Stampede week has always been special to me
I’m wrapping up touring Europe with my thirteen year old son, Blade. We’re having a great time and Blade has been nothing short of my seeing eyedog, a cute and clever one at that, as we found our way from Manheim, Germany to Paris, France, London, England and finally, like the cherry on the sundae, to Milan, Italy.
We’ve both become eager to return home - especially since the Stampede has kicked off!
Stampede week has always been special to me, especially when I was a kid and my dad’s huge supercard was one of the highlights of the greatest outdoor show on Earth. Every Stampede Stu managed to bring the biggest attractions in the world of wrestling to Calgary, along with midgets and wrestling bears - and always the World Champion.
I always loved watching the midgets wrestle.
I never took much interest in watching the lady wrestlers drag each other around by the hair. Maybe I saw enough enough of that kind of stuff go on at home between my feisty sisters. Or maybe because none of the lady wrestlers back then came even remotely close to the knock out babes in wrestling today.
Or the time back in ‘69 when my dad tried to talk everyone in the dressing room into wrestling a real live Bengal tiger - but there were no volunteers. Never one to disappoint the fans, Stu elected to do it himself and came out with a big grin on his face! This was the one match where even Stu Hart accepted defeat, and graciously at that.
A few days later the Harts were gathered around the TV watching Untamed World and I still recall my stunned mother whacking Stu on the arm when the narrator explained that one swat of a mighty tiger’s paw could break the neck of a yak ! She was furious that he’d done something so crazy.
One of the all time greatest matches to ever take place during the Stampede was on July 15, 1977 when World Champion Harley Race faced off against 7’ 4”, 450 lb. Andre the Giant ! The crowd roared with anticipation when Harley Race, looking every bit the great champion that he was, climbed into the ring against Andre. It was natural for all the fans to desperately want to see the world title change hands, still I couldn’t help but side with Harley thinking, what the heck is he going to do against Andre? But Harley could work against anyone or anything and the fans were at the edge of their seats during the breathtaking forty minute struggle as Harley did anything and everything possible to keep his title! I will never forget when Harley climbed up to the top corner to jump on Andre but instead Andre greeted him and effortlessly tossed the 245 lb. Harley across the entire 20 foot length of the ring! Harley landed so hard that he broke several of the ring planks underneath the mat!
Still, somehow, Harley managed to walk away as champion that night and there wasn’t a fan that didn’t respect both of hem for giving Calgary an all time Stampede classic.
Last night I sat with some Italian fans only to have one of them ask me about the one time I worked with the eighth wonder of the world, Andre the Giant, which was in Milan back in ‘88.
I remember running my finger down the line up posted on the dressing room wall and I was shocked to see that I would be working against Andre ... something I would never have dreamed of when I was a kid! I was more than worried enough and was dead tired, all of the WWF wrestlers having just gotten off the long flight over. When I looked over at Andre, who was sitting in the dressing room playing cards, like always, not far from the two huge customary magnums of red wine that he needed to pacify himself, he must have seen the color drain from my face. He called out, “Don’t worry Boss, it’ll be easy !” Just so you know, Andre called everyone