Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Flag Crew Hopefuls Take First Steps 

Posted by Sasha at 5:29 PM ET


Weeb Ewbank Hall was relatively empty Saturday afternoon — with the exception of the crowd of young participants who took over the Jets’ practice bubble. Wondering what the commotion was about, I stopped Denise Garvey out on the Fieldturf.

Denise, wearing a Jets jersey, told me she was the team’s new flag crew choreographer. The organization had an eight-person team last season and will increase that number by two in ’07. Saturday’s event was a closed audition, by invite only, attended by 46, including everyone from last year’s squad.

“Basically today the girls are going to be learning choreography because we are going to be doing choreography on the sidelines this year. That is different than we did last year,” said Garvey, the Long Island native and SUNY New Paltz alum (waving the flag in the bottom photo). “We are also going to do some flag handling. We will be running them out after touchdowns and introductions and things like that. That is another element we want to continue to add to the games.”

The Jets hired someone with impeccable credentials. This is a former New York Knicks dancer and Dallas Cowboys cheerleader we’re talking about here. Denise explained to me the difference between cheerleaders and the Jets' group.

“I definitely think we have a uniqueness in that we are not cheerleaders — we are a flag crew. There is no other team in the history of the NFL that has done flags,” she said. “I think that’s really cool that we are being innovative with that. They need to be dancers and they need to be performers. But at the same time, they have to be very athletic to carry the flags. The whole idea of a flag crew sets us apart.”

In the morning, Denise taught a dance routine. Then 23 groups of two had their chance to repeat the steps as Brian Mulligan, the Jets' director of events and gameday operations, played Justin Timberlake’s “Sexy Back.” (I missed the a.m. session and am not sorry I didn’t hear that tune 23 times).

“Being a dancer, it’s kind of easy because you are kind of used to it,” said Contestant 30, who came from Rutgers. “But I commend the girls who come in and don’t have a dance background like the rest of us because it can be mind-boggling.”

Everyone got a break before the flags were brought out. Then Denise demonstrated the gig before the contestants ran more than 100 yards with the flags.

“It was hard for me to hold it at first, but I got used to it,” said Contestant 20, who hopes to be a repeat performer this season. “It’s a long run and you have to run all the way back, but once your adrenaline is pumping and all the people are screaming, you don’t even notice it.”

Again paired in twos, Mulligan blared Guns N' Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle” from the speakers as the women raced across the turf and completed their routines. (Much props to Axl on the rock ballad, but this can be overplayed as well.)

“We have a lot of talent out here. We have a lot of girls who can not only perform the choreography but can execute with a lot of showmanship and facial expression,” Denise said. “The Meadowlands is a very big stadium, so they can’t only perform for just me but for 70, 75,000 people. I definitely see that inside a lot of the girls, which is nice.”

So this should answer a couple of frequently asked questions. The Jets still don’t have cheerleaders, but they will have a new and improved flag crew when Denise selects her final 10. You’ll have to help us on the name of this team, though.

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