Texans Cheerleaders Have Playoffs Too

Photo courtesy of Mike Oropeza/Picasa

For the first time in franchise history, the Houston Texans are in the playoffs, set to play the Cincinnati Bengals Saturday afternoon at Reliant Stadium. Duh. You’ve disconnected yourself from every Internet-related device, television, radio andhuman being in H-Town if you’ve missed that fun little tidbit of info.

While much of the focus has been on rookie quarterback T.J. Yates‘ banged up shoulder, guard Mike Brisiel’s return to the starting lineup after surgery, defensive coordinator Wade Phillip’s energy levels after his surgery, the tenacity of the Texans defense (which ranks second in the NFL), and what these guys are doing to prepare for the big game, little (or actually no) attention has been paid to the 30-plus women who parade around in sexy Texans gear pumping up the crowds each and every home game.

And since there’s no crowd, or game for that matter, more important in Texans history than this playoff game, I thought I’d swing by practice and see what these ladies are working on. Since Monday, the girls have been diligently learning all new routines.

While the cheerleaders typically do four routines a game and practice three times a week, they too are feeling the playoff pressure practicing every single day this week and learning five brand new routines, including a halftime dance choreographed to the tune of a live performance by Clay Walker.

I spoke with Amanda, the most seasoned girl on the team (in her fifth season) and asked what the contingency plan was if Clay changed the beat or got a little twangy in his lyrics. Is it business as usual?

“If he decides to throw in a ‘HEY HOUSTON’, we have to stay on our counts,” she says. “Our game plan is our game plan no matter what.”

As the girl with the most tenure on the team, Amanda knows all too well how rough past seasons have been.

“It’s a really nice change of pace going out into the community and hearing fans positive feedback with a winning record,” she says. “Everyone has been so supportive this season which makes our job a lot easier.”

Nicole (or Rihanna as some call her), a second-year veteran, explained the cheerleaders’ grueling long hours.

“We’ve been practicing each night from about 6:30-midnight learning all the new dances, but it’s worth it. I’m super excited — not only because it’s a playoff game, but we are making history as the first Texans cheerleading squad to make the playoffs,” she says.

And it isn’t just the cheerleaders that are making history — 39 of the Texan players will be making their first ever playoff appearance. More stuff to cheer for.

Reporters asked Gary Kubiak if he was putting in 10 to 12 hours each day leading up to the game. “At least that,” Kubiak responded. These girls are putting in almost the same kind of hours.

Moe (short for Morgan), another second-year vet, detailed how hectic this week has been. As a physician’s liaison, she works her usual 8 to 5 job and then heads directly to the bubble for at least six hours of practice.

“It makes for a very long day, but with a four-minute pre-game dance and a five-minute halftime show ahead of us, we’ve got our work cut out,” she says.

Moe is not only a proud member of the squad, she’s also the lone Texans cheerleader headed to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii at the end of January to represent as one of 27 cheerleaders voted by their peers to attend.

I asked head cheerleader coach, Alto Gary, who has been coach since day one (“Day one, 2011” as she likes to say), why they were busting their humps to learn all new routines in such a short timespan.

“It’s the playoffs, a new beginning. This is our first time making the playoffs, and I wanted to make it special for the team and the fans,” Gary says. “Since we were going from back-to-back games with a quick turnaround, I did give the girls a head start and sent two of the dances to them online.”

I guess there are more uses for technology than I once thought.

Aside from getting to be part of history, I wondered if the girls got any additional incentives for playoff games like the players did.

“Well, it may not seem like much, but they did get the chance to purchase playoff tickets in advance, which for many teams is rare,” Gary says. “And, they get cool playoff shirts they didn’t have to stand in line for,” she laughs as she showcases the shirts with “Texans Playoffs” written in bedazzled letters in both a red and navy varieties.

Without stating the blatantly obvious, Houston has a lot to celebrate. Since the last playoff game in Houston (which took place on January 16, 1994 when the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Houston Oilers in the Astrodome in front of 64,011 fans), a lot has happened in the world of football:

190 playoff games played

20 NFL stadiums built (including Reliant Stadium)

12 different Super Bowl winners

Four new teams joined the NFL (including the Texans)

Three teams moved to a new city

Back then, the number 1 song was “I Will Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That)” by Meatloaf, President Barack Obama was an associate at a Chicago law firm, gas prices averaged $1 a gallon, and defensive end J.J. Watt was only 4-years-old.

A lot has changed. Here’s hoping for many more playoff games to come, whether or not they are hosted right here in Houston.

I think we’d all be OK with an upcoming game in Indianapolis, yes?

This article was featured on Culture Map, Houston’s Daily Digital Magazine in the sport’s section.