Harley and Andre
I just got back into town in time for Stampede and no sooner did I walk through the doors at international arrivals I was greeted by a country 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 wrestling world’s greatest attractions.
One of my favorites was when the legendary Harley Race squared off against the seven foot four, eighth wonder of the world, Andre the Giant for the NWA world title.
Andre loved the Stampede! It was customary and was 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 after effect. By match time it was easy to smell the alcohol coming through his skin.
Andre had great respect for Harley Race, who, quite probably, may have been the all time toughest pro wrestler to lace up a pair of boots. Harley was only a six foot tall two hundred fifty 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 '76 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 before the glitzy WWF. The smell of cigarettes and popcorn filled the air.
The first match on that Friday night, July 15th, that lit the crowd up was the mixed midget tag team match where 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 that 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 I wish they were more a part of the pro wrestling spectacle today.
One match after another eventually lead up to the international tag team title match, where my older brother, Keith, along with Larry Lane, defeated the scrappy Royal Kangaroos! As legend has it, Jonathan Boyd, a tenacious Aussie, bet his entire week's pay with Harley on a cut of the deck. Boyd smiled when he pulled a King. Harley cooly slid an ace out and Boyd wept like a baby for the rest of the night - and through the new 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 on you!
Finally, the main event! I can actually say I felt sorry for Harley 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, that Andre was running on high octane when he did this, but never the less the ever indestructible Harley somehow managed to get back in the ring! The match ultimately ended in a knock down drag out back to the dressing room with my dad right in the middle and Ed 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 you that 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 gold old days any day.