By MIKE CHAIKEN
Karen Link has been a New England Patriots Cheerleader for three years.
Two of those years, the Terryville native – former Miss Teen Bristol— traveled to the Super Bowl—and watched her team become world champs. (In the intervening year, she watched the Pats get within one game before being eliminated.)
“It is so wild that this was my second Super Bowl experience,” said Link in an email interview. “So many players never get to experience one Super Bowl, so I am beyond grateful to get to experience it all over again for a second time. I had a gut feeling all year that it would be a championship year, so when the AFC Championship game was nearing an end and the Patriots were in the lead, I was over the moon.”
“The best part about the Super Bowl this time around was being able to watch my teammates who haven’t gone yet experience the biggest game of the year,” said Link, a graduate of Holy Cross High School in Waterbury. “We were one game away from making it to the Super Bowl last year, and I wanted my teammates to have this experience so badly. I watch my teammates put in countless hours throughout the entire season, which starts in March and goes for pretty much the full year. I can confidently say that these ladies are the hardest working people I know, and to get to observe and guide them throughout the season as a captain all the way to through the Super Bowl was absolutely the most rewarding part. “
Once they knew they were going to the Super Bowl, Link said, “Prepping for the big game was a lot of work, but we are used to training hard year round. The Super Bowl is a little different because we don’t pick the song list for the big game. Instead, it is sent to us once the final two teams are determined. We set sideline dances to 70-plus songs for the Super Bowl, so just like the players have their game plans, we have one that we need to memorize too. It’s a difficult task, but with a little hard work our team was more than prepared.”
The Super Bowl is typically accompanied by a lot of pre-game hoopla.
“The week prior to the Super Bowl is filled with a lot of fun media interviews and promotional appearances,” said Link. “Since I work in public relations, the media side of things is always my favorite part. It was really fun to get to see the behind the scenes activity at “Good Morning America,” “Fox & Friends,” and “Inside Edition. “The after party was such a blast too since the stress of the week was gone and we got to celebrate the big win. The music artist line up was John Legend, Old Dominion, Pitbull, and Little Wayne – it was a ton of fun.
When Link and the other cheerleaders are at the Super Bowl, the world is watching including many friends and members of the family.
“The two Super Bowls have absolutely been the biggest stages I’ve performed on, so I was incredibly excited but also pretty nervous,” said Link. “One of the coolest parts for me is getting to see the Super Bowl first hand. It’s something I’ve watched with friends and family every year for as long as I can remember, so being in the stadium and seeing things like Lady Gaga’s dancers in the tunnels and the artists do their sound checks and rehearsals in the days leading up to the game are some of the behind the scenes activities that I found really interesting.”
The game itself was historic with the Patriots coming from behind to beat the Atlanta Falcons in OT.
“This was a game for the record books,” said Link, “it was certainly the craziest game I’ve ever witnessed, let alone cheered at.”
“A game like this changes the stakes for us because it’s more difficult to get our fans excited and making noise,” said Link. “Fan engagement makes a huge difference for the players, they thrive off of the energy in the stadium so we continue to do our part to the best of our ability throughout every game, no matter the score. Eventually the game turned around, though, and the fans were louder than I’ve ever heard.”
“Honestly the comeback in the game is a blur when I think about it,” said Link. “It all happened so fast and before I knew it blue and red confetti was falling. I never count the Patriots out, so I really never lost faith that they could make the impossible happen.”
Link became one of the captains for the Patriots Cheerleaders this year. “I think having a leadership role definitely made it more fun for me,” said Link. “I enjoyed the opportunity to guide our rookie cheerleaders through the year through leading practices, offering advice, and leading game day sideline routines. Our team not only performed really well this year but we also grew into a family, so it was rewarding to feel like I contributed to our success.”
The cheerleaders are limited to four years and next year, if she makes the squad will be her final year.
Each year, however, Link must audition to see if she continues to be on the squad.
“Open auditions are quickly approaching on March 4 (more information can be found on patriots.com/cheerleaders if people are interested in trying out for the squad).,” said Link. “Right now I’m enjoying our mini ‘off-season’ and taking it day by day.”
And what is she doing to keep busy. “ I still have my full time job working in public relations to keep me more than busy and the cheerleaders will continue to do promotional appearances throughout New England. I’m enjoying getting to spend more time with my friends and family during the off season, though.”
And 40 years from now, what will Link tell her grandkids about the year the Patriots won the Super Bowl.
“I keep a lot of mementos so I can look back and remember my years as a Patriots Cheerleader and share the experience with my future kids and grandkids,” said Link. “Little things like my credentials into the Super Bowl stadium, plane tickets, confetti from the field – it all carries such a fun and exciting story.”
“I’m really grateful for all of these amazing experiences and one of the best parts has been being able to share them with my family by my side,” said Link.
For more information about the New England Patriots Cheerleaders, go to www.patriots.com/cheerleaders