Sunday, February 01, 2009
Tulsa woman performed at first Super Bowl
By David Harper
By David Harper
The Super Bowl has grown into the biggest thing in American sports.
And Shirley Elliott, program director at the Performing Arts Center in Tulsa, had a field-level view of its birth.
Super Bowl I was played Jan. 15, 1967, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where Elliott was in the midst of her four-year teenage career as a Los Angeles Ramette.
As if you didn't know, the Ramettes were an "official organization of majorettes" that supported the NFL's Rams long before they left Hollywood for St. Louis.
The official National Football League record book shows that Super Bowl I drew a crowd of 61,946 spectators in a cavernous stadium that holds about 90,000.
A lot of sports fans didn't know what to make of the game, which matched the powerful Green Bay Packers of the established NFL against the Kansas City Chiefs of the upstart American Football League.
Shirley Elliott, program director for the Performing Arts Center, performed in 1967 during Super Bowl I as one of the Los Angeles Rams' Ramettes. She performed not because her team made it to the game but because the game was played at her team's home stadium. Here, she holds a Ramette photo of herself.
It wasn't even known as the Super Bowl then, going instead by the far clunkier moniker of the AFL-NFL Championship Game.
Still, Elliott remembered Friday that she and the rest of the Ramettes knew that the contest —which was broadcast live on two of the three major television networks at the time — was more special than the average Rams home game.
"It was a big deal to us because it was out of the ordinary," she said. "We had different choreography. Everybody was trying to make it bigger than a normal game."
This Sunday's Super Bowl between Pittsburgh and Arizona will feature a performance by the Tulsa-bound Bruce Springsteen.
Recent years have featured miniconcerts by other superstar acts such as U2, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney, Aerosmith and Britney Spears.
Justin Timberlake and Janet Jackson created an uproar a few years back with their infamous "wardrobe malfunction."
By contrast, Elliott remembers that Super Bowl I's intermission "was more like a high-school halftime," as organizers put together a "patchwork" of acts such as the Ramettes to keep the fans entertained.
Elliott can't say for sure that the Ramettes performed at halftime. The passage of 42 years has a way of obscuring such details.
Still, she remembers carrying some sort of banner around the stadium, and she is certain that they did perform before the crowd that day.
In fact, she has a photograph in a frame to prove it.
It is taken from such a distance that she can't exactly pinpoint herself in the crowd of Ramettes, who were made up of Southern California high school girls.
Elliott was a 15-year-old sophomore at Claremont High School when the game was played.
If that sounds a little young to be an NFL cheerleader, consider that this was several years before the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders redefined what the role was all about and took it in a different direction.
In fact, Elliott said the Ramettes weren't really even cheerleaders. They didn't even have pompoms.
She compares what they did more to the Rockettes: lots of kicking in unison with some baton-twirling thrown in.
By the time Elliott concluded her four-year run as a Ramette in 1968, the uniforms had morphed from drill-team outfits to more of a glitzy, Vegas-circa-late-1960s look.
Even then, Elliott said, the whole thing was all very innocent and wholesome.
She had a crush on Rams matinee-idol quarterback Roman Gabriel, and she can still remember the image of him getting out of his sports car in the Coliseum parking lot.
She never spoke to him though.
"I was incredibly shy," she said. "I would have never approached him."
Bashful or not, Elliott said she doesn't recall getting nervous at Super Bowl I or at any other football game.
She said she finds it far more stressful addressing a crowd at the PAC than as a Ramette at the Coliseum.
"We were just out there doing our thing," she recalled.