The Wave stands test of time as go-to sports cheer

October 17, 2011 - 3:58 PM
The Wave Fights On

FILE - This June 5, 2011 file photo shows Seattle Mariners fans during a stadium wave in the early part of an eighth inning rally at a baseball game against the Tampa Bay Rays, in Seattle. Love it or loathe it, Krazy George Henderson doesn't much care.

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Love it or loathe it, Krazy George Henderson doesn't much care.

"The Wave" cheer he created is still rocking 30 years after he first performed it during the 1981 baseball playoffs.

"The Wave has still been going for 30 years and I still have my incredibly gorgeous good looks," joked the bald, 67-year-old Krazy George, who for decades has made his living as a for-hire cheerleader.

The Wave went off without a hitch at a San Francisco Giants game last month. Fans did it in Detroit on Thursday during Game 5 of the AL championship series between the Tigers and Texas Rangers. It's still a staple at Michigan Stadium, where the 100,000-plus Wolverines football fans have a fast, slow and reverse version as well as the more conventional rendition — all of which look best in the Big House when everybody's on the same plane in the bowl-shaped venue.

"I just have a theory: It takes 95 percent of the people to do it to make it look good — 95 percent of sports pundits hate the Wave," Krazy George said in a recent telephone interview. "I always make the statement that they must not be fans.

"Being a professional cheerleader, I just know how the energy increases after you do the Wave. Every cheer I do after it, it raises the energy level for the fans that much more."

While the Wave has taken a beating on sports talk radio and among those who debate its value or just consider it obnoxious, many purists still appreciate the move. An informal survey of members of the San Francisco 49ers this week showed that many players still find it plenty entertaining.

"I love the Wave. That's awesome," tight end Delanie Walker said. "It looks so sweet when they do it. I kind of forget the play and look. The Chiefs do it real good."

Krazy George spent three years perfecting the Wave. He first pulled off the move — in which fans take turns, by section, standing up and waving their arms in an upward sweeping motion — on Oct. 15, 1981, at the Yankees-A's AL championship series game in the Coliseum. The University of Washington, meanwhile, did it two weeks later, on Oct. 31.

Former Husky yell leader Robb Weller had returned to campus for a homecoming game against Stanford. He began a vertical version of the Wave in the '70s, but first did the horizontal Wave that day.

Officials at Washington have acknowledged Krazy George as being first with the current Wave, but what they are certain of is that the Huskies popularized the cheer. It soon caught on at Seattle Seahawks games, too.

What's meaningful to George is that the cheer is still relevant.

"I love it," said San Diego-bred 49ers quarterback Alex Smith. "One of the best things going to games as a kid was being part of the Wave, especially at Qualcomm."

Kicker David Akers' son, 9-year-old Luke, was ecstatic when he first participated in the Wave in Philadelphia at age 4 or 5. It can take a couple of tries to figure out the timing.

"Why would you not like it?" Akers asked. "Do people not like the organ at baseball games? Lighten up."

In that first Wave game, the Yankees eliminated the A's 4-0 to reach the World Series. Dave Righetti, now the San Francisco Giants' pitching coach, was the winning pitcher. A crowd of 47,302 was on hand for the first Wave.

These days, Krazy George does just more than a dozen gigs a year — from college and arena football, to minor league baseball and Major League Soccer. He's also working to publish a book.

"I'm jumping in when I can," he said, acknowledging, "I think I'm phasing out. I think a couple of teams will keep hiring."

On his website, www.krazygeorge.com, the former high school shop teacher boasts of performing in front of 25 million fans during his much-hyped career as arguably the world's most famous cheerleader.

Krazy George insists it took a year and a half for the Huskies to admit they had seen the Wave on television and given it their own twist. George has his evidence on tape: The Wave was part of the A's 1981 highlight video shown to potential season ticket holders for the following year.

That hardly matters now, those debates are in the past. Krazy George got into it with Washington about the Wave before the 20th anniversary, and has called the university's athletic director and president over the years, along with various media outlets.

He never envisioned his cheer becoming such a hit, and eventual sports trend spanning the world.

"They were rioting because of the Wave in Australia at a rugby game — they were actually having riots and fights over it. It was good. They called me to get my opinion," he said. "I didn't even think about it (lasting so long). After four or five years of really going good, it started to spread.

"It will stand the test of time and I guess they'll do it forever at sporting events. Here and there it will pop up. It's pretty funny to see that."

Krazy George himself is pretty funny.

Those signature blond curls above his ears have turned white. A drum always in hand, he often wore his striped athletic socks pulled up with a jersey and cutoff jeans.

He's a California native who moved north to Napa from Southern California at age 17. He left for the East Coast close to a decade ago and now lives outside Baltimore.

That Yankees-A's game in Oakland was Krazy George's biggest crowd.

He had a simpler version of the Wave that originated at San Jose State several years earlier. Krazy George would call for the three student sections to chant — one word for each group — "San!" ''Jose!" ''State!" He would point to each section signaling those students' turn.

San Francisco punter Andy Lee points out that when it comes to the Wave, proper technique and timing are paramount.

"When it's done right, it looks awesome," he said with a smile.

And Krazy George hopes people have similar sentiments for years to come.

"The 25th anniversary was big — 30 is pretty good, too," he said. "Call me back on the 50th. It will be enormous."

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AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit contributed to this story.