HTC Pro Bowl
I’ll be the first to admit it: The Pro Bowl is not something I work my schedule around, nor my DVR. Sure, I loved seeing my guys (especially my Virginia boy Duane Brown) get voted in for an awesome workcationin Honolulu, but when it comes to the real song and dance of football, whether or not the game should continue is debatable.
But then I met Vanessa: An incredibly sexy brunette with a bubbly yet humble personality, still buzzing from her experience at the Pro Bowl several weeks ago. The glorified exhibition game has come and gone, and this third-year Houston Texans cheerleader is still happily yammering on about her experience.
And rightly so. The week long adventure Vanessa experienced while in Hawaii with 25 other professional cheerleaders — and just her journey to win a Texans cheerleader uniform in general — is motivating to say the least, if not downright Hallmark card inspiring. See for yourself:
CultureMap: How were you picked to go to this year’s Pro Bowl?
Vanessa: Our team votes one night, usually before practice. Coach Alto (Gray) passed out a piece of paper and we each wrote down the name of the cheerleader we felt would be the best representative for our team. Needless to say, I was surprised, happy and beyond belief that I was chosen.
CM: Had you ever been to Hawaii before?
Vanessa: I had never been to Hawaii before this trip. I looked up weather conditions and found that it was similar to Houston, just less humidity.
CM: What were you most excited about going to the Pro Bowl?
Vanessa: To meet the different girls from each squad and learn about their program. I was also excited to perform a final time for the 2012- 2013 season.
CM: Describe your experience.
Vanessa: Part of me was anxious to meet and perform with 25 other girls I’d never met. I have been blessed with the opportunity to travel to South Korea, Washington, D.C., and Japan for military tours — however, I’d always been accompanied with at least one of my fellow Texans cheerleaders. I had heard from previous Texans Pro Bowl cheerleaders that when the week was over, I’d feel like I had 25 new “sisters.”
“Our line was standing near J.J. Watt when he was on the sidelines with his bloodied finger . . . that was a sight to see!”
I didn’t really believe that one week could transform 26 strangers into sisters. Each morning began with a delicious
buffet breakfast along with a “get-to-know-you” session . . . this made us laugh and cry and learn more about the person behind the uniform. We practiced countless hours, perfecting dances that we learned individually from a DVD sent to us in December.
The cheerleaders were separated into four lines, first by dividing NFC and AFC, then by height. At 5-foot-7, I was considered “tall” so I was placed in the AFC Two line. We spent a lot of time with our line, doing most of our appearances together. Performing with Train for the Pro Bowl pregame show was exhilarating! I have been a huge fan of Train since “Meet Virginia” and “Drops of Jupiter.”
The game itself was a neat experience, as we were allowed to take pictures and sign autographs during the game. We had dinner at Wolfgang Puck after the game and looking around the table, none of us could believe that the week had come to an end. The 26 of us truly shared a bond that could not be duplicated in any other sense, not even with our own team back at home.
CM: Did you hit it off especially well with any of the other cheerleaders?
Vanessa: I think I grew the closest with my roommate, Sam, from the Jaguars. The first night we laid awake talking for more than an hour about the upcoming week. We have similar personalities — kind, humorous and laid back. The Colts girl, Breanna, and I hit it off from the plane ride to Hawaii. We were both feeling the same anxiety and were watching the DVD together on our laptops during the ride.
She and I ended up being in the same AFC Two line, which was nice. Overall, I felt our Pro Bowl cheerleaders as a whole were just an amazing group of women. I learned something from each of them. They were all so beautiful outside, but even more so on the inside.
CM: Did you learn anything interesting about any of the Texans players that went?
Vanessa: Just like in the regular season, we didn’t have time to interact with the players. I was very proud to represent the nine players that were selected for the Pro Bowl. Our line was standing near J.J. Watt when he was on the sidelines with his bloodied finger . . . that was a sight to see!
CM: Did you learn anything interesting about any of the other squads there (i.e., any rules they have, cool stunts or dances they do, etc.)?
Vanessa: I learned quite a bit about the other NFL cheer squads. For example, the Ravens squad consists of 60 men and women, divided into a dance squad and a stunt squad. Many teams have a “cap” of how many years a girl is allowed to cheer. The Patriots cheerleaders have a three-year cap, the Jaguars have a five-year cap — these are just two examples.
The Texans cheerleaders are one of the only teams that require their girls to tryout to dance for each game. While this surprised several of my fellow Pro Bowlers, I feel that it keeps the Texans girls on our toes all season long.
CM: Any advice for future cheerleaders going to the Pro Bowl?
Vanessa: I would advise the next Pro Bowl Cheerleader to take time each day to take a step back and breathe it all in. It is such a blessing to be the ONE girl chosen to represent your team. Also, don’t stress too much about packing! We are fortunate enough to be gifted different shirts, shoes and practice attire while we’re there, you’ll have plenty to wear.
CM: Any parting thoughts?
Vanessa: Being selected as the Pro Bowl representative for the Texans Cheerleaders was more than a dream come true. I do not come from a dance or cheer background. My road to this point in my life was not without detours or obstacles to overcome.
Football is my family’s favorite past time. When the Oilers left, we cheered for the Titans until Mr. (Bob) McNair brought the game back to Houston. My dad has had season tickets since 2002. One day I was watching the game when I noticed the cheerleaders and thought to myself, “I can do that.”
“One day I was watching the game when I noticed the cheerleaders and thought to myself, “I can do that.”
I tried out for the first time in 2008. My aunt sewed on a lime green lace thing to a black sports bra and I paired it with black shorts and pink and grey tennis shoes . . . I made it to the second round. In 2009 I returned with a bit more flair, but still lacking the confidence. I made it to the final round and was cut the night the final squad was announced.
My heart was crushed, but my desire to be on the team was stronger than ever. I returned to auditions in 2010 and the young girl inside me could not believe that I had actually made it . . . my number was called to be a member of the Houston Texans Cheerleaders.
My rookie season, I was known by Coach Alto as a “Can of Cute.” I had to come out of my shell and learn to become a bigger and more confident dancer. I was awarded “Most Improved” at the end of my Rookie Season. To come from not making it past the second round in 2008 to being selected the 2012-2013 Pro Bowl representative is amazing.
If I could tell that 21-year old girl driving home in tears after being cut to not fret, but to keep believing and working hard, I definitely would.
This article was featured on Culture Map, Houston’s Daily Digital Magazine in the sport’s section.