A new season for the Philadelphia Eagles always brings back bitter-fun memories of my friend Cheryl Frey.
We danced together as cheerleaders on the sidelines of Eagles games in their 1979-80 season. NFL cheerleaders were still a novelty at the time. Eagles fans dubbed their pom-pommers the “Liberty Belles.”
One could always count on Cheryl for a laugh in between twirls, kicks and flashes of white and kelly green. Mischief should have been her middle name. When not joking or waving to the guys seated in the end-zones, Cheryl teased her teammates. I remember her holding her pom-poms under her nose and calling out “Get a load of Mary Poppins!” referring to one of our seemingly wholesome teammates, who, rumor had it, was fooling around with one of the Phillies.
Eagles’ fans undoubtedly fancied blue-eyed, blond-haired Cheryl and her Farrah Fawcett tresses. Two out of the four newspapers circulating in Philly back in those days — the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin and the Philadelphia Journal — ran promotional contests in which readers voted for their favorite Liberty Belle. Cheryl won each contest by a landslide.
Hard work, hard play
Being a dancing glamor girl was not always that glamorous. I can still hear our coach, Sharon Sweeney, screeching “SHAAAKE IT!” as she drilled dance routines into our well-coifed heads during long practices on the concrete floors of a Veterans Stadium hallway.
We shook our way to Tampa Bay for the NFC Divisional Playoff courtesy of Coach Dick Vermeil and his coaching staff, the talented team led by quarterback Ron Jaworski, and Eagles’ owner the late Leonard Tose. We cheerleaders were a pet project of Tose’s then girlfriend and later wife, Caroline Cullum (currently Mrs. Sidney Kimmel — as in Kimmel Center). Ever the generous gent, Mr. Tose picked up the tab for airfare and hotel accommodations in Tampa for 40 cheerleaders so that we could decorate the sidelines and perform dance routines at the game.
The Bucs beat the Eagles 24-17. That did not stop a “Hey, Hey Tampa Bay” fanatic from throwing a few oranges at our squad from the stands. And they talk about Eagles fans!
All good things …
Being a Liberty Belle lost its appeal for me after Cheryl died on Jan. 10, 1980. Cheryl’s husband Scott had a nickname for the Buffalo, N.Y., native that proved to be prophetic. “Life in the fast lane Frey” died in the wee hours of the morning when her car slammed into a tractor trailer as she drove on the wrong side of a major highway in Chester County. It was a tragic end to a night on the town at Philadelphia hotspot Elan, in the Warwick Hotel.
If Cheryl and I had cavorted together that evening, she might have stayed overnight in my Center City apartment, as she did on other occasions. Plus, the fans’ favorite might have danced with us at Super Bowl XV the following January when the Birds played the Oakland Raiders at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans. The Big Easy is Cheryl’s kind of town.
Sideline entertainers hardly hold a place in NFL or Philadelphia Eagles history. Still, this chapter starring my deceased cheerleading chum and her joie de vivre is one that I’ll not forget.