The crushing disappointment of a denied autograph by The Animal
JOE E. LEGEND - For SLAM! Wrestling
|Pro Wrestling Illustrated introduced Joe to some new names. Here is the April 1987 cover with Nikita Koloff and Dusty Rhodes. Courtesy the PWI Cover History
I found myself fascinated by this new concept of cheering the villains that Roddy Piper had sparked in me, so I started looking in stores at wrestling magazines for info on this guy (no Internet at this point, I know, I'm old), but for the most part, I couldn't find ANYTHING with direct info on him, only conjecture about what he MIGHT be up to by a columnist who didn't appear to know him personally.
It wasn't until years later that I discovered how WWF contracts worked with regards to exclusivity and that by and large, you could only find "real" information about WWF superstars through WWF magazines. These other magazines seemed to have ENDLESS information about some other promotion called the NWA, but little WWF information to feed my WWF appetite and since NWA wasn't live or broadcast in the Southern Ontario area, it really didn't seem to matter that much.
These magazines went on and on about strangers named Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors (OK, THOSE guys looked impressive!), the Koloffs, Magnum T.A., Tully Blanchard and a bunch more. However, without a familiar face for me to read up on, they stayed on the shelf when I left the store.
One day Jamie came home with one of these wrestling magazines in hand and I asked him why. These were all wrestlers we had never heard of (nothing local and very little WWF) so wasn't it just a waste of money?
He said it looked interesting, so why not?
I think he read about four pages and gave up, but I picked it up to give it a cursory glance but wound up reading it and read cover to cover SEVERAL times! By the end of the afternoon I knew about the Dusty/Tully feud over Baby Doll and the TV title, how Nikita Koloff was going to destroy Magnum TA for the United States title and was introduced to a bona-fide wrestling legend (no relation)... Ric Flair!
For the next few years I spent a small fortune (compared to what I was making in part-time jobs, I considered it a large percentage of my disposable income so it was a "small fortune" to me!!) buying EVERY wrestling related title on the racks EVERY month, reading up on EVERY promotion I could and every wrestler currently plying his trade somewhere in the world. I would wager that it was at THIS point that I saw a larger world out there than:
a) WWF, and
b) my local promotion, and actually considered the possibility of attempting to make a living at it.
In all honesty, I've always been TERRIFIED of four walls (I never liked school and HATED looking at the same classrooms everyday, though in hindsight, I really missed out on a lot of opportunities to advance myself with regards to knowledge. I had a wealth of information at my fingertips and a staff of people I didn't even have to pay, trained to fill my head with new, old and interesting thoughts and instead I raced home to watch music videos. What a cement-head, eh?) and the thought that I could go out and see the world on someone else's dime, make a TON of money (yes, I was QUITE naive), meet LOADS of hot women (again NAIVE!!) and be a champion really appealed to me.
However, I didn't know where to start.
How do you get involved?
Who do I talk to?
Where do you go?
Is this thing on?
So I formulated a plan so intricate, so cunning, so devious in it's intricisies that NO ONE could unravel my web of intrigue. Thus, I would outsmart the smartest, out think the geniuses and wrench the knowledge I so desired from their very grasp without fear of reprisal!!
In other words, I figured I'd try and catch one of the wrestlers coming out of Scarborough Arena at the next event and just ask 'em.
So, after The Sheik was able to slink out of the ring again with the title (through DUBIOUS means, I'm sure), I convinced my dad to stay in the parking lot with my brother and I so "Jamie could get an autograph." Hey, I needed a reason to talk to one of these guys but I had to look cool in the process! Yeah, "cool"... waiting in a parking lot!
Either way, out comes George "The Animal" Steele who was actually about three or four weeks away from returning to WWF and makes his way in the dark to his car. My brother and I hurried up to meet him before he sat down and closed the door.
"This is my chance," I thought.
"This is where I find out which direction the rest of my life will go," I anticipated.
"I'm gonna be World Champion," I dreamed.
George "The Animal" Steele denied a young Legend an autograph. Courtesy of the Wrestling Revue Archives: www.wrestlingrevue.com
We approached "The Animal" as he filled the trunk with his gear and in the squeakiest little voice, I (though for YEARS I would claim it was my brother who spoke, as the voice that pierced the cool night air was LESS than MANLY!) asked "Mr Steele, could we have your autograph"?
How could he say "no" to an eight-year-old boy like my brother who stared at him with stars in his eyes? How could he deny two minutes to fans SO devoted that they would wait patiently after the events just to tell him how admired he was?
Actually, kinda like this...
"Nah, some other time".
And he drove away.
What a jerk.
I felt this was unforgivable as I couldn't imagine why someone in his position couldn't see how much something so simple and easy could bring a smile to the face of a child... ESPECIALLY a child whose parents had spent quite a good chunk of change supporting this local promotion who in turn, kept HIM employed!!
I didn't quite know what to say to my brother, but whether you're eight or 80, you know when you've been given the cold shoulder and you feel stupid for being supportive of someone who would be so callous to you in return.
Truthfully, my brother didn't really care all that much as it was really my pushing him to get the autograph in the first place. He wasn't a "George Steele" fan. But then again, he might have been had "The Animal" taken 30 seconds to put a smile on a kid's face and sign a piece of paper.
Joe E. Legend is surrounded by autograph seekers in July 1999 in Berwick, Nova Scotia. Photo by Meredith Renwick
That experience is the main reason why I NEVER say "no" to an autograph (unless the recipient is being rude to me or those around, but that has RARELY happened) and will ALWAYS sign something at an event. Fans make or break this business and are worth a few seconds of my time, considering all they've given to me.
But I was REALLY mad at the fact that I couldn't make any moves forward in to getting in to the wrestling business! My dad was pretty mad about what happened and decided to take us home straight away and who could blame him? Why stick around to meet "stars" if they're only going to be rude to your children.
He was a little bit more reluctant to take us to the matches at Scarborough arena after that.
However, the first WrestleMania had just come to pass, and Hulk Hogan was going to come to Toronto and defend his championship against one of his foes from the main event of that spectacular: "Mr Wonderful" Paul Orndorff!
Dad asked if I wanted to go as a friend of his from work was bringing his daughter and they figured on making it a big night out for the kids.
How could I say no?
It was at THIS point, that I felt like I was called up to the majors. My love affair with all things WWF was about to begin...
But I'll get in to that next time.
All the best and God Bless.
Joe E Legend
EDITOR'S NOTE: Joe E. Legend's column will run whenever he delivers on SLAM! Wrestling. Be sure to visit every day to see if he's come through!
For more on Legend's career, see his biography in our Canadian Hall of Fame. The best place to figure out where he is in the world at the moment is his website www.legendwrestling.com. Email Joe at firstname.lastname@example.org.