MIKE GARAFOLO, Associated Press PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Eagles are setting a new standard for NFL cheerleaders. No longer a mere sideline show to the nation's most popular sport - and to one of its most successful franchises of late - the Eagles' cheerleaders are quickly becoming a dynasty all their own. The popular lingerie calendars, the designer uniforms and the national notoriety have arguably given the squad equitable billing with the Dallas Cowboys' team as America's cheerleaders. "Three years ago, this is what I envisioned," said Barbara Zaun, the club's cheerleading director and a former squad member. "They are what I've always thought an NFL cheerleader could be and should be." In the mid-1990s, the Eagles were a much different franchise. The team was mired in mediocrity. The stadium and practice facility were decrepit. And the cheerleaders were simply gameday entertainment for fans. Everything changed when Jeffrey Lurie bought the organization in 1994. The team began to win regularly. The front office, Web site and public relations department accumulated national accolades. Lincoln Financial Field and the NovaCare practice facility, once blueprints in Lurie's imagination, became state-of-the-art realities. And the squad has gone from making largely charitable appearances to generating revenue and recognition for the Eagles. The cheerleaders soon may provide even more revenue with fitness wear and cosmetic lines. There are also discussions involving a major corporation interested in becoming a team sponsor. "We are very proud of the women who make up this year's squad," said senior vice president of business operations Mark Donovan. "We view our cheerleaders as a representation of the Philadelphia Eagles brand and a significant component of our marketing and entertainment mix." Besides their physical appeal, the women are also personally and professionally accomplished. Many members of the squad are college students, enrolled in the area's most prestigious universities. Others work in high-profile jobs in such fields as education, sales and marketing. This year, there will even be an Army reservist on the team. "These are incredibly multifaceted, multidimensional women," Zaun said. "They are empowered, beautiful and accomplished." Obtaining such successful women was key to establishing elite status among NFL cheerleaders. The gameday uniforms - developed by prominent fashion designer Vera Wang - were another step. But completing the marketing scheme required something eye-catching that would make football fans across the country take notice. In August 2002, the Philadelphia Eagles cheerleader lingerie calendar - the first such publication associated with any professional sports franchise - was unveiled. While the calendars would certainly be a hit with the young, male contingent, it was unclear how women and more conservative fans would react. "We didn't want to push the envelope. We wanted to steam it open," Eagles director of marketing and communications Ron Howard said. "We wanted to be risky, but not risque." There was little controversy. Instead, there were record sales. Never before had the squad's swimsuit calendar sold out. By the end of the 2002 regular season, the lingerie calendar was in its second printing. Next came appearances in Forbes, FHM and Maxim magazines. The shots from the calendar as well as others taken by the magazines themselves were featured in some NFL preview issues, pages away from predictions of the upcoming football season. "Everything has just elevated to a whole new level," said third-year squad member Monica Devlin, 21, a junior at Temple University. "Because of the calendar, we have become so popular with fans. And we've achieved a much more professional status." This year, the team hired renowned fashion photographer Michael Spain-Smith to shoot the squad's calendar in Florida next week. "We're breaking apart from the typical swimsuit calendar," said second-year squad member Corinne Cavuto, 27, who works for a communications company. "And it's like a fantasy for us. Who wouldn't want to be photographed in beautiful lingerie and play a role for a day?" The marketing strategy has been more successful than anyone expected but there remains another goal yet to be accomplished, one the squad shares with the football team. "We didn't go all the way (to the Super Bowl) last year," Zaun said. "Hopefully, it will happen this year."