On Oct. 15, 1981, professional cheerleader Krazy George Henderson led the first audience wave at an Oakland Athletics game.
The First Wave
As a sold-out crowd in the Oakland Coliseum watched the Oakland A’s and the New York Yankees in the 1981 American League Championship Series, professional cheerleader Krazy George Henderson decided to lead his fellow 47,301 fans in the world’s first crowd-wide “human wave.”
“I started with three sections and it went about five or six sections down,” Krazy George told KPIX-TV in San Francisco. “I did it again and it went 11 and then all the way around. It was insane.”
The wave takes place when the fans, one section at a time, stand and sit with their hands in the air, moving sequentially around the packed rows over and over again in what appears to be a fluid, moving wave of people.
Krazy George invented the wave over a year before he unveiled it in Oakland, and had been practicing it at various low-level sporting events. The original wave was created accidentally when he was leading a cheer for the Edmonton Oilers.
His job was to lead one side of the arena to jump and cheer and then have the other side respond. “One night in late 1980, there was a delayed response from one section of fans, leading to them jumping to their feet a few seconds later than the section beside them,” writes Raygan Swan on NASCAR.com. “The next section of fans followed suit, and the first wave circled the Northlands Coliseum of its own accord.”
The wave became widespread in the 80s and early 90s, and though its popularity has died down, it can still be seen at stadiums throughout the world. “The Wave that I created has become a worldwide sport’s phenomenon and certainly a piece of American pop culture,” proclaims Krazy George on personal his Web site, KrazyGeorge.com.
Biography: Krazy George
Sources in this Story
- The Washington Post (AP): ‘Krazy’ Inventor of the Wave Celebrates
- NASCAR.com: Bristol stands set to ‘wave’ hello to Guinness record
- Deadspin: Still Krazy After All These Years
- GoHuskies.com: The Wave
- ESPN: Please, don’t blame me for this
- The BBC: Mexican Wave secrets revealed
Krazy George Henderson is a professional cheerleader known for his drum banging, short-shorts and curly tresses. He began his cheerleading career in the 1960s when he joined the San Jose State University cheerleading team. At one football game, a roommate handed him a drum that he began banging to the delight of the crowd.
After college, he continued cheering at various Bay Area sporting events while working as a shop teacher. Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt saw him and offered him money to appear at a Chiefs game, thus beginning Krazy George’s career as a professional cheerleader.
He has worked for a wide range of professional and collegiate sports teams, including the Oakland A’s, Houston Oilers, Minnesota Vikings, British Columbia Lions, San Jose Earthquakes and the USA men’s and women’s national soccer teams.
Krazy George has occasionally stirred up trouble with his antagonism of opponents. Pittsburgh Steelers coach Chuck Noll tried to have him banned from the NFL and several Boston Bruins tried to jump into the stands at him after he taunted Terry O’Reilly.
Who Really Created the Wave?
There is some controversy over who invented the wave. Former “Entertainment Tonight” host Rob Weller claims he led the world’s first wave on Oct. 31, 1981, while he was a University of Washington cheerleader.
“Despite claims by others, the Wave can trace its origin back to Husky Stadium,” says GoHuskies.com, the official Web site of Washington athletics. “It was October 31, 1981 when former cheerleader Rob Weller (yes, the same Rob Weller who once co-hosted Entertainment Tonight) was back on the sidelines and instructed the Washington crowd to start in one section and make a human wave that rolled around Husky Stadium. The original Wave saw Husky fans remain standing until a full circle was completed in the stadium.”
“The A’s season ended on October 15th, 1981 and that I am on this video leading the wave,” Krazy George writes on his Web site. “Rob Weller and UW claim to have started it on October 31, 1981. Unless you can show me how the calendar in 1981 got screwed up and actually put the 31st before the 15th, then this argument is over.”
ESPN’s Jim Caple, a Washington graduate who was in attendance for Weller’s first wave, believes Krazy George’s claim. However, he points out that Weller was working on a vertical wave back in the 1970s and that it was Washington’s wave that inspired other fans to follow.
“The Wave didn’t catch on after his Oakland game (mostly because the Athletics season ended that day in a 4-0 loss, not the sort of thing that builds momentum). It did, however, catch on after the Husky game because we continued to do it for the rest of the season and the next as well,” he writes. “The Wave was a very intimidating thing for awhile until everyone copied us.”
Though the true inventor of the wave may never be definitively known, Krazy George is most commonly credited. As he points on his Web site, “Hollywood Squares asked the question: ‘Who created The Wave?’ The answer was (of course) ‘Krazy George.’ Put an X on that square!”
The Science of the Wave
In 2002, University of Budapest scientists studied waves at the 1986 World Cup finals in Mexico City, where the wave was so popular that it became known as “The Mexican Wave.”
They determined that 25 to 35 people were needed to start a wave and that waves were typically started during flat periods of the game. They also found that average wave moves at 12 meters (20 seats) per second at an average width of 6-12 meters (15 seats).
“It is generated by no more than a few dozen people standing up simultaneously and subsequently expands through the entire crowd as it acquires a stable, near-linear shape,” said the scientists, who also found that waves usually move in a clockwise direction.