What do you do if you're the owner of a fledgling pro football team with no defensive line, no schedule and only 5,000 of 55,000 potential season tickets sold?
You hire 30 cheerleaders, what else?
"I want to dance . . . I want to be a star . . . I want my very own act in Las Vegas," says Debbie Kearney, part-time Giant Food cashier. The cheerleader candidate, one of 600, is smiling The Perfect Cheerleader's Smile, soft red curls framing a flawless porcelain face.
"I want," she said, "to be the next Ann-Margret."
After two lonely weeks without football, RFK stadium woke up Saturday morning. The Federals -- Washington's offering for the new springtime U.S. Football League -- held auditions for its cheerleading squad.
Hushed since the NFL strike, the stadium was energized by the smell of hot dogs and perfumed perspiration. It was a competition of legs and blown-dry hair, of glistening red lips and barely dressed torsos.
The women swept the muggy field with high anxiety and even higher hopes of gridiron glory. "I'm going nowhere," said 19-year-old Lori Ford, a part-time waitress at Armand's in Rockville, explaining why she wanted to cheer. "But my mother thinks this is a waste of a Saturday morning . . . I could be cleaning her house."
Grunts and groans of gratitude welled from the bleachers, where a smattering of potential fans sat, having been invited to purchase their season tickets, while an extravagance of young bodies bounced on the field to a throbbing disco beat.
Team owner, chairman and chief operating officer Berl Bernhard cuddled his little poodle and smiled at the smorgasbord.
"Aren't they beautiful?," he said. "Isn't this fun? I'm having a great time."
Scorecard: Appearance. Dance ability. Showmanship.
"I want somebody worldly-looking but with a little bit of innocence . . . somebody you can look at but don't touch," said Jim Gould, president and chief executive officer of the team. "I want someone with a tremendous amount of energy that hasn't been let out yet . . . Someone that isn't burnt-out. I want someone good-looking."
The scene was a cross between a Miss America pageant and tryouts for "A Chorus Line." Show-biz all the way. And if Bernhard was the producer and Gould the director, then Cathy Hagerty was the casting agent.
A former Redskinette and University of Maryland pompon girl, Hagerty orchestrated Saturday's media show with her four assistants. By weekday she is a policy analyst at the Food and Drug Administration who "can't get cheerleading out my system." She designed the chief cheerleader job for herself when the team was first announced. Gould bought it.
Hagerty and her team held court with their photocopied score cards for almost three hours while the parade of multicolored Danskins wiggled free-style to loud music. The women auditioned in groups of 20.
"I want performers . . . this is a stage show, and these girls will travel and represent the team," decreed Gould, who has the rapid-fire mannerisms and gestures of someone who's just arrived from the Coast. He hadn't. He was a movie producer in New York, and he wants the cheerleaders to do more than just cheer.
Hagerty is in charge, Gould announced often. But he didn't mean it. He hardly moved from her right elbow all afternoon, a few feet from the judges' table. She ignored him.
"You see, it's a look," explained Gould. "Like that girl over there--she has The Look. But I won't even tell Cathy. She'll flip out."
"Which one?" inquired Hagerty, momentarily glancing up from her score card.
"That one, on the end."
"You're right," Hagerty said calmly. "I would flip out. She can't dance. Forget it."
"How about her? She looks like my girlfriend," said Gould, undaunted. "Give her chance."
She couldn't dance either. No chance.
"Look at that leopard outfit," gasped Gould at another. "That has got to be the worst thing I have ever seen. Doesn't she know leopard went out 13 years ago?"
"She wore it for you," said Hagerty, this time not looking up. "She called me last night and asked me what you like. I told her leopard."
"Maybe we should give her a chance. Anyone who dares wear leopard deserves a break."
She made the first cutoff. All Dressed Up
The word got out at about 10:30, and it moved faster than a running back: a bottomless dancer from a downtown club was trying out for cheerleader.
"Really?" asked Bernhard.
"Did ya hear that?" asked Gould.
The rumor took on a life of its own until the very last group of women shimmied onto the field.
"There she is . . . that one on the end," someone bellowed.
Everyone gawked unabashedly. Within seconds the tiny woman, bulging out of a revealing, pink-and-blue-striped leotard, was surrounded by a klatch of photographers. Her hot-pink lipstick matched the leotards.
"She certainly can dance," acknowledged Gould. "We gotta give her a go."
Hagerty silently checked her "Cheerleader Candidate" box on the scorecard.
A few minutes later, the candidate was accosted by a media herd.
Was she, in fact, a bottomless dancer, reporters sheepishly asked.
"I am not now!" she replied indignantly.
Well, had she ever been a bottomless dancer, they persisted.
"I was a lot of things in my life that I do not necessarily want to talk about," she said.
She made the first cut. Just Desserts
Willis Dunham, retired, drove in from Vienna early Saturday to case out a good season seat for himself. "If these guys do well, there will be a real demand in the future, and I'll be all set," explained Dunham, who thought he'd catch a little bit of the show while he was there.
"Oh, sure I think the cheerleaders are important," he said. "The team is more important, of course. But the cheerleaders, they help morale.
"They're sort of like dessert."
Dunham was one of 194 serious football fans who decided that Saturday was as good a time as any to buy their season tickets, for anywhere from $90 to $162, and then have a little dessert. Some just sat quietly and watched. Some hopped all over the stadium with their Nikons.
"Well, I didn't come all the way here just for this," said 32-year-old engineer Larry Lynch, from Herndon. "I'm also planning to go to the Museum of Natural History to check out the Tiffany glass collection on the third floor."
And then, glancing down to the field, "They're both works of arts, don't you think?"
"I already had my ticket," said Steve Ciccarelli, a student at Northern Virginia Community College. "I just wanted to see where my seat was again.
"You know, they should have had some kind of drawing today so that the season-ticket holders could have won a date with the cheerleaders. That would have sold a lot of tickts." 'It Makes Me Bubble'
"That," said Gould, nodding to a striking figure with silver tights and ebony skin, "is exactly what we want. She's perfect. She's got it all. Huh?"
Danita Bolden, 32, model, former centerfold for Jet magazine, featured bureaucrat in Playboy's infamous "Women in Government" issue, and mother, eats "only vegetables," she says. "And I do situps."
She postures for photographers, knowing just how to move a little to the left, a little to the right. Head perfectly tilted.
"I like the attention . . . I love the lights," she said. "It makes me bubble . . . I want to become a star . . . I've wanted it for 12 years . . . I guess this is my turn."
She made the cutoff. And the Winners
Round one. Nearly all the finalists had The Look in common: Chiclet teeth, immobile hair, mascara out to there and gold jewelry.
"We've got 98 who are exceptional," Hagerty told Gould after a preliminary count. "How many do you want for this cutoff?"
"Two hundred," said Gould.
A symphony of groans.
"All right, all right, don't force it," he conceded. "How about 150?"
Piece of cake. Slowly the numbers were called out to the silence of disappointment and fever of muffled optimism.
"I can't believe it," screeched Cathy Williams, 21. "I didn't think I kicked high enough . . . I forgot to smile while I was kicking . . . I'm so excited."
The troupe will include four men, who will be auditioned at another time. "I couldn't have a zoo here," Hagerty said.
Tomorrow, at 7 a.m. at the D.C. Armory, the semifinalists will learn a cheer or two, and judges will make yet another cut for the The Untouchables.
"Just wait 'til I tell my mother," said Ford, the 19-year-old Armand's waitress from Rockville, "that I won't be able to clean the house on Tuesday either."