When Ravens fans tune in to FOX on Feb. 10th, it will be no surprise when they see a familiar face. Linebacker Ray Lewis, tackle Jonathan Ogden and safety Ed Reed are all accustomed to playing in Aloha Stadium, where, they will once again be lining up amongst the league's best.
This prolific trio does not constitute the entire list of Ravens performers that will be in Hawaii, however.
Along with those making the trip for their achievements in 2007 will be Crystal B., the Ravens' cheerleader selected to represent Baltimore at this year's Pro Bowl.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Pasadena, Md., Crystal exudes a pride for the Ravens only befitting of a local fan. She first embraced the purple and black when the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996. When she realized she would be staying in town to attend college, she decided to give cheering from the field, as opposed to the stands, a try. Though she was only 18 at the time, her experience gave her a leg up on the competition.
Crystal first began cheering at the age of six. She devoted countless hours of her childhood to youth all-star cheerleading, first as a participant and later as a coach. Now a six-year veteran for the Ravens, it comes as no surprise that her efforts have placed her back on an all-star team, this time on one of professional sports' grandest stages.
Elected by her teammates and coaches, Crystal will be the sole Ravens cheerleader at the Pro Bowl. Every year, each team selects one member of their squad to perform in Hawaii; in all, 32 ladies from around the league will meet in Honolulu for the game.
"I'm excited to get to know the other girls in the NFL," Crystal says. "We don't interact with them a lot."
In football, as in most sports, cheerleading squads are only responsible for home-field entertainment. However, traveling extensively to raise others' spirits is nothing new for the veteran. She began cheering competitively around the country when she was 12 and has since made the most of her opportunities to see the world. In the summer of 2005, she joined up with the Armed Forces Entertainment Tour to entertain troops overseas, visiting 11 different cities in a two-week period.
"That was probably the most memorable experience I have cheering," Crystal says. "I spent my fourth of July with U.S. soldiers in south Sinai, Egypt, which was unbelievable. I saw a different city every other day. It was very cool."
This will not be Crystal's first time to Hawaii, either. At the 1999 Pro Bowl, she had the opportunity to perform in the halftime show, an experience she will never forget.
"As a child, I remember that the NFL cheerleaders were treated like movie stars and were so glamorous," Crystal says. "They had security and everything."
This time around, she will be in the limelight. And though she is going back to the tropical paradise, she will be hard at work during the full week of festivities leading up to the game.
Before her plane even touches down in Hawaii, Crystal is required to learn 12 sideline dance routines off of a DVD.
"Luckily, that's one of the ways I learn the Ravens' routines, so I'm used to it," Crystal says.
She will have a 10-hour practice her first day in Hawaii, followed by a practice every day leading up to the game. Working with an entirely new group of teammates, it will be a challenge to perfect their pregame and halftime shows in such a short period.
"I'm sure it's going to be hard work for us all to look uniform after only seven days of practice, but I'm excited to see the different styles of cheerleaders," she says.
Along with practice, the cheerleaders will visit hospitals and make public appearances throughout the week, signing autographs and prepping the city for the big game.
For Crystal, the opportunity is credited to the hard work of her teammates.
"Everyone really pushes each other to work as hard as we can," Crystal says. "I don't think there are many adults that can meet twice a week with friends they get along with and work out and then perform in front of 70,000 people. It's a unique experience."
As for next season, she is still unsure as to what her cheering future holds in store. Crystal is currently in her last year of graduate school where she is seeking a Master's Degree in social work. She also spends three days a week working with special-education students at a local elementary school and wants to become a full-time social worker in the Baltimore area.
"I hope to always be connected to the organization somehow, because it has helped make me the person I am," Crystal says. "The discipline, the teamwork, and really being here for six years at this time of my life has taught me a lot about the person I am and want to be."
A part of which, as she will attest, will never change
"When it's time to retire the pom poms, I'll still be there in the stands," Crystal says. "I'll always be a cheerleader at heart."