When a group of young men calling themselves the Dallas Cowboys took to the field for the Super Bowl last year, 70 million Americans watched.

Even more are expected to be watching this Sunday when the young men from Dallas defend their world football title against a similar group from Pittsburgh.

But it is not known how many will be tuning in the watch the young men, for just last Sunday 50 million Americans dialed in not to see the Cowboys, but their Cheerleaders.

Begun as $14.12-game pay for dance routines, Dallas cheerleading has become a vast and fast industry, an extraordinary opportunity for young women -- and others -- to do what is called in Texas "make a deal," something the men here have been doing for years.

To cash in on a good thing -- perhaps a million posters at $4.95 here, a TV commercial there, plus some personal appearances, dance shows and modeling -- you've got what is easily a business measured in millions of dollars.

Some of which is getting to be even too much for the sharp Cowboys organization, the people who are generally credited with having successfully brought controlled sex to oxganized violence.

First there was Playboy magazine and the poster it prompted -- five ex-Cheerleaders baring, if not All, at least the top half of All. A take-off, Playboy punnd, on the official Dallas Cheerleaders poster.

But then came the movie, "Debbie Does Dallas," in which an actress claiming to be an ex-Cheerleader named Bambi Woods does Dallas, and everything else, too. X-rated, perfectly tasteless but technically perfect, according to one who has seen it. The sex had gotten out of control.

"They can walk naked down Main Street, just don't do it in our uniform," says Suzanne Mitchell, coordinator for the Cowboys 36 Cheerleaders.

So the Cowboys have gone to court to stop the poster's distribution, and the Cowboys' lawyers have gone to New York to view any damage Debbie has done to the Cheerleaders. Legal action could follow. "Imagine," says a miffed Mitchell, "how these young ladies feel."

What some of them may be feeling these days, however, is richer, and ambition burns so bright in some that they have decided that they can, in fact, do better without the Cowboys. Which is part of the Cowboys' problem.

"We have a name of our own," says Tina Jiminez, a capable, business-minded ex-Cheerleader who was cut from the squard and formed Texas Cowgirls Inc., a talent and modeling agency with 20 other ex-Cheerleaders.

The Dallas Cowboys group is officially known as the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, and not, as is popularly believed, the Dallas Cowgirls.

"We don't need the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders anymore," says Jiminez. "We're trying to develop girls' careers in the entertainment field. You can't be a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader forever."

"If I had kept cheerleading, jumping around on the field acting like I'm 18, I'd be poor the rest of my life," says 25-year-old ex-Cheerleader Debbie Kepley.With absolutely no connection to the Debbie movie, Kepley does grace the poster -- and has a strong desire to convert her past cheerleading into a lucrative dancing or modeling career.

"If you're going to make it in this business," she says, "you've got to get going."

And the going has been good for both current and former Cheerleaders.

Item: Cherleaders get a basic $500 a day for appearances -- at least two girls per appearance. Cowgirls have a basic fee of $300 a day and have bookings through September. "At one time," says the Cowboys' Mitchell, "I had half the squad somewhere in the United States."

Item: Cheerleaders recently got a royal tour of Japan promoting an auto company, and Cowgirls have been working an auto show circuit in the Midwest.

Item: Cheerleaders have done a Faberge commercial and been the subject of the TV movie, which many people suspect was a pilot that could become a series if it successfully met the pointless standards of today's network television.

Item: Sic Cowgrils, including Kepley, will soon begin a two-week dance review engagement at the Aladdin in Las Vegas -- the opening act to a show starring Gabe Kaplan of "Welcome Back, Kotter."

Item: The Cheerleaders first official poster sold hundreds of thousands of copies, the hopes for the topless poster were 1 million and an official Cow girls disco poster goes national this week after heavy selling in Texas.

Bottom Line: "I'm averaging over a thousand (dollars) a week," says Kepley, an ex-grocery sacker at Krogers. She has been on Merv Griffin, in Time (cheering at the Super Bowl), in Esquire (officially and properly uniformed as a Cheerleader) and in playboy (topless and provocative after quitting the squad).

And soon she leaves for Vegas. The Big Time.

"It's like a dream come true," says Jiminez. And they aren't even start Yet.

But the dream-come-true has elements of a nightmare because of the poster. Whatever its popularity -- and it was selling well here for six weeks -- it is now under the lock and key of a Dallas federal judge, who has temporarily blocked its distribution.

Some believe the $4.95, 22-inch-by-28-inch topless poster was outselling a cheaper, newly issued official Cheerleader poster by a solid margin. "When you're a big corporation and you see a little guy more popular than you are, you get worried," says Jiminez. "You can see why the Cowboys wanted it stopped."

But the Cowboys say they filed suit to protect an image as well as the copyrights of its uniform and its first official poster.

"It's a poster done in bad taste," says Cowboys' president Tex Schramm.

"It reflects bad on our girls and the Cowboys as an organization."

"I don't know that they should be comparing morals," says Scoreboard Posters' attorney, Marvin H. Kleinberg. "I think (the poster's) making a valid social statement, a valid first amendment criticism: Are the Cowboys selling football, or are they selling sex?"

But besides a social criticism, the poster was also Arny Freytag's hopes for a killing. "I'm an independent businessman, 28, and I really get nailed," says Freytag, who took the picture and invested nearly $25,000 in setting up Scoreboard and publishing the poster, his first.

"The uniforms look more like the Baltimore Colts!" Their cheerleaders, that is.

It was Freytag who dreamed up the parody idea, which was used by Playboy in its December issue to begin a photo series of national Football League cheerleaders. Posing in the buff apparently cost some of the girls their jobs, too.

"Our problem," says Clifford Weinstein, lawyer for Texas Cowgirls, Inc., "is everyone thinks we were fired for posing, but we were already ex-Cheer-leaders." No Weinstein is not on the poster.

But the five ex-Cheerleaders were apparently also unaware that in signing forms for their semi-nude posing, for Playboy, they were also including a poster. They themselves debated court action but decided instead to negotiate a deal giving them control over advertising, further use of the picture itself -- and a royalty. Fifty cents a poster, sales projected at 1 million.

Jiminez gets an agent's fee of 20 percent (a dime) and the five girls split the remaining 40 cents. Kepley figured she was good for $35,000 at least, maybe twice that.

"It's an opportunity," said Kleinberg from Los Angeles, "for the girls to get something for the years of shaking their bodies in the cold Texas weather, or hot Texas weather."

Not unlike the opportunities of the Cowboys themselves.

But most of all, the poster was Debbie Kepley's and the other girls' gimmick to help their new careers. "We're just normal people," she said, "with a quality ot sell a product. But you gotta have a gimmick, some razzle-dazzle."