For football fans, cheerleaders are an evocative subject and invoke disagreement among the fans. From a football point of view, they hold little interest for me as the Steelers haven’t had any since 1969.

Collegiate football had cheerleaders from the nineteenth century, but it wasn’t until 1923 that women were allowed to cheer for the first time. Since then, cheer leading has evolved into a sport and in the NFL an expression of titillation to the extent that the Dallas Cowboys girls have their own TV show.

The lack of success for the Steelers on the field during the sixties meant a difficult time selling tickets for the games, so the Steelers entertainment co-ordinator thought adding cheerleaders to the sideline might improve sales.

Although they were the first team to have cheerleaders in the NFL, they were not the glamorous, scantily clad ladies as we see now on the sideline. The Steelerettes were selected from the Robert Morris Junior College on the basis of appearance, personality, coordination and gymnastic ability and were required to maintain a 2.0 grade point average.

The first few squads were required to take a written exam testing their knowledge of football in general and the Steelers in particular. They had to identify the Steelers quarterback (Bobby Layne), the coach (Buddy Parker), and have some idea as to who Buddy Dial and “Big Daddy” Lipscomb were. The written exam was dropped in 1964 and the Steelerettes found themselves on the scrap heap at the end of 1969.

The success of the Cowboys winning Super Bowl XII in 1978 with their glamorous cheerleaders received more coverage from the TV cameras than Roger Staubach or Tony Dorsett. The achievement increased some NFL team’s obsession with this method of entertaining the fans so other teams followed, but with mixed response.

At the time, Steelers President Dan Rooney remarked, “We can compete with Dallas on the field, but we can’t compete with this.” The local newspaper reported the Steelers were searching for something that would attract the fans’ attention and become identified with the fans.

Perhaps a yellow towel would fulfil that hunt.

The fascination with cheerleaders is extensive. On an annual trip to Pittsburgh in 2012, I decided a day trip to Portsmouth Ohio would be an interesting venture. One of the original stadiums from the early days of the NFL still survives and is still in use by a local high school team, the Notre Dame Titans.

The Portsmouth Spartans eventually morphed into the Detroit Lions and I decided the 550 miles round trip was worth a day trip. I arranged with someone local to show us around as I didn’t want to go that distance to find it closed. Coincidentally, it was Bill Beaumont who was our gracious host and he was aware of the rugby player with the same name.

Just before we hit the town’s outskirts, I was pulled over by a state trooper, presumably for speeding. I made the mistake of getting out of the car, to be told to get back to my vehicle. I have since learnt that the correct procedure when stopped is to turn the engine off and sit with your arms around the steering wheel.

He had probably noticed our New York plates because that’s where we picked up our hire car and maybe he thought we were the Sopranos. Much to his disappointment, it was three Brits he had pulled apprehended. My charm and charisma obviously won him over and after suggesting I drive more slowly, he recommended we go down to the river to see the mirrors.

We all thought that’s weird, mirrors down by the river, but maybe it would be worth a visit.

Bill showed us around the stadium and we took photos while he explained its history and then as we were departing, suggested we went down to the river to see the murals. That made us smile. The state trooper’s very distinct accent had turned murals into mirrors.

What’s all this got to do with cheerleaders you are quite rightly wondering?

While we were being shown around the stadium, we passed the changing room labelled, “Varsity Cheerleaders.” My friend Pete took a photo of the door and later posted it on Flickr with the tag ‘cheerleaders.’ Last time I looked, it had 552 views and we both wonder how many visitors were disappointed when they followed the tag expecting to view some scantily clad cheerleaders only to encounter the picture of a door.

Merry Christmas!

Gordon Dedman

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