My dad was a cheerleader in the first Super Bowl
By Diane Euston
The energy was indescribable; your own heartbeat couldn’t keep up with the palpable energy surging through the stadium. To be in Los Angeles inside the Coliseum as the Kansas City Chiefs represented the AFL in the very first Super Bowl is history in itself. To be on the field on national television was unforgettable.
My father, Larry Euston, was there on the field taking in the sights and sounds as the World Championship began–as a cheerleader.
I can remember telling classmates when the ever-so-common topic of the Chiefs came up about my father’s role in sports history. Wide-eyed and proud, I would say, “My dad was a cheerleader in the first Super Bowl!” Oftentimes, I was met with questioning eyes and confused stares.
“There were male cheerleaders?” would often be the response.
Without batting an eye and with my head held high, I would respond, “Yes. Yes, there were.”
Years have gone by since these schoolyard conversations, but the confusion still remains in the pages of history. Last year as the 54th Super Bowl was set to air on national television, networks reported two male cheerleaders, a part of the Los Angeles Rams squad, were the first male cheerleaders to appear in the Super Bowl.
This hit home for me personally. I’m so proud of my dad’s role in Chiefs history- and within the history of the NFL- that I couldn’t stand on the sidelines like he once did without yelling, as loud as I can, that this is not the truth. The very first Super Bowl had male cheerleaders.
The story of cheerleaders within the Kansas City Chiefs organization extends past my father. Without the vision of one male cheerleader from KU who heard professional football was coming to Kansas City, my father may have never had the chance to cheer at the Super Bowl.
The Beginnings of Cheerleaders
It may come as a surprise to some that the beginnings of cheerleading rest in the hands of men. Cheerleading first appeared with the creation of an all-male pep club at Princeton in the 1880s.
Football in America was becoming vastly popular, and the founding of the National Football League (NFL) in 1920 brought the sport into the professional arena and grew to ten teams in four states. Forty years later in 1960, an innovative businessman named Lamar Hunt founded the American Football League (AFL) and started his own team, the Dallas Texans.
In 1963, Hunt moved his professional team to Kansas City where they were renamed the Chiefs. A 21-year-old Randy Neil, who had been a cheerleader at UMKC before transferring to KU, bounced around the idea of bringing his collegiate spirit to the sidelines at Municipal Stadium.
Neil recalled, “I just kept thinking in my head, ‘I’m going to do this.’ I sat down at our kitchen table and typed a letter to Lamar Hunt in Dallas and gave him my background. I asked him, ‘Do you want a fully formed cheerleading squad when you get here?’”
Just a short time later, he received a hand-written note back from Hunt that simply read, “Dear Randy – Go to it.”
Thus, the first cheerleaders in the entire AFL were born right here in Kansas City.
Working on a Small Budget
Neil met with Hunt and came up with a game plan. Within a short time, Neil had picked a total of 18 boys and girls before the Chiefs played their first game.
The budget was always a problem. The Chiefs agreed to come up with a mere $400 per year for miscellaneous expenses. The first official practice was held in the front yard of Neil’s parents’ home in Prairie Village. “We designed our own uniforms and paid for them ourselves. It was easy for boys, because we wore red blazers,” Neil explained. “The girls’ moms made their uniforms.”
Payment for their services came in the form of two tickets to home games which remained the standard for several years. The cheerleaders understood that promotional work was part of the package. In uniform, the squad made appearances at different events across the city to drum up sales for season tickets.
Ward Parkway Shopping Center was brand new and looking for promotions. Neil met with the developers, the Kroh Brothers, to sell sponsorship of their squad. It worked. “They decided to have a pep rally in their south parking lot. H. Roe Bartle appeared, there were marching bands, the entire team, and, of course, the cheerleaders,” Neil said with a smile. Around 3,000 people showed up.
An advertisement in the Kansas City Star the following season read, “No previous cheerleading experience required.” They did ask that girls and boys be seniors in high school or in college.
What Neil had assembled in Kansas City garnered attention from leagues around the country. His format for the Chiefs Cheerleaders, as can be seen in his carefully crafted scrapbook of memories, features several letters from teams such as the New York Jets asking for advice on how to assemble their own squads.
AFL Commissioner Joe Foss also noticed. In 1965, nine members (four girls and five boys) of the Chiefs Cheerleaders were led by Neil to the All-Star Game in New Orleans. Representing the west, they wore red, white and blue uniforms.
