The rain that fell on Nissan Stadium couldn't dampen the enthusiasm of Hannah Muncher the first time she took the field as a Tennessee Titans cheerleader.
Muncher and the other women had just finished getting their hair and makeup done when the skies opened prior to the start of a pre-season game against the Green Bay Packers. Though the rain was sure to wreak havoc on their appearance, they performed a pre-game routine as planned, their boots filling with water.
"The show goes on no matter what. You don't postpone it. Everything is on a time crunch. You have to hit your mark right then and there," said Muncher, a Jasper native who now lives in Nashville.
Muncher, 28, was on the Titans sideline for four years and spent an additional year as an Alumni All-Star. She joined the team in 2013, the same year that she graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor's degree in communications and event management.
Her rookie season included several memorable moments — the pre-season downpour; her first regular season game, which was against the Dallas Cowboys and included a halftime performance with Big and Rich; and her first "Monday Night Football" game.
Her NFL cheerleading career also gave her the opportunity to dance with her grandmother, Beth Sumner, during a Breast Cancer Awareness Halftime show, perform for U.S. troops in South Korea, be a calendar cover girl with one of her best friends, Haley Sowers, and appear in Sports Illustrated.
Being an NFL cheerleader was a dream born when Muncher was a child watching college and professional football games with her father. She was passionate about dance and gymnastics from a young age. She cheered competitively as a teenager, but chose to focus fully on her studies and student life while at UA. She missed dance, however, and auditioned for the Titans and the Atlanta Falcons during the spring of her junior year.
Before auditioning, Muncher did her research not only on the teams but also on the cities where she would potentially be moving and beginning her career. Both Nashville and Atlanta were close to home, and Nashville had the additional advantage of being a city on the move.
The auditions themselves were also a form of research.
"I knew that I wasn't finished with school, and I did not want to really make the team at that point. It was a learning experience for me, so it made me realize what I needed to do. Returning girls who have been on the team have to audition, so I wanted to get a feel for the women I would be a part of as well," Muncher said.
Prospective NFL cheerleaders must be at least 18 and either be a full-time student or work full-time (which includes stay-at-home mothers). The audition process varies from team to team. The first day with the Titans includes a preliminary round and semi-final round. Those who make it to the finals spend a month learning routines as well as completing an interview process.
The first year, Muncher made it to the semi-finals. Fellow UA alumna and former Titans cheerleader Julia Nicholson pulled her aside after the audition and offered to help her prepare for her return the next season. During her senior spring break, Muncher auditioned for the Indianapolis Colts as a second trial run.
Muncher officially became a Titan while wrapping up her senior year at UA. She drove from Tuscaloosa to Nashville for practice each Tuesday and Thursday until the day of the final audition, which was open to the public and attended by a group of her family members and friends.
Out of 425 women who auditioned in 2013, Muncher was one of 27 who made the team. Two days after the audition process wrapped, the Titans cheerleaders went on a calendar photo shoot, leaving Muncher only two days to move to Nashville.
She quickly found an apartment and a job and began making friends at Saturday practices, a requirement for all rookies.
"It's hosted by the captains on the team, so it's a good time to get to know your captain and also to get to know your rookie sisters because they are who you are with most of the time. Having just moved to a new city and not knowing anyone, it was nice to have people who I became friends with right away," Muncher said.
At 23, Muncher was among the youngest cheerleaders on the team. Though it was a highly competitive environment, all of the women were supportive of each other.
"It is a little bit intimidating to walk in a room and see 27 very beautiful, intelligent women, but we learned our roles on the team. You might have a girl who isn't the best dancer, but she is great at speaking at appearances. Each person learns their role and that creates a team of excellence. You don't really compare yourself. You think, 'What's my role? Where do I fit in? Where do I shine?'" Muncher said.
Muncher had so much fun as a rookie that she was more nervous auditioning for the team in her second year.
"You know what you have to lose. You've already been a part of the team, and you know how special it is. You don't want to lose your spot on the team. I was even more driven that second year to be my personal best going into that audition," she said.
Although veterans run the risk of getting cut from the team each year during auditions, most decide when it is time to move on to the next phase of life.
Muncher knew the time had come for her because her last year was her most successful on the team. She was a captain, was selected to perform for U.S. troops in South Korea as a representative of Pro Tour Productions and was the cover girl for the Titans cheerleader calendar.
"I wanted to leave on a high note. Every year is different, and my last year was one that I would want to remember," she said.
During her fifth year with the Titans, she was an Alumni All-Star, a new program that allowed her to help with promotional activities on game days so that the cheerleaders didn't have to leave the field and sprint all over the stadium for promotions seen on the JumboTron.
Post-Titans, Muncher has come to realize how much she learned about time management and personal accountability while juggling practices and game day performances with the responsibilities of a full-time job.
Community appearances helped her settle into Nashville, making it a true home for her. She also made lifelong friends.
Mostly though, the Titans helped her become a better version of herself.
"Mostly I learned confidence. I learned from each and every one of the women that I cheered with, CONFIDENCE. The confidence that each of them brought to the table. They were intelligent, kind, driven, determined, successful, beautiful, and so much more. I honestly can say without a doubt that if it weren't for the Titans organization and the high caliber of women part of it, I wouldn't be who and where I am today," she said.