Features & Columns
'Still Krazy After all These Cheers'
40 years of crazy stunts in new book
The world's only decades-long full-time professional cheerleader, drum-beating lunatic and San Jose State alumnus, Krazy George Henderson, now screams in autobiographical format. His new book, Still Krazy After all These Cheers, explodes with stories and sheer insanity. I would expect no less. You can almost hear his gravelly voice and snare drum pounding from between the pages.
Henderson was a judo star at what was then called San Jose State College in the mid- to late-'60s. After a friend introduced him to the world of cheerleading at Spartan Football games, a new paradigm began to emerge in his crackpot brain. Since he wasn't coordinated enough for the dorky choreographed movements and cheers, and felt even worse wearing dorky sweaters, Henderson developed a new approach. He had no idea that he was on the path to changing the entire professional sports landscape in America.
"Everything they would teach at cheerleading camp, I would do exactly the opposite," he writes. "They said smile at the fans and tell them how great they were. I'd pound my drum, growl at them, make mean faces and yell how pathetic they were. They would have lengthy cheers to go along with their complicated moves. My longest cheer was two words or two syllables, 'San Jose' or 'Spar-tans.'"
Henderson soon realized that physically moving up into the stands or climbing the poles at Spartan Stadium provoked the fans even more. Taking the act to the people, on their benches, elicited more excitement. The fans became one with the experience.
While teaching electronics at Buchser High School, George began to moonlight as a cheerleader for the Oakland Seals hockey team, where his talent for inciting the opposing squad to near violence began to blossom. It was all uphill from there.
When the original version of the San Jose Earthquakes started in 1974, George went pro. General Manager Dick Berg gave him $35 a game, at first. At the beginning of every match, George would enter the field in any number of ways: in a garbage truck, an ambulance, a police car, from a helicopter, hang glider or limousine, or on the back of a camel. Everyone packed the stadium to see what George was going to do. He became part of the show, bringing the crowd into the game from the very kickoff. Once the game started, there he was, all over the stands, beating the snare drum, standing on the top of the visiting team's box, leading 16,000 people in mass garish cheers and insulting all of the visiting players during the game. No one had seen anything like it, and no one in any other professional sport was doing anything remotely similar at the time. Such grandstanding techniques are commonplace nowadays, but in 1974, they were totally brand new. George was a true pioneer.
What's more, as George writes in the book, the '70s Quakes orchestrated gimmicks at Spartan Stadium that no one could possibly get away with nowadays. For example, Seattle goalkeeper Barry Walting used to keep two teddy bears in his goal for good luck. So the Quakes used their connections at Marine World to secure two real bears. When George entered the field, he brought the two bears and ran with them in front of Walting, just for a joke.
Of course, the San Jose Earthquakes only constitute one chapter in George's book, as he went on to conquer more of the NHL, plus football, baseball and even the World Cup in 1994. He undisputedly invented the Wave cheer at an Oakland A's playoff game in 1981. While working for the Houston Oilers of the NFL, George irritated Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll so much that Noll even tried banning George from the league. That's how powerful a snare drum was.
This Saturday, George appears at the San Jose Earthquakes match, where he will sign copies of Still Krazy After All These Cheers. It should be a crazy time, indeed.
In the end, George remains a dedicated Spartan alumni.
"San Jose State is where I began the longest relationship I've had with any sports organization," he writes. "As often as possible I cheer at Spartan games and would never cheer against them no matter how much I was offered."