMT) during the NFL season.
It’s been quite a journey for the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders in the last 50 years, and the squad’s popularity shows no signs of waning anytime soon. And to think it all started because of a man named Tex and a woman named Bubbles.