Half the Distance to the Bustline

Arena football and the Miami Hooters -- more than just a game

"Sexist or just plain embarrassing?" asks the bastion of political correctness.

"Grand Opening Special, $25. Private Modeling," beckons an ad for Tease to Please Lingerie, also in the paper's sports pages.

None of which is meant to call the Herald's own unassailable ethics into question. It's just that, as anyone who's read Semi-Tough, North Dallas Forty, or Jim Brown's autobiography can attest, sex and football have always been (pardon the pun) bosom buddies. At least the Hooters are (sorry, couldn't resist) up-front about it.

At least they were, until somebody went and made a big deal out of it.
"This is rock-and-roll football," said a beaming general manager Bob Hewko when first interviewed by the Herald in early March. "We're going to have a dance squad that could compete with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders. They're the 'Hooter Girls.'"

Hewko was definitely on to something. Strip away all the pseudointellectual b.s. and football still boils down to a bunch of guys beating the crap out of each other to impress women. The Cowboys were not the first NFL team to exploit the sex and football combo, but they were the best; for nearly two decades their cheerleaders have been the pre-eminent symbol of the sport's implicit primitive, carnal appeal. Who better to bring the same kind of zing to the AFL than Hooters?

That is why it was so disheartening, with the allegations of sexism still ringing through the media, to hear Hooters dance team coordinator Chris Campbell proclaim, "We want power tumblers!" She had come to Cafe Iguana in Kendall on April 6Y to judge the final round of dance tryouts. Eighteen lithe young women, winnowed from an initial field of nearly 100 hopefuls, were competing for a coveted spot on the team and the right to earn $50 per game (plus stipends for practices and promotions). And, of course, "exposure."

"The initial reception wasn't what we thought it would be," Campbell explained. "A lot of serious dancers hesitated to try out with us at first because of the Hooters name. But the word really spread when the girls found out it wasn't about big boobs."

The dance floor cleared. One by one the contestants cartwheeled and pirouetted their way past the judges' table. A few performed aerial splits, a few did backflips, and a few A in spite of Campbell's disclaimer, there were two or three finalists whose primary asset would seem to have been a high center of gravity A made no attempt at tumbling whatsoever but simply strode dramatically across the floor. To a woman, the Hooter hopefuls were enthusiastic and supportive, smiling and cheering each other on like a roomful of aerobics instructors.

Campbell, who operates several dance schools and cheerleading camps across the state, was true to her words. The flippers and splitters made the cut; the strutters didn't. Hewko's heady statement had been forgotten. Or forsaken.

Predictably, hard-liners and stodgy old farts weaned on Y.A. Tittle, Deacon Jones, and Larry Csonka are unnerved by all the changes to the overblown kid's game they hold sacrosanct. Besides the pigskins-in-the-stands, the management gives away hundreds of T-shirts, vacation packages, foam rubber footballs, and LA Gear bags. At times they enlist Hooters girls to deliver the prizes, sometimes they bring in jai alai players to run around the field and toss gifts into the stands with their cestas. The crowd is peppered with plenty of young couples with kids; Sandra and Charlie Vallina were able to take one-year-old Charlie Jr. to the Tampa Bay game because of a Power 96 (WPOW-FM 96) giveaway that included six sideline tickets, beach chairs, hats, T-shirts, a wading pool, a beach ball, squirt guns, and plenty of food and drinks served by Hooters girls.

And although testosterone appeal prevails, some fans are being won over to the on-the-field aspects of the sport. "I don't know A I admit I came here for the cheese factor," confided fan Andy Anderson during the opener against Charlotte. "But this game is really bizarre. It's like it's right there in your lap. Some of the hits are awesome. You can hear everything pop."

Unfortunately, the Hooters have been on the receiving end of most of the popping. As of this writing the team is 1-3 with nine games left in the season.

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