Thursday, November 27, 2008
I lost that good ol’ Thanksgiving feeling back in the 1980’s. It was a combination of two things… Working in retail and Turner Broadcasting’s purchase of Jim Crockett Promotions.
Jim Crockett was one of the biggest professional wrestling promoters in the United States. He ran the National Wrestling Alliance in the southern Atlantic states and he had greater vision than the McMahons of the WWF (now the WWE).
When I was a little lad, my father (I’m sure it was against his wishes) took me to my first professional wrestling event on a Thanksgiving night at the Greensboro Coliseum. I was in the neighborhood of 7 and 10... I just can’t remember what year it was.
I started watching pro wrestling at a young age. My mother tried to discourage my interest by saying, “You know that stuff is fake.”
Since I knew Jeannie, Samantha, and Superman weren’t real people… My young mind accepted that most everything on television wasn’t real. My response to her, “Yeah, I know… It’s on TV.”
I loved the showmanship and spectacle of professional wrestling (that should explain my love affair with the rock band KISS). I loved the loud words and I loved the violence, real or not. So when I heard that Andre The Giant (The Eighth Wonder Of The World) was making an appearance on Thanksgiving night at the Greensboro Coliseum, I begged my parents to go. I wanted to personally see Andre wrestle against the heel Big John Studd. I wanted to personally see a man that stood over 7 feet tall and weighing close to 500 lbs.
But I got more than that… I got the show that takes place in the audience during the event. I was amazed that the audience took the show, the wrestling, so very seriously. I remember most the bloody Indian Strap match between Blackjack Mulligan and Wahoo McDaniels where falls counted anywhere in the building. They were tied together with a strap of leather and when they hit each other, you could hear the slap when it met flesh and mat. I remember catching Wahoo cut open his forehead with a gig (blade) on the sly. Blackjack was seemingly losing a lot of blood too, but I didn’t catch him juicing.
The action eventually left the ring and headed up the stairs. Kids and some adults followed. Dad and I sat there listening to the other fans guessing where the combatants would end up. They finally reappeared upstairs and battled on the railing. Wahoo seemed determined to throw Blackjack over the edge and the crowd anxiously screamed while I giggled like a Japanese schoolgirl. I knew it was a show and I was loving every single minute of it.
Wahoo finally closed the deal when they returned to the ring and kept his Indian Strap match record free from defeat.
The Andre match was a bit disappointing. He was too big and lumbered around the ring like a Redwood in a planter. Big props to Big John Studd for juicing so good that it turned his blonde hair red with blood.
I was at the very first wrestling televised pay-per-view called “Starrcade: A Flair For The Gold”. It took place in Greensboro on Thanksgiving. Ric Flair won the NWA World Title by defeating Harley Race in a steel cage. By today’s standard, the match would be considered a little boring. Flair won his first World Title that night and I was there.
And during that match, overzealous fans in the upper deck got into a huge fight. It was crazy! It took a handful of police to break that melee up.
Professional wrestling at the Greensboro Coliseum on Thanksgiving was an annual event. I went many, many times and I took it for granted. I went to every Starrcade until they moved it to The Omni in Atlanta when Turner bought out Jim Crockett Promotions.
It was “The Night Of The Skywalkers” and I hated missing it. I couldn’t even see it on PPV because our cable company couldn’t carry it. I missed The Road Warriors defeat The Midnight Express in a Scaffold match. The action took place on a scaffold high above the ring and you won by throwing your opponents off.
I would have loved to see that in person.
When Turner Broadcasting bought out Jim Crockett promotions, they took my favorite thing about Thanksgiving away. Throw in retail jobs where I had to work the day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday)… The holiday lost all of its appeal to me and I haven’t felt the same since.
I miss it. I long for it. I miss eating all day long, watching a little football, and heading out to the Coliseum to watch men in tights “settle” scores before a sellout crowd. I miss the smoky ambiance and the people that truly believed what they were seeing was as real as their electric bill.
I remember the time Jeff Baker, Jon Sullivan, and myself were witnessing a boring moment when Ric Flair had Greg “The Hammer” Valentine in the dreaded Figure-Four leg lock. The match time limit was 60 minutes and Flair had him in that thing forever. There was a point during that leg lock where the entire crowd had quieted down to the noise level of a funeral and some chick somewhere yelled out, “Break his leg, Ric!”
We laughed our asses off and that became a personal catch-phrase with the three of us. It seemed funny at the time. We were so amused that she thought it was all so real. We pictured her anxiously sitting on the edge of her seat hoping that Ric Flair would retain his World Title belt while the rest of us struggled to remain awake.
I remember attending an event with my Uncle Byrl, Aunt Sherry, Bake, Sullivan, and my father where the main event was a tag-team Steel Cage match. Sgt. Slaughter and Private Don Kermode (heels/bad guys) were defending their World Title straps against fan favorites (face/good guys) Ricky Steamboat and Jay Youngblood.
It was bloody and exciting… Until an old lady a couple of rows in front of us got so excited that she decided to urinate in her seat instead of going to the restroom. The police finally came to escort her wet ass out. It was kind of sad and yet it was funny.
The faces beat the heels and the entire Coliseum erupted with the loudest cheering I had ever heard… While me, Bake, and Sullivan sat there with sheer disappointment on our faces.
We always pulled for the heels because they’re were usually more interesting and funnier than the faces. They still are.
I remember seeing Blackjack Mulligan Jr. (Barry Windam) “win” a Cadillac by ending up as the last man in the ring to end an over-the-top rope Battle Royal match one Thanksgiving night. Windam could’ve been one of the greats, but never fully realized it for reasons unknown.
Now you know why I’m not thrilled about Thanksgiving anymore. Yeah, it’s cool getting together with family, eating, and hearing my nieces and nephews act up with each other… But Thanksgiving just isn’t the same anymore.
I find the holiday more depressing with every passing year. Fond memories of those nights spent with thousands of blood thirsty, drunken strangers with strange odors aren’t being made anymore.
Maybe I should get a dog.