It's hard being a Cowboys cheerleader
This column appears in the Oct. 5 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
If you're going to make it in the Cowboys organization, you better cram like a sardine, because you'll take written tests on everything from Cowboys history to Texas culture to world affairs.
Not to make the football team. To make the cheerleading team.
The players don't have to take any quizzes. If you're 290 and can turn a running back into an oil stain, you could read at the equivalent of a mealworm and make it.
It's the cheerleaders who get grilled like it's Final Jeopardy. They take a nearly 100-question test during tryouts and are asked to name everything from the governor of Texas to a country that borders Iraq.
Remind me: What's this got to do with pom-poms?
Tryout coordinator: "Amber, that was a terrific triple-twisting salchow, and landing in a split was a surprise, but I'm afraid you gagged on the cold-fusion question. Get out."
"We want our cheerleaders to be knowledgeable and well-spoken in interviews," says Cowboys cheerleading boss Kelli Finglass. "If they're not, it's a deal breaker."
Cowboys players get interviewed every day. Shouldn't they have to take it? "Well, their job description is winning football games," Finglass says.
Besides, if Cowboys players had to pass the same quiz before they could make the team, many of them would be bouncers at Showgirls today.
Which is exactly why we gave it to them.
Why not? Why should the cheerleaders have to know more than the players? It's not like anybody from Fox is going up to a cheerleader after the game, asking, "Incredible game! Where do you think it ranks in Cowboys history?"
We coerced 12 players into taking it. To their credit, they did it with good humor and open minds, just not always clever ones. Some examples:
Q: Name the Six Flags of Texas.
A very tough question. Only backup QB Jon Kitna nailed it. "Oh, my kids have been schooling me on this. Mexico, Spain, France, United States, Republic of Texas and the Confederacy. Thanks to my kids, I just learned that!" Nearly all 11 others thought it was an amusement park question. Need to get some kids.
Q: Name the two ex-Cowboys quarterbacks in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Everybody got it right except G Travis Bright, who answered Troy Aikman but forgot Roger Staubach, and S Pat Watkins, who answered, "Joe Namath and Troy Aikman." Yep, who can forget ol' Beltway Joe?
Q: Name a country that borders Iraq.
Ten of 12 got it right (Iran, Kuwait, Jordan, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Turkey), although WR Miles Austin and CB Orlando Scandrick said Afghanistan, which is about 750 miles away. Gotta at least pause at CNN once in a while, boys.
Q: Who is the governor of Texas?
This one was hopeless. Only TE Jason Witten and DE Marcus Spears got it right: Rick Perry. Interesting fact about the governor of Texas: He doesn't have to take a quiz either.
Q: List three lean proteins.
"Like, foods?" asked LB Keith Brooking.
Uh, yes, foods.
"Tuna fish," he tried. "I don't know, man."
Watkins replied, "Fish, chicken, duck."
WR Sam Hurd listed, "Steak, chicken and pasta."
Pasta? No. Some correct answers: fish, skinless poultry, lentils, beans, soy products and lean meats. Definitely not duck.
Q: In how many Super Bowls have the Dallas Cowboys appeared?
Pretty simple question, right? One that might come up in interviews, appearances, book signings? But only one player in 12 -- Bright -- answered correctly, with eight. Not to be harsh, but 70 percent of Texas schoolkids will get that one right.
Overall, some of the Cowboys would've flunked before they got to show off their herkies, except DE Marcus Spears. He nailed nearly every question. That figures. Spears, who went to LSU, says friends made fun of him back when he was a kid for getting good grades and being smart.
Me, if I were a Cowboy and things got crazy on the sideline this season and I had no idea what the coach just meant, I'd find Spears.
Or, better yet, a cheerleader.
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RICK REILLY, 52, has been voted National Sportswriter of the Year 11 times. His new book -- out May 4, 2010 -- is called "Sports From Hell: My Two-year Search for the World's Dumbest Competition." It's the account of his search for the dumbest sport in the world.
Not to give anything away, but a good bet would be either Ferret Legging or the World Sauna Championships. It also includes embarrassing attempts by Reilly to try Nude Bicycle Racing, Zorbing, Chess Boxing, Extreme Ironing, the World Rock Paper Scissors Championships and an unfortunate week on a women's pro football team.