They were just doing what brothers do. Two St. Louis siblings jumping on a trampoline and encouraging each other to outdo the other. Then they got a simple notion. An idea that would revolutionize the world of basketball halftime entertainment. Ty Cobb and his little brother Guy pulled their trampoline over to the basketball ball goal and starting jumping, dunking and literally trying to kill each other, you know, in a “brotherly way.”
“Whoever didn’t die – won,” said little brother Guy.
It was the beginnings of what would become the awe-inspiring, jaw-dropping, acrobatic dunking that is seen in NBA arenas across the country and throughout the world. It was dreamed up in a Missouri backyard but came to life at Ole Miss. It was fun, and the Cobb brothers thought nothing of it until they both came to Ole Miss for college. Ty arrived first in Oxford and with his athletic background wasn’t necessarily looking to begin a cheerleader career. But when he saw it as a way to meet some Ole Miss coeds, he jumped at the chance. Little did he know, he’d change cheerleading and create an International phenomenon.
One of the cheerleaders at the time was Leigh Ann Tuohy – Sean Tuohy’s wife and “star” of The Blind Side movie as she was portrayed by Sandra Bullock. Tuohy and Cobb were freshmen cheerleaders together and then worked to be on the varsity squad.
“Back then you tried out in front of judges, and they picked ten guys and ten girls, and then you campaigned all week, and the school voted for the top five of each to make the squad,” Leigh Ann said.
There had been a national tumbling champion, Scott Elliot, on the cheer squad who was experimenting with the mini-trampoline but he didn’t make his grades and transferred.
“Ty was a daredevil anyway. We all called him that. Even our freshman year he wanted us to do three-high pyramids like we were the Wallenda Family and could crawl all over each other,” Tuohy said. “The mini-tramp was sitting there, and he said, ‘wow, we really need to integrate this.’”
So, he did. Ty would start flying through the pyramids, and some of the others tried but “he had a take no prisoners attitude and thought we could all do that,” Tuohy said.
Cobb’s attitude was, “If we’re going to be cheerleaders, then let’s put a little more fun and creativity into it with gymnastics.”
“In the early days, we would just wing everything,” Ty said. “We didn’t use any mats (to land on), and when we tried any moves for the first time, it was usually in front of the crowd.”
Sam Martin was part of the cheer team, and one of the original three members of the Daredevils (Cobb, Martin, and Hubbard) remembers the “dares” would grow bigger with each outing it seemed.
“We were doing backflips off of goalposts at football games,” Martin said. “When we started, we didn’t have mats so everything was on the floor and there were a lot of hard crashes and a lot of times we’d be told to get up and smile even though we were in a lot of pain.”
Cobb progressed more and more with the mini-trampoline and routines grew larger, and the home crowds at Tad Smith Coliseum loved every minute of the Daredevil’s routines. There was one such “fan” who saw the effect the Daredevil cheerleaders were having on crowds – Ole Miss men’s basketball head coach Bob Weltlich. He found space on team buses and planes for the crew to help with road game crowds. In those days, cheerleaders didn’t go to away games, but Cobb and Weltlich broke that barrier – with plenty of resistance from home crowds.
“They were the best,” Coach Weltlich said. “Without taking too much credit. I was involved with their inception. I got there in ‘76, and they began doing gymnastic stuff at our games in ‘79. They became such a great distraction that we took them on the road.”
Cobb recalled a game at LSU in 1980 where the Tiger fans showered the court with cups, pretzels and other items that delayed the game for at least 10 minutes.
“By the end of the game when we did a flip dunk, we’d get a standing ovation,” Cobb said.
By taking the opposing team’s fans’ attention away from cheering for their own team and mesmerizing them with Daredevil antics, Ty and his crew helped level the playing field for the Rebels in hostile territory.
“If we brought the mini-tramp out and did the flip dunks – it silenced the crowds,” Tuohy said.
Ty’s fearless mini-tramp routine brought an Alabama home crowd to its feet at a men’s basketball game with his first ever-flip dunk on January 9, 1980.
“It was the first time I tried it,” Ty said. “We didn’t want to get hurt practicing.”
Sam Martin, an Ole Miss cheerleader with Cobb and Tuohy, explained how they created the intricate, early routines.
“We would draw it up on a piece of paper and show it to Ty and say, ‘try this, and we’ll try to catch you.’”
The Daredevil cheerleaders also integrated the Ole Miss mascot, Johnny Rebel, brought to life by Jeff Hubbard. Tuohy remembers Hubbard hitting the mini-tramp and performing.
“We had Jeff in our pyramids and anything we were doing,” Tuohy said. “I don’t care where we were, those guys demanded an audience – airports and everywhere. Ty would flip off of anything.”
Hubbard noted that “Ty is an incredible talent is all I can say and I was incredibly stupid to try and keep up with his incredible talent. He was very competitive, and we were pushing ourselves always. Just doing a show wasn’t good enough. Just doing a great show wasn’t enough. If there wasn’t a standing ovation, then it couldn’t have been a very good show. And that’s the goal we were looking for. When we traveled, the goal was to steal the home team’s advantage.”
One trip the team was going through the Atlanta airport en route to the University of Georgia in Athens.
