“Brad Pitt is going to see me! All of Hollywood is going to see me!” That’s what 47-year-old Carrie O’Brien thought when she first spied the July 2-July 9 double issue of Sports Illustrated, the one featuring her and four of the other original Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders on the cover. Dixie Smith Luque, also 47, was asked for her autograph: Two buyers she’d sold homes to returned after their closing, copies of the magazine in hand. (“You forgot to mention this,” one said.) Vonciel Baker, a Southwest Airlines flight attendant who says her age is none of my business, was asked by her pilot to sign copies for passengers before the plane landed “because we’re supposed to do twenty-minute turnarounds.” Then the pilot asked her to sign his copy.
It’s rare for women not in bikinis to grace SI’s cover and rarer still for women over forty, yet the issue has attracted more than its share of media attention, with everyone from CNN to ESPN calling to do follow-ups. The reason should be obvious: The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders are international icons. They were the first pinups of modern sports, the sizzle on the steak that established the Cowboys as America’s Team as much as the players on the field did. They’re also the reason Dallas women are perceived as some of the most gorgeous creatures on earth—big smiles, big hair, big makeup, big cosmetic surgery, and all.
Tex Schramm, the general manager of the Cowboys, and Dee Brock, the manager of the high school students who led cheers at Cowboys games, knew what they were doing back in 1972 when they called Texie Waterman, the hottest dance instructor in town. They wanted Waterman to come up with a way to generate more fan spirit, so she, in turn, called several of her students. “She told us they were looking for wholesome, all-American entertainers,” Luque says.
The seven cheerleaders chosen from a group of one hundred hopefuls—in addition to O’Brien, Luque, and Baker, the pom-pom-waving trailblazers were Anna Marie Carpenter Lee, Rosy Hall, Deanovoy Nichols, and Dolores McAda—were hardly bimbos. Growing up, several of them had studied tap, jazz, and ballet. Luque had been on the drill team at MacArthur High School in Irving and had danced for the talent portion of the Miss Dallas and Miss Irving beauty pageants (she was a finalist in each). O’Brien had led the Leopardette drill team at Adamson Cheerleaders High in Dallas. Lee, who also won’t reveal her age, was an officer in the Rebelette drill team at Robert E. Lee High in Tyler, then joined O’Brien as one of the Apache Belle dancers at Tyler Junior College. Baker was unsuccessful the three times she tried out for cheerleader at Lincoln High in Dallas, but she made the squad and broke the color barrier at Texas Lutheran College in Seguin. O’Brien remembers that tryouts weren’t as hard as she had initially thought: “Remember ‘These Boots Are Made for Walkin’?’ Most contestants wore white go-go boots and pranced around like Nancy Sinatra. I wore black boots and had a cap pistol that I pointed at the judges.” Lee danced to “Put On a Happy Face.” Baker did a routine to Bette Midler’s “Friends,” touching the hands of most of the people watching, the judges included. “Texie said, ‘You’re the funniest thing I have ever seen in my life,’” Baker recalls.
They were paid $15 a game. Practices were two or more times a week (Luque, a student at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, had to drive 470 miles round-trip each time). Among the rules to follow: Be prompt, don’t chew gum on the field, and don’t fraternize with the players. Baker is the only one who admits being tested on that last rule. “Before a game, one of the equipment boys knocked on our dressing room door and handed me a note. It was from a player we all know, but I’m not going to tell you who it was. It said, ‘Will you please meet me after the game? I’d like to take you to dinner.’ I took the note and wrote on it, ‘Not in your lifetime!’”
In their lifetimes, however, history was made. The Cowboys Cheerleaders transcended pom-poms and became fixtures of popular culture. There were books about