The Daredevils of Ole Miss

Ole Miss CheerleadersThe amazing Rebels who made high-flying, jaw-dropping, slam-dunking history as the Bud Light Daredevils

By Adam Brown

adam.brown@hottytoddy.com

Ever since someone first put a ball through a hoop, athletes have been performing tricks with a basketball.

Teams thrive on the excitement that a dunk brings, while fans rise to their feet in applause as a player slams the ball through the hoop for a monster slam-dunk. The intensity of the crowd in the arena intensifies, making it difficult for opponents to stay on their game plan.

In the 1980s and ‘90s, there were several groups trying to imitate the Harlem Globetrotters, originators of the general genre of hard court antics. One group went (literally) above and beyond imitating and forged a new paradigm of “acrobatic basketball,” ultimately taking the show nationwide as the Bud Light Daredevils—performing as an acrobatic stunt group at halftime shows during college and NBA basketball games. From 1983 until 1998, fans flocked to sports arenas to see them as they traveled the country.

But before this American acrobatic skills team became known as the Bud Light Daredevils, formerly the Dixie Daredevils, several members of the team were honing their skills as Ole Miss cheerleaders.

Air-Devils

A team of four male Ole Miss cheerleaders began doing stunts and acrobatics at halftimes and during time out periods at Ole Miss basketball games with the use of a mini-trampoline. The four cheerleaders in the group were Ty Cobb, Sam Martin, John White and Ole Miss “Johnny Reb” mascot Jeff Hubbard. During the Ole Miss vs. Alabama game in 1980, someone dared Ty Cobb to do a flip dunk off of his mini-trampoline.  Cobb was successful at the attempt, and the Alabama fans gave him a standing ovation.

Ole Miss Rebel Head basketball Coach Bob Weltlich recognized the group’s potential and brought them with the team to road games to soften up their opponent’s crowd.

But after a fall from a mini-trampoline that left Cobb’s fraternity brother and fellow Ole Miss cheerleader Walt Shinault paralyzed, the Southeastern Conference (SEC) banned the use of mini-trampolines by all cheerleaders at SEC games.

Dixie Daredevils

Cobb then began looking for other avenues to keep performing. He started a company called the Ole Miss Cheerleaders Halftime Show. The idea originated from a marketing class project that Cobb created.

As part of his marketing class project, Cobb designed brochures and advertising materials and sent them to National Basketball Association (NBA) promotional directors as a direct marketing campaign.

The directors contacted Cobb to enlist his help with increasing attendance at NBA games. The first game that the Ole Miss Cheerleaders performed was a halftime show in 1980 for the San Antonio Spurs, followed by exhibitions at Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks games.

In 1981, the Ole Miss Cheerleaders were able to add more of an acrobatic style to their halftime performance. Ty’s younger brother, Guy, who was still in high school, became an addition to the team and began performing at NBA games. Once Guy was added into the mix, the tricks, passes and dunks became more complex.

Once Ty graduated from Ole Miss in the fall of 1983, he planned to create a real NBA halftime show. Guy decided to drop out of Ole Miss and follow his brother after his freshman year.

In 1983, their father Charles Cobb became the president of the Colonial Baking Company, and Ty and Guy relocated with their parents to Columbia, Illinois, just southeast of St. Louis. In the basement of their parents’ home, the Cobb brothers set up an office, with a place to practice and schedule a traveling tour for a real NBA halftime show. They wanted to perform the show at both NBA and college games.

The team then took the new name of the Dixie Daredevils at their dad’s suggestion. Ty’s friend Steve Cliffe, a fellow Mehlville High School student, joined the team.

Charles Cobb booked the Dixie Daredevils at promotional events for Colonial Bread. He sponsored the Dixie Daredevils to perform at grocery stores and high school assemblies.

The Big Time

At the end of the 1983 84-basketball season, after Ty and Guy had performed their show 45 times around the United States, the Cobb Anheuser-Busch enlisted the high-flying acrobatic team to promote its rebranding of Budweiser Light as “Bud Light.” The Bud Light Daredevils would tour nationally and internationally until 1998, at universities and pro basketball games and on television shows.

Social and governmental pressure to curb alcohol marketing to college students led Anheuser-Busch to drop the Bud Light Daredevil concept.

It was a long and exciting run for a squad that started with a handful of fearless, spectacular Rebels.