“Ty decided to run up the wall and do a backflip, and his feet went right through the wall. They all take off running. It’s not like we’re incognito, so I started telling them to call our Athletic Director Warner Alford, and he’d take care of it. He took care of it and we didn’t get into much trouble, but we did get a tongue lashing about representing the university,” Tuohy said. “It was fun, and it all came out of being such creative people being at the same place at the same time. They brought a lot of recognition for our school.”
Ty would jump over students – 27 at one time at Tad Smith – and take a cowboy hat off the last in line and put it on in mid-air. After ruling the SEC, Cobb knew that the Daredevils was something that had great appeal. But he needed some assistance. In stepped former Ole Miss athletic director Warner Alford.
“I had some money,” Alford said with a laugh. “Those sons of guns were good salesmen and could have talked me into anything. They came to me, and the first trip they wanted to make was to the Houston Rockets to do a halftime thing. They said, ‘what we need, coach, is for you to send us out there. It would be great publicity for Ole Miss.’ I said, ‘look, guys, just tell me what you need.’ I helped them with expenses to get out there. They did the rest of it on their own.”
Alford also lent the boys an Ole Miss van, shared some NBA contacts, and the rest is, well history – somewhat.
“The owner of the Spurs came in the locker room and asked us, ‘who are you and how did you get here?’ He gave us $100 to buy dinner.”
Hubbard explained that as a marketing major, Cobb put together a whole marketing program on the now dubbed “Dixie Daredevils.”
“He pulled together the whole business model in a marketing class. It was always his intention to make a go out of it,” Hubbard said.
The daredevils continued performing at Ole Miss, and Ty put together the Dixie Daredevils to keep things going after his graduation. Hubbard enjoyed his run with the Ole Miss cheerleaders and with the Dixie Daredevils as they crisscrossed the country rubbing shoulders with elite athletes.
“I remember standing in the tunnel next to Larry Bird when he was talking to Bob Cousy when they were playing the Knicks at Madison Square Garden,” Hubbard said. “One of the coolest things I remember seeing the NBA players during time-outs watching Ty and not listening to their coaches at all. The stuff we did was crude, but Ty really developed it into one of the best halftime shows I’ve ever seen.”
Ty had the fever of performing but knew his dad wanted him to get a real job one day. He made a deal with his dad that if the daredevil thing didn’t work out, he’d quit and start a career in something. His dad even gave him a helping hand. As president of Colonial Baking Company, he bought the sponsorship rights for the halftime show of the Illinois versus Missouri basketball game. Knowing all the Anheuser-Busch execs would be there in person. Oh, Ty had already tried to get a meeting with the Budweiser folks by sneaking his way to the ninth floor of their corporate offices. He wasn’t successful with his sneaky pitch so now the trampoline would have to talk for him.
The team got a standing ovation and execs met him in the locker room and offered a sponsorship – the Bud Light Daredevils were born.
“The amount was so high, Augie Busch had to sign it personally,” Ty recalled.
The Bud Light Daredevils combined superior athletic skill, comedic timing and enthusiasm to create four teams of daredevils that traveled the world entertaining all sorts of crowds, appeared on national TV with David Letterman and many others for more than a decade. But as the boys became men the Bud Light Daredevils sponsorship ended. Guy, a Jackson Prep grad, went on to work at Fed Ex and is now an accomplished artist and kid’s TV personality. His humorous personality was key to the entertainment as well.
“Guy was the funnyman. He’d have a part in the halftime where he’d smash into the backboard and make people laugh. He’d do a pass down the court and Guy’s pants would fall down. It was not just incredible dunking but pretty funny,” Hubbard said.
Ty began working with youth in the Memphis area through the Kroc Center and has kept youth flying high with gymnastics and creative outreaches. He is the president of Have a Standard Foundation and founder of Corefire Commando. Cobb interacts daily with young people through the work his organization does at the Salvation Army Kroc Center – a 100,000 square foot learning, recreation and worship center in Memphis where “people from all walks of life come to learn, share and play together. A place where relationships are built, boundaries are erased, and lives are improved.”
Hubbard only toured a little while before the Bud Light sponsorship and went to law school and now lives in Jackson and works as a defense litigation lawyer. Did being Johnny Reb prepare him for this?
“Not at all,” Hubbard said. “What it did do, obviously, it was part of the Ole Miss experience. The Johnny Reb part was the fun part of school. But it was fun to be there at the dead beginning when Ty took it as a dream, and he turned it into – which it was for a long time – the premier NBA Halftime Act.”
Tuohy, in addition to being part of the inspiration for The Blind Side story, has written three books and travels the country as a motivational speaker.
Today you turn on sports programming and see high-flying dunking mascots and acrobatic dunking all over the world. But a few cheerleaders are the ones who really created it and put it out there first for the entire world to see.
Ty is still jumping around, even in his mid-50s, he still hits the mini-tramp though now it’s with his son, Chase. Cobb is working with youth in Memphis and using his gymnastics platform to literally spread the Gospel. And he’s still performing as a daredevil but mostly its corporate functions but still high-flying dunking action. During a photo shoot a few years back for an interview in Memphis, the Cobb and son duo had problems staying in frame.
“The photographer took a shot and showed it to me, and I said where’s my son?” Ty said. “And I looked closer, and Chase’s foot was the only thing in the photo – above my head.”
The Bud Light Daredevils were always leaps and bounds ahead and above others on the field and court – and entertaining as well. And it all started at Ole Miss. – RN
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