When professional football comes to Memorial Stadium tonight for the first time in nearly a decade, Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints won't be the only ones breaking a sweat.
Members of Maryland's official state cheerleading squad, most of whom come from Anne Arundel County, will be yelling, chanting, split-jumping, balancing atop pyramids, tumbling through the air -- and hoping their enthusiasm is catching.
L It might look like a breeze, but it's not all fun and games.
"Cheerleading to me is harder than football," said Ken Martin, a 25-year-old former high school defensive tackle who founded and directs the squad. "You have to learn timing, synchronization. You can't just say to your partner, 'Hey, let me throw you in the air, and I'll catch you by your foot.' "
During six years with the Maryland You Are Beautiful squad -- or "The MURB Squad," as the cheerleaders' T-shirts say on the back -- Martin has suffered a bloody nose and a broken finger, been crushed beneath a crumbling, six-person pyramid and been "drop-kicked where guys don't like to be hit."
Still, through all the stunts and cheers at parades, telethons, half-time shows and county and state Special Olympics, the 15-woman, 4-man team has never had any serious injuries.
In fact, the cheerleaders have probably suffered more injuries to their pride than anything else -- when they're mistaken for Maryland Terrapins (the front of their shirts say "Maryland Cheerleading"). Maryland You Are Beautiful cheerleaders, sponsored by the governor's office, also have T-shirts that read, "Not the Terps."
Tonight's game will be the squad's biggest challenge since Martin, a Glen Burnie waiter, founded it six years ago. Before starting the squad, he'd cheered crowds on as the Oriole bird, the Blast's Fuzzy the Fuse and the Skipjacks' Skipper Jack.
As Baltimore vies with five other cities for an NFL expansion team, few people in the city can possibly feel the pressure as keenly as The MURB Squad. As the young men and women, ages 13 to 25, tell it: No cheerleaders, no non-game-related cheering; no cheering, no excitement; no excitement, no NFL interest.
"To get the crowd going is the main objective. We start it and they join in," said Martin, who also cheers at the University of Maryland at College Park. "The NFL will be watching. The objective is for the NFL to see how much Baltimore and Maryland wants a team. This is the most important thing."
"The louder the crowd is, the better chance we have of getting a team," said cheerleader Eddie Hamilton, 19, of Pasadena.
"We're going to try to cover the whole stadium and move around constantly," added Amberly Kral, 19, of Pasadena.
K? The squad got a warm-up yesterday at a pre-game "Give Balti
more the Ball" rally at the Inner Harbor, featuring former Baltimore Colts football players, the Baltimore Colts Band and a giant talking football.
Thrusting red and black pom-pons in the air, the cheerleaders led the crowd in a chant that seemed to sum it all up: "We want the ball. We want the ball."