All season long, Rachel Watson, a fourth-year veteran on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders squad, cheered on the Bucs — including 2008 Pro Bowlers Derrick Brooks and Clifton Smith — from her spot on the sideline.
Watson will get one more chance to cheer for Brooks and Smith, along with the NFL's other 2008 Pro Bowl selections. She recently found out that she had been named to the Pro Bowl cheerleading squad that will be convening in Honolulu to support the league's all-star game.
"My initial reaction was shock," Watson said. "I was just overwhelmed with excitement — I broke down in tears. This is the biggest honor ever to be going to the Pro Bowl, because your teammates are the ones that vote on you to go. So the fact that they would have enough confidence in me that I would be able to represent our squad is the biggest compliment."
Watson has been a member of the squad for the last four seasons and has been a team captain the last two. Thinking back upon the day she first joined the team, eventually getting to represent the Bucs at the Pro Bowl was something she couldn't have even imagined.
"This is beyond my wildest dreams," Watson said. "When I was selected as a captain, that was a huge honor. I never would have thought that I would have done that. Now this…it's just unbelievable. I'm still kind of pinching myself. I feel like it can't be true."
As she said, what makes Watson's honor particularly gratifying is that it was her teammates that voted her to represent them at the Pro Bowl. Each NFL team that has cheerleaders chooses one of its members to travel to the game and form its own all-star squad.
"This was the biggest compliment that I ever could have been given," Watson said. "It's the biggest honor. We have such a great group of dynamic women on our team. That they felt that I should be the one to go represent for our team was very overwhelming. It's such a good feeling and it makes me feel confident, too. I'm just really excited to go."
The Pro Bowl cheerleading squad will be on hand in Hawaii for the entire week of festivities. The cheerleaders will take part in various performances, media events and other appearances, including the game itself on February 8, of course.
"As far as getting ready for the Pro Bowl, [Cheerleading Manager] Sandy [Charbonneau] is going to have me very well prepared," Watson said. "We have to learn more than 10 routines and there will be tons of events that we go to. Over the years, Sandy has done a great job preparing us for events, so I feel very comfortable going into it. I'm looking forward to the appearances and media events. I've been told that it's similar to our season, but just crammed into one week at the Pro Bowl. It's going to be a really fun and exciting experience to be with all the other NFL cheerleaders from all the other teams as well to do that. I'm very excited about going."
Perhaps even more than the events themselves, Watson is looking forward to meeting some fellow cheerleaders from other teams around the league.
"I have talked to a few girls who have gone to the Pro Bowl and basically, they came back from the Pro Bowl so excited to have met all the other girls from all the other teams and learn about their programs and how they do things," Watson said. "It was just a really great learning experience for them and I'm really excited to do that. I've had the opportunity to meet girls from other squads before, but this is an opportunity to work with them at a different level."
Watson and the other Pro Bowl cheerleaders will be tasked with coming together as a team in a very short time and preparing their routines for the game. As difficult as that may be, Watson says she's looking forward to meeting and working alongside some new faces.
"I'm used to seeing the girls from my squad on the right and left of me," Watson said. "It's going to be really fun to share this experience with all these other girls. I know that learning the dances and being super-busy can be stressful, but you always rely on your teammates in times like that. It's kind of like you have a new team for a week. I'll miss my teammates while I'm away, but I know I'll be doing my best to represent them while I'm in Hawaii."
And that, above all else, will be the best part of Watson's trip — getting the chance to represent her squad, and the entire Buccaneers organization, on the Pro Bowl stage.
"The Pro Bowl, to me, is something that every cheerleader in the NFL would love to do," Watson said. "It's something that I've always dreamed of doing, and now that dream is a reality. This means so much to me, and it's the biggest honor to go and represent not only for cheerleaders of the Buccaneers, but for the whole Buccaneers organization as well."