Column: This Anaheim band made history at the first Super Bowl halftime show

It will happen again on Sunday during the Super Bowl halftime show, like every year, in several dozen living rooms where the jaws are about to hit the floor.

A group of delighted fans will be gathered in front of the television to watch popular entertainers perform elaborate numbers on a crowded football field when they are interrupted by an aging woman who once attended Anaheim High.

She could be their mother, their grandmother, their aunt, maybe a friend of the family. She could be a retired businesswoman, a longtime housewife, an expert bingo player. She certainly won’t be Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Kendrick Lamar, Mary J. Blige or Eminem.

She’ll point to the screen, admire the bling, marvel at the production, then casually drop the hammer.

“I was there at the beginning,” she will say.

Super Bowl LVI Coverage

“What were you? they will answer.

“I was part of the first Super Bowl halftime show,” she said.

“Certainly not!” they’ll scream, and they won’t believe her, they never will, and she’ll laugh and walk away fueled by the power of the annual reveal of one of the Super Bowl’s biggest shocks.

The first Super Bowl halftime show at the Coliseum in January 1967 featured 80 unsuspecting girls who had no idea their drill team was marching at the start of one of America’s greatest sports traditions.

Before Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen and Bruno Mars, there were the Ana-Hi-Steppers.

“I tell people I was on the court in the first half of the Super Bowl and they look at me like I’m crazy,” said Karen Beveridge Claffey, 69, a retired marketing executive living in Reno. “No one ever believes you.”

Who would be? A space occupied today by the world’s greatest artists was once the scene of high school girls in white wigs, tricorns and blue colonial coats?

“I have to keep telling people, ‘It’s true, it’s all true,'” said Joanne Hess Mittmann, 70, a retired teacher and businesswoman who still lives two blocks from Anaheim. High. “I’m right up there with Justin Timberlake and everyone else.”

She is. Everything is true. Still, it’s a tough sell. There are only a few video clips. There are few photos. The school’s 1967 yearbook did not mention him. There is virtually no notation on the Internet beyond a line on a Wikipedia page, which notes that they appeared with the Grambling State University band, the University of Arizona band, and Al Hirt.

The game involving the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs was not yet called the Super Bowl, so the drill team had no idea of ​​its significance. The Colosseum was far from complete, so they had no idea how popular it was.

Ask them today, and some of the Ana-Hi-Steppers don’t even know who played.

Karen Beveridge Claffey poses in her garden in Anaheim in 1967.

Karen Beveridge Claffey, a member of Anaheim High’s drill crew, the “Ana-Hi-Steppers,” poses in her yard in Anaheim in 1967, a Polaroid photo taken by her father, Richard Beveridge.

(Courtesy of the Beveridge family)

“I don’t remember the game, I have no idea of ​​the teams,” Claffey said. “I just remember the Grambling guys signing our boots.”

The girls weren’t paid. They received no tickets for their families. They received no keepsakes or keepsakes other than a participant pass which few have kept in dusty scrapbooks. Most of them haven’t even kept their colonial uniforms, many of which still hang in a high school storage room. Other than their lingering memories, few have any evidence that they were even there.

“There was no budget, they didn’t give us anything, I can’t even remember if we ate,” said Chris DeHart Ray, 71, a retired business analyst living in Georgia. “I remember walking through the Colosseum tunnel at a drum beat, they have the best tunnels. But there were empty seats, and I didn’t think it was such a big game.

Everything was so simple. After a Saturday night rehearsal, they showed up at Anaheim High that Sunday morning. They boarded two school buses. They went to the Colosseum. They took the field at halftime and joined the other two groups to form an outline of the map of the United States. They went back to their seats, some of them flirted with the college musicians, the game ended and they went straight to school on the bus and went on with their young lives like nothing super remote happened. had passed.

“It wasn’t like our boyfriends were in the game, so we just didn’t pay that much attention,” Claffey said. “Then we came home and everyone forgot everything.”

They were chosen by Tommy Walker, a famous producer and former director of entertainment and guest relations at Disneyland. The NFL only gave Walker three weeks to design a show. His kids attended Anaheim High, and he had seen the Ana-Hi-Steppers perform in the neighborhood, so he did the right thing and picked them from nationally-known drill teams like the Kilgore College Rangerettes. (Texas).

The Ana-Hi-Steppers won a lot of honors and competitions, but it was still surprising because they were, well, high school kids whose previous biggest moments came at events like the competition of Arroyo Halftime, Rosemead Parade and Chaffey College Halftime and Parade. competetion.

“We had won all kinds of awards, so we looked at it as another competition,” Claffey said. “It was like an Anaheim high school football game, except it was at the Coliseum. It would be years before I realized it was something bigger.

Anaheim High, which opened in 1898, is the third oldest high school in Orange County. The Settlers boast many notable alumni, including Righteous Brothers musician Bobby Hatfield, U.S. Senator Thomas Kuchel, major league baseball player and coach Tim Flannery, and Tony-nominated actress Alyson Reed.

In fact, the Ana-Hi-Steppers aren’t even the only settlers to appear in a Super Bowl, as the school produced three players who were in the big game – coach Jim Fassel, running back Reuben Droughns and offensive guard Gerry Mullins. .

“We’re so used to having such fame in so many ways, but when you hear about the Ana-Hi-Steppers, it’s really cool,” said Janet Brown, president of the Anaheim High alumni association. . “Every Super Bowl we’re like, ‘Hey, yeah, remember?’ ”

To be honest, few people outside of the drill crew remember it. There was no anniversary story in the newspapers, no television reflections on the anniversary, never any mention of the NFL, and no official tribute from the high school itself. Perhaps that’s because their achievement was quickly eclipsed by an evolution of the NFL that transformed a quaint halftime display into daring performance art.

“It started with the Ana-Hi-Steppers, now it’s just wardrobe malfunctions and superstars,” Brown said.

    Anaheim High School Ana-Hi-Steppers member Joanne Hess Mittmann is the person in the yearbook photo holding an

Anaheim High School Ana-Hi-Steppers member Joanne Hess Mittmann is the person in the yearbook photo holding an “E.” Also shown is his 1967 Coliseum ticket for Super Bowl I, then called the AFL-NFL World Championship Game.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Although Anaheim was the only high school drill team to perform in a Super Bowl halftime show, for the first 26 years the show contained a kind of college fanfare. Then Michael Jackson appeared in Super Bowl XXVII in Pasadena, and the cute little diversion changed forever.

Janet Jackson’s nipple, Katy Perry’s sharks, a horrible Elvis impersonator named Elvis Presto, the blinking outfits of the Black Eyed Peas…if you ask some of the women of the first Super Bowl, change wasn’t for the best.

“It’s pretty boring, it’s so ugly, a lot of fanfare but not much,” Claffey said. “They make a big deal out of it, but they overdo it.”

Yet the memories, however hazy, still shine. Every year around this time, they will return, loudly, shockingly, aging women gracefully reclaiming their place in Super Bowl lore.

“I have no claim to fame…in fact, okay, my claim to fame is that I have a wonderful husband and he has supported me for 45 years,” Claffey said. “But we were once football history, and that’s pretty neat, huh?”

Believe it.