Adversity top teacher
By BRET "The Hitman" HART -- For The Calgary Sun
I was happy to attend the Hitmen banquet last week and to have a chance to talk to the team.
I fancy myself as their mascot, like Donald Duck is to the Mighty Ducks. If the Incredible Vulk has a problem, what's he gonna do about it? I can be a sort of unofficial team mascot if I wanna be and if he doesn't like it he can meet me at center ice and settle this like a man.
Okay, so we're losing veteran players and we didn't get to Halifax, but what a season! I'm so proud of these boys. I too have had my share of experience with the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, but what I wanted to tell the team about is how I found the two relate to each other.
When I worked for my dad's promotion, I wrestled in a lot of buildings in the small towns where these guys play hockey -- Swift Current, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, Kamloops, Cranbrook.
I grew up loving hockey and have always felt connected to it. In fact, I wanted to be a hockey player when I was a kid, but skates cost more than wrestling boots and there was no rink nearby.
In 1980, I was visiting a friend in Chicago and I got a call from the Japanese Wrestling Office that was co-promoting shows with Vince McMahon's father. They told me The Dynamite Kid was having trouble at the border and they asked me if I'd mind doing them a favor and wrestle that night in his place. Oh, and by the way, it was a World Junior Heavyweight Title match against Tatsumi Fujinami and it was at Madison Square Garden.
Would I mind?! This was the chance of a lifetime. It turns out that since I was in Chicago, I was the only guy they could fly in on time and who wasn't already wrestling somewhere else that night.
They flew me to New York, picked me up at the airport in a limousine and dropped me off at the Statler Hilton hotel, across the street from Madison Square Garden. I was relieved to see my friend Mr Hito, from the Japanese wrestling office, was there and he kindly offered to be the translator for the Japanese reporters who besieged me in the hotel lobby.
I went to lie down but I couldn't because I was too excited. I could see MSG right outside the hotel room window and it was like the biggest dream of every kid that gets into wrestling is about to happen.
I grabbed my bags, but only got as far as the lobby when two of the Japanese promoters stopped me with dejected looks on their faces. Vince McMahon Sr. decided I didn't have a big enough name to wrestle at Madison Square Garden and I was off the card. They gave me $500 for expenses and said I could hang out in the dressing room if I wanted. I didn't. The next morning I flew home, disappointed, but I didn't blame McMahon because the truth is he was right, I didn't have a big enough name to be there -- yet!
Five years later, I teamed up with Jim 'the Anvil' Neidhart. I walked out to the ring at MSG with a bit more of an attitude than usual, as if to say `do I have a big enough name now?!' It turns out I wrestled at Madison Square Garden almost monthly for a decade and developed a great relationship with the fans there. Just listen to them on a tape of me and Curt Hennig battling it out for the Intercontinental title at Summerslam '91, one of the best matches of both our careers.
But of all the great moments I had there, I think my favorite would have to be when my brother Owen beat me at Wrestlemania 10.
My point -- and the reason I told this story to the Hitmen -- is that I've found that big losses and disappointments provide big motivation for accomplishing great things. Every defeat helps lead to victory.
To the Hitmen stars who are moving on, I'll still be watching and I'll still be your fan. Thank you for all the truly legendary moments you gave to Calgary.
And as for next year I say, I propose the new motto for the Calgary Hitmen should be 'Through the thick and the thin until we win!'