October 14, 2009
Nostalgic for wrestling
By SHANE JEFFRIES - For SLAM! Wrestling
There was a time.
A time when good and bad guys were easily-distinguishable by the values they espoused. A time when if you trained hard, took your vitamins and said your prayers you could do anything, defeat any foe.
A time when a piledriver was most certainly the end of a match and possibly career-ending ... or the start of an incredible year-long feud culminating in a bloody cage match on pay-per-view. Yes, there was a time ... when you believed. And it was magical.
Don't get me wrong: I'm not going to lament how wrestling has changed and whether or not it's been for the best (that's another column). Times change, people change. Everything and everyone adapts, evolves or becomes extinct. That's fact. That's life.
No, what I'm talking about here is the feeling you used to get when watching wrestling. Before you knew the terms "smark", "sports-entertainment" or "kayfabe."
I'm 31; I've been a pro wrestling fan since I was seven. At that age, I was staying with an aunt who lived a few miles from what used to be the Omaha Civic Auditorium in Omaha, Nebraska. I watched giants, midgets, women and the rest of the WWF roster battle it out in the squared circle as often as they came to town. At home, I held my own wrestling events with my LJN action figures and rented as many Coliseum Home Video releases as came to the Beta Barn down the street. I watched my cousin's copy of Wrestlemania until the VCR ate it.
Then, tickets for Wrestlemania 2 went on sale. I yearned to go to any of the three locations it was being held at with the kind of whiny dedication that only a small child can truly understand.
Unfortunately, my seven-year-old mind didn't grasp the cost of things like: airline tickets, food, hotel, gas or even just the tickets. I was disappointed until I realized that I'd get to see the matches at all three venues in the comfort of my home on pay-per-view, instead of just a third -- with all the neighborhood kids (PPV still being somewhat of a big deal at the time) I could wrestle to liven things up if necessary.
And so it came to be that a dozen kids and their dads piled around each other in our living room -- yelling and laughing -- watching a 27-inch console television (more wood than screen) until Big John Studd unfairly pulled William "Refrigerator" Perry over the top rope of a 20-man WWF/NFL battle royal, after having just been eliminated himself.
The jumping up and down caused by this injustice dislodged the cable connecting us to this event and soon only static filled the room. Children screamed and men grumbled; all was chaos until (15 minutes later) I remembered I had a TV in my room. In quick succession I was knocked over, picked up, sat down on my tiny bed and hailed as a hero as my 13-inch TV fired up and grown men jostled for position on the hardwood floor.
When it was over, the men dispersed to talk about the matches while the boys re-enacted our favorite matches and moves. It was a night I'll never forget.
But it was a little over a year later when I knew I'd always be a wrestling fan.
I'd spent the last several months (after eight surgeries with many more to come) in the hospital and hadn't seen a wrestling event -- live or on television -- during my stay. While everyone else in my wing was having movie night in the auditorium, I had just been released from the ICU and wheeled to my room to enjoy Sprite and crackers. As this sad truth sunk in, the double doors of my prison opened and a nurse who had known me since I was an infant entered, pushing a TV cart. She plugged in the TV and pressed play on the VCR and slid the cart in front of my bed.
"What are we watching?" I asked earnestly.
"I have a lot to do, sugar. Enjoy," she said with a smile before flipping the light switch and exiting.
And there, in my own little corner of the world, by a warm glow, I watched Wrestlemania 3 for the first time.
Having been hospitalized for everything leading up to it, I wasn't aware of the feuds. But that night, I watched Bill Jack Haynes bleed, King Kong Bundy squash a midget and Davey Boy Smith piledrive "Dangerous" Danny Davis into another time zone.
Then, after a quick recap, my favorite wrestler was going to battle an actual giant. Someone bigger than him on every imaginable scale, except in a little boy's hope.
For a frightened youngster facing an unknown future, there wasn't a better role model than the character of Hulk Hogan. If he could vanquish a giant, I could do anything, too. Wrestling made me believe in me.
Three years later I met Terry Bollea and Hulk Hogan was everything I knew he'd be.
I still watch wrestling, of course. And I remember the first time I realized something "scripted" was afoot. It didn't matter. If anything, it made me appreciate how much athleticism and dedication the art of pro wrestling takes. How these men and women put their health and sometimes very lives on the line, night after night for our (the viewing public's) enjoyment. And when it's done right, you get sucked into the drama of it all ... and that's the magic. That's when you believe.
Yes, the rewards for these "entertainers" can be great, but -- statistically -- the dangers are greater. And yet they do it.
I like to think it's because they have the heart of a seven-year-old in their chiseled chests.
Shane Jeffries is from Branson, Missouri, and can be emailed at email@example.com.