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  August 5, 2000



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Talk show

Speaking up for announcers



By BRET "The Hitman" Hart -- For The Sun

 Some people are of the opinion that the strangest thing on TV is wrestling. Well, how about Saturday Night Live comes to Monday Night Football. It certainly has possibilities.

 Heady former SNL comedian Dennis Miller joins Al Michaels and Melissa Stark on the MNF team. What is Miller's top qualification for his new job? Plain and simply, he's a huge football fan.

 Miller exudes the enthusiasm you'd expect from an armchair quarterback joining MNF.

 Signing Miller is only part of an undisguised strategy by MNF to answer the Monday night wrestling wars. In the States, WWF Raw and WCW Nitro air head-to-head and are both consistently among the highest-rated shows on cable. By popping a tape in the VCR, fans need not decide their loyalty to one wrestling company. For many, it's more a question of choosing wrestling or football. MNF is gambling that Miller's unconventional view of football (and life in general) will lure the wrestling audience.

 Can an announcer make that much difference?

 In one word, yes. Ed Whalen being the prime example that wrestling fans in Calgary can relate to.

 In my opinion, Ed was the best wrestling announcer of all time. Miller is getting a lot of heat from the press, who say that a fan does not an announcer make. True. But most of the best announcers were fans first. Despite knowing the inner workings of the wrestling business, as soon as you put a mic in front of Ed Whalen, he was a fan. Ed found the humour in guys like John Foley and Wakamatsu, yet at the same time conveyed the drama of Archie 'The Stomper' Gouldie and Dr. D. David Shultz. His passion for wrestling was transparent. His excitement contagious. Ed Whalen did as much for the realism of a match as the wrestlers themselves.

 In the States, Ed's contemporary was Gordon Solie. When a young media mogul by the name of Ted Turner bought a small TV station and aired Georgia Championship Wrestling, it was in large part Gordon Solie's announcing that put it on the map. In the 1950s, Solie was a young radio sportscaster who didn't know much about wrestling but who, through a series of circumstances, found himself announcing wrestling cards in Florida. To do the best job he could, Solie asked the wrestlers to put some holds on him, with force, so he could better describe to the audience what was really going on in the ring. His dedication only grew from there as he quickly became a huge wrestling fan and eagerly studied every fact and classic match he could get his hands on. Sadly, after being the voice of U.S. wrestling for more than 30 years, just last year Solie developed throat cancer and could no longer speak. He died July 27.

 Both Ed Whalen and Gordon Solie had the ability to see wrestling talent for what it was and often described the merits of promising young rookies to the crowd before the promoters themselves even noticed.

 Another announcer who was very good at spotting talent was Jesse 'The Body' Ventura, so much so that he reminded me a lot of Don Cherry.

 Jesse pointed out and replayed beautiful little moves and moments that would have gone right by most people. I believe he had a lot to do with calling attention to the Hart Foundation in our early days. His description of Jim as the immovable object and me as the technician was right on the mark and defined us as a team. Jesse's thing was to convey behind-the-scenes stuff about the wrestlers as well as technical analysis to the fans. He was the original colour man, often the second banana to Gorilla Monsoon's play-by-play.

 It's important to note that what Whalen and Solie had been able to do alone, it now takes a team to carry. For example, Jim Ross does great play-by- play, but he's also got sidekicks. Some of the best sidekicks of all time are Bobby 'The Brain' Heenan and Jerry Lawler, both ex-wrestlers who became notorious colour commentators. They were known for zinging one-liners and biting humour. In fact, Lawler was so relentless when it came to ripping on my parents that I started to take exception to it -- until my mom told me they got a big kick out of it!

 And then there's Mike Tenay. I can sum Mike up for you in three words. Mike loves wrestling. Period. Mike is a walking wrestling encyclopedia to the point of it being eerie sometimes. I've heard many stories of Mike being shown old photos taken in locker rooms and, by the colour of the paint on the wall, he can tell you when and where the picture was taken. Arcane trivia is fun, but the really important thing about Mike's announcing is that he adds a sense of history and perspective like no one else does.

 Being a wrestling announcer today is a hard job. With so little emphasis placed on realism in the ring, I often shake my head at the difficult position the announcers are in to make it all believable. There have been some amusing moments lately when even the most seasoned announcers can only shake their heads and say, with the double meaning intended, 'Did you see how unbelievable that move was!!! Unbelievable!!' At that point, you just wanna shut off the sound, crank up some rock 'n' roll and watch a match without the sell job, like I often do.

 As for Dennis Miller, I look forward to seeing what he'll bring to MNF. I enjoyed meeting him backstage at a WCW show. He was just a casual wrestling fan but he got so into the pumped-up atmosphere that he was excitedly asking the wrestlers all sorts of questions and it was obvious he had a great time.

 If he brings that kind of candid enthusiasm to MNF, it'll be a blast.

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