Entering into a New Era
After the 1965 season, Neil moved on. His relationship with the sport would last for years to come though. He started the International Cheerleading Foundation, holding clinics across the country. In 1979, he wrote The Official Cheerleaders Handbook. His book reached the New York Times bestsellers list and it is still in print today. He also returned as executive director of the Chiefs Cheerleaders in the 1980s.
As Neil exited the stage, my father, Larry, received an invitation he couldn’t refuse. Mike Nauman, a cheerleader for the Chiefs, was also a cheerleader with my father at Rockhurst College. When a spot for a male cheerleader came up, my dad’s name was passed along.
It was as simple as that. Starting in 1966, my father became one of the six men on the Chiefs cheerleadering squad that partnered up with the girls to do lifts and some acrobatic moves. Being on the field at Municipal Stadium was always a special moment. “It was quite the feeling. You felt like a celebrity looking up and seeing everyone cheering as you got to watch the game from the field,” my dad recalled.
Bandleader Tony DiPardo would lead his 14-piece Zing Band and cue cheerleaders with his music. The uniform my father sported was a white sweater with a red “C” in the center, a red dickey, and white jeans.
The Road to the First Super Bowl
A win on the road against the Buffalo Bills in the AFL Championship gave Kansas City an invitation to play the Green Bay Packers in Los Angeles on January 15, 1967. At the time, the NFL was a separate organization that many considered “far superior” to the AFL. In order to test this theory, the AFL and NFL agreed to play a World Championship Game coined the Super Bowl.
Chiefs Kingdom was on cloud nine when their young team was on their way to the championship. Around 12,000 screaming fans, led by the cheerleaders, stormed the airport to welcome the team home from their win against Buffalo. Traffic on the Broadway Bridge was backed up as people honked their horns, rolled down their windows, and screamed “Charge! Charge!” There was no room on the runway to even put down the stair ramp, so the team had to exit through the rear baggage door.
The Chiefs Cheerleaders assumed they would be going to the first Super Bowl with their team. “The word we got was that the Chiefs organization wasn’t allowed to pay for [the cheerleaders] fanfare,” my dad explained.
My father wasn’t about to take no for an answer. Just shy of 21 years old, my dad had been working at Milgram’s and knew that owner Lester Milgram (1917-1976) was a Red Coater and huge supporter of the Chiefs. “I went down to the Milgram office to talk to Mr. Lester to see if he could do something to help the cheerleaders get to the Super Bowl, but he wasn’t there,” my dad recalled.
Milgram’s personal secretary was there. “I just told her we found out we couldn’t go to the Super Bowl and I was hoping to talk to Mr. Lester,” he said.
Did the secretary deliver the message? A short time later, my father and the rest of his squad found out that someone had arranged for them to take a charter flight to the Super Bowl. “I have no idea if I was 10 percent or 100 percent of the reason of why we got to go,” my father chuckled.
Super Bowl I
The chartered TWA flight was something to remember. They received bright red seat cushions stuffed with plaid blankets with white lettering that read, in part, “First Super Bowl Game.” My father recalled, “We were served steaks branded with the Chiefs logo. It was the coolest thing I had ever seen.”
The hype of the big game wasn’t anything like we see today. The game was blacked out in Los Angeles to encourage people to attend, but the prices of tickets had many people upset. The cost was $12- just under $100 in today’s money. Nearly 62,000 people attended the first Super Bowl, but the Coliseum could hold over 93,000. It is the only Super Bowl on record that didn’t sell out.
Being on the field as a Chiefs Cheerleader– the only cheerleaders at the first Super Bowl- is a memory I have heard my father tell and retell countless times. There he was, with his squad, greeting Len Dawson and the Chiefs led by Hank Stram down the tunnel and onto the field.
The Chiefs lost 35-10 to the Green Bay Packers. After the following season, the Chiefs Cheerleaders eliminated men from the squad. A letter from Hunt thanking my father for his service is one of his prized pieces in his album. “Lamar Hunt was a class-act,” my father stated.
Righting the Wrongs of Cheerleading History
As Kansas City erupted in pure excitement recently when the team brought the Lamar Hunt trophy back home for the first time in 50 years and prepared to go to Super Bowl LIV, I, along with most of us, cried tears of joy. We have waited so long!.
Last year, national news proudly reported that for the first time ever in the history of the Super Bowl, men would be cheerleading. But from their beginning in 1963, there were men cheering along the sidelines, lifting girls and leading the crowd at Municipal Stadium in chants.
When we think of the cheerleaders along the sideline today, we picture beautiful, talented women dancing with their pom poms and jeweled uniforms. But the founding of cheerleading here in Kansas City started with the vision of a 21-year-old young man from KU.
Diane writes a blog on the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to http://www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com