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   Sun, July 11, 2004



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COMMENT





Stampede stirs old memories
By BRET HART
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I just got back in town for Stampede and no sooner did I walk through the doors at international arrivals, I was greeted by a country and western band. It's good to be home.

Like most native Calgarians, the Stampede has always held some of my fondest memories, especially as a young kid when my dad put on the biggest wrestling show of the year, highlighted by some of the world's greatest wrestling attractions.

One of my favourites was when the legendary Harley Race squared off against the 7-ft. 4-in. Eighth Wonder of the World, Andre the Giant, for the NWA world title.

Andre loved the Stampede.

And it was customary and actually part of his contract to have three or four huge bottles of red wine on hand in the dressing room. Andre would usually devour them one after the other with little or no effect.

By match time, it was easy to smell the alcohol coming through his skin.

Andre had great respect for Harley Race, who may have been the all-time toughest pro wrestler to lace up a pair of boots.

Harley was only a 6-ft., 250-pounder but he had double tendon strength in his hands and could snap a pair of pliers any time he felt like it. He also had steel plates in his arm and his forehead from a near-fatal car wreck. Yeah, Harley was legit tough.

Back in 1976, I scrambled to find a seat right behind Tommy Carr, the timekeeper, and, of course, Ed Whalen in the sold-out Stampede Corral.

These were the days long before the glitzy WWF. The smell of cigarettes and popcorn filled the air.

The first match on that Friday night, July 15, lit up the crowd. It was the mixed midget tag-team match in which J.R. Foley and his two bad midgets, Billy The Kid and Little John, took on the Martinique High Flyer Jerry Morrow and the two good midgets, Haiti Kid and Hillbilly Pete.

There was a real art to the slapstick comedy of midget matches and being the skilled professionals both J.R. and Jerry Morrow were, it wasn't long before the entire building was howling with laughter.

I always enjoyed the midgets and wish they were more a part of today's pro-wrestling spectacle.

One match after another eventually led up to the international tag-team title match, in which my older brother Keith, along with Larry Lane, defeated the scrappy Royal Kangaroos.

As legend has it, Jonathan Boyd, the tenacious Aussie, bet his entire week's pay with Harley. They cut a deck and Boyd smiled when he pulled out a king. Harley cooly slid an ace out and Boyd wept like a baby for the rest of the night -- and through the next few weeks, too.

But for me, one of the all-time great matches in Stampede Wrestling history took place that night when Dan Kroffat thumped Killer Tim Brooks and won the North American title with his infamous sleeper hold. If you happen to see Dan around town doing his usual charity work, don't let him put a sleeper hold on you.

Finally, the main event. I can actually say I felt sorry for Harly Race as he made his dashing entrance in his purple felt robe with the handsome black-and-gold NWA belt strapped around his waist.

You could hear the crowd bristling with anticipation as Andre lumbered out of the opposite dressing room like a giant brontosaurus.

I'll never forget the great show they both put on. Especially when Andre hoisted Harley over his head and tossed him out of the ring.

I would come to learn, many years later from Harley himself, Andre was running on high octane when he did that but nevertheless, the ever-indestructible Harley somehow managed to get back in the ring.

The match ultimately ended in a knockdown dragout back to the dressing room with my dad right smack in the middle and Whalen trailing not far behind, describing it all in his one-of-a-kind realistic style.

No, the title didn't change hands. But I can assure every fan left the Corral that night completely satisfied by another great Stampede week extravaganza.

Yeah, there's the WWE but I'll take the good old days any day.


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