BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - A South Mississippi native will get to watch the Super Bowl from the comfort of Tampa Bay’s Raymond James Stadium.
Hannah Miller started our her dance and cheer career at Biloxi High School. From there, she moved a bit north to Mississippi State University. Miller is now a rookie cheerleader with Super Bowl LV contenders, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s an opportunity she and her coach talked a lot about during her years at Mississippi State.
“I was really interested in trying our for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers cheerleaders over a year ago,” Miller said. “My senior year is when I got really serious about the NFL. I went to my college coach and said that I’m really interested in the NFL and these are the teams that I want to cheer for. I really like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I love that organization. I love the cheerleading team. I love the city of Tampa and I just want to be on that team,” she said.
In the off season, the team made a high-profile acquisition that only grew Miller’s excitement.
“Then Tom Brady signed with the Bucs,” Miller said. “I grew up a Saints fan so my dad was already upset that I wanted to be on the Bucs because I just love the Bucs. When Tom Brady signed, I was like this is nuts. I was like, there’s no way I make it, there’s just no way. I’m gonna do it and I really want to do it but there’s just no way I make the team. I happened to make it and I couldn’t believe it. My parents couldn’t believe it. It was completely nuts and didn’t seem real at first,” she remembered.
After Miller moved to Tampa and went to her first rehearsal, it all became very real.
“It was all about atmosphere. It was so serious. Everybody loves it, and everybody wants to be there and work so hard and everybody’s on top of their game,” she said.
Not unlike the Big Easy in the weeks leading up the New Orleans Saints’ Super Bowl appearance, Miller said that the city of Tampa is buzzing with energy.
“I’m speechless about it and the city right now. I joke around with my parents and I’m like, the city is exploding right now,” she said. “Every corner you turn, there’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers gear for sale and the fact that this is the first time ever that the team hosting the Super Bowl is in it and we have a really good shot at winning? My coach made a comment to us the other night at practice and was like, I just wanna put it on pause and take it in for at least another week just to see everybody so happy and positive.”
Now that she’s an NFL cheerleader, Miller said that the experience is night-and-day from her years as a Mississippi State Bulldog.
“I expected it to be different but it’s an entirely different atmosphere,” she said. “In college, we have football, basketball, and baseball season. It never stopped. We focused on multiple things, year-round. We had different appearances at different events. On top of that, we had practices and workouts and we all did it together. We were in sororities together. We lived in the same dorm rooms, went to the same classes and had the same majors. In the NFL, this is a job. I mean, we have a great time but we don’t jerk around. We don’t play around and do whatever we want. We get to practice, and you’re there for two hours, most times more. Everybody works another job and is either coming from a job or going to a job afterwards. We are here because we’re professionals. We love this city, we love this organization, and we love to dance.”
For Miller and her teammates, there have been lots of changes due to COVID-19. For one, they’re not allowed on the field this year.
“The team splits up. Half of us are in the concourse area and the other half of us are on the pirate ship,” she said. “Obviously, I’d love to be on the field and want to be on the field, but being nearly in the stands this year, we feel a lot more energy from the crowd. We get to see them and be around them. The energy is contagious. When we score a touchdown and the cannons fire, it’s just nuts,” she exclaimed.
Those COVID-19 changes not only impacted the season for Miller, but they have changed the Super Bowl, as well.
“The whole team will not be performing at the game and I won’t get to perform,” she said. “The Chiefs cheerleaders get to perform as well, so only a certain number from each team get to perform. Only eight from each team were selected. Obviously, I’m upset and really want to be there dancing. But, I’m still so excited that I get to be there. Even more, I’m just really so happy that cheerleaders get to be there at all because there was talk about not being enough space and room for cheerleaders, and not having them at all. As soon as coach told us that there were going to get to be eight dancers up there, I didn’t care that I wasn’t one of them. I was just happy that our team was going to be represented,” she said.
Despite not being able to perform, Miller will get to root on her Bucs as a fan in the stadium. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and one in which she plans to live every moment.
“I don’t care! Rookie Hannah is just living her best life, and just loves being where she is,” Miller said through laughter.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will take on the reigning Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. CST.