Arguably the most widely recognized Texans in the world, the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders just marked their first quarter century as handmaidens to America’s Team. Their fame springs from a combination of seemingly antithetical attributes: a girl-next-door sweetness tempered with come-hither curves, and a Southern belle delicacy masking an athletic toughness. Given that the salary per game has been a measly $15 for 25 years, the rewards are not monetary. “It was an honor to represent the Cowboys,” says Dixie Smith Luque of Dallas, who at nineteen was a charter member of the goddess squad. “Of course, back then, we were thrilled just to be part of the fun. We had no idea the cheerleaders would turn into celebrities themselves.”

The Cowboys’ first cheerleading team included males. Beginning in the late sixties, thirty high school students, dubbed the CowBelles and Beaux, performed pom-pom routines. In 1972 general manager Tex Schramm—seeking a more polished form of halftime entertainment—enlisted dance teacher Texie Waterman to choreograph routines for an older, all-female troupe. Originally a septet, the group now numbers 32.

In 1976, during Super Bowl X in Miami, a cheerleader winked at a network cameraman. He relayed the image to 75 million viewers, who helped turn the Texas phenomenon into a national craze.

The year 1978 spawned two tawdry rip-offs: Debbie Does Dallas, a pornographic spoof, and the “Texas Cowgirls,” an R-rated ensemble that posed for Playboy.

When The Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, a made-for-TV movie starring British actress Jane Seymour, aired in January 1979, 48 percent of the viewing audience tuned in.

The cheerleaders’ uniform has changed little since its debut. In 1989 Jerry Jones’s proposal to clothe them in an even skimpier style sparked almost as great an outcry as his firing of Tom Landry.

Cheerleader alumnae include identical twins, a native of the Philippines, a Miss Texas, a Miss New York, and actresses Tina Gayle Hernandez of Chips and Janet Fulkerson Gunn of Silk Stalkings. Sister duos are especially common—notably VonCiel and Vanessa Baker, who served eight-year and seven-year stints, respectively. The current squad boasts the first second-generation member.

Twelve cheerleaders perform annually on USO tours, traveling with the same Department of Defense administrative rating as a colonel. They have appeared in 23 countries, including Cuba, Bosnia, and Bahrain.