Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews stands near a group of New England Patriots… (Winslow Townson / Associated…)
Gimme an I-R-O-N-Y!!
The upcoming Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium, home of the world's most famous cheerleaders and monument to all things poufy and glittering, will make history for a different reason.
There will be no cheerleaders.
The Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers are two of the six NFL teams that do not employ cheerleaders, and the NFL said Thursday that they have no plans to bring in ringers.
It will be the first time in the Super Bowl's 45 years that the game will contain no sis, no boom and no bah.
"No cheerleaders this year,'' read the e-mailed answer from a league spokesman Thursday, bringing me to my feet.
Gimme a G-O-O-D!!
With the possible exception of the baseball caps worn by quarterbacks on the sidelines, there is nothing more useless in an NFL game than a cheerleader. You can't hear them. You can barely see them. You don't need them to lead cheers that can be started by the scoreboard. You don't need them to entertain you during a halftime spent standing in line for the bathroom.
Ben-Gals? Saintsations? Please. It's no coincidence that the six teams without cheerleaders are all old-school football operations that focus only on the field, with the Packers and Steelers being joined by Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and the New York Giants.
The Packers dumped their cheerleaders after 1988 when surveys showed the customers really didn't care. They currently borrow cheerleaders from two local colleges but will not be taking them to Dallas.
The Steelers dropped the Steelerettes in 1970 with little fanfare, their spokesman writing, "To be honest, it is just an organizational decision. I wish I had a great story for you, but that's really it.''
The Super Bowl doesn't need the pompoms, and won't miss them, but their absence raises a bigger issue about the activity in general.
If America's most popular single sporting event can survive without cheerleaders, are they still relevant anywhere?
"But you have to understand that we're talking about several different sects of cheering," protested Amanda Wade, director of Pasadena's respected Victory Cheer operation. "What's happening in the NFL and NBA is far different than what happens at other levels."
Certainly, NFL cheerleading — dancing, really — is as different from competitive cheer and supportive cheerleading as Troy Polamalu's haircut is from mine. But one cannot dodge the notion that with nobody on the sidelines urging Green Bay's Clay Matthews to "hit 'em again, hit 'em again, harder, harder," the perception of cheerleading will be taking a beating.
"Those people at the Super Bowl may have enough to look at and cheer about without cheerleaders, but that's not typical," persisted Wade. "Our industry is here to stay."
As an emerging competitive exercise — squad versus squad, which is Wade's business — cheering is indeed as athletically relevant as any other youth activity. A federal judge recently ruled it was too "underdeveloped" and "disorganized" to be considered an official college sport, but it's growing and evolving. On the day before the Super Bowl, in fact, Azusa Pacific is hosting a four-team college event that is competitive cheer disguised as "acrobatics and tumbling.
That kind of cheering works. The other kind, to me, not so much.
As a way of supporting teams — kids cheering other kids while standing on the sideline — cheerleading seems so yesterday. It's incredibly dangerous, not very inclusive, and, by joining squads, young female athletes end up watching games instead of competing in them.
As sports audiences at all levels have grown in sophistication, do we really need somebody telling us how and when to cheer? And do we really want to do so in chants and rhymes?
Check out a local high school football game, see how many people other than loyal moms are actually following the cheerleaders. At the college level, while cheerleaders are great for courtyard pep rallies, the stadiums are often too big for them to make an impact. The best college cheerleader is often the scoreboard and a voice on a loudspeaker.
What does it say that the UCLA's most notable football cheerleader is a senior citizen? A few years ago, UCLA's most notable basketball cheerleader was a juggler.
To those who says cheerleading is far bigger in other parts of the country, well, on the Texas-based "Friday Night Lights" — perhaps TV's best football drama ever — it's been a couple of years since the main female character was a cheerleader. These days, she's a team manager.
None of this would be a problem if cheerleading didn't resemble the most dangerous sorority on campus. Most studies have shown cheering and cheerleading to be the leading cause of catastrophic injury among young female athletes, accounting for an astounding 65% of such accidents even though only 12% of that group are cheerleaders. Young girls are tossed high into the air above hardwood floors for … what, exactly?
"Cheering provides an athlete with an extreme amount of mental and physical training while giving them great team unity and leadership skills," said Wade, a former college cheerleader. "In other sports there can be one person that can stand out, but in cheer, everybody is equally important. The old stereotype portrays cheerleaders as airheads, but in reality, kids come out of the program as confident leaders."
Yet there won't be any of them at the Super Bowl, where 100,000 forlorn fans will have nobody to tell them when to chant, "Dee-fense, dee-fense."
Here's guessing they'll eventually figure it out themselves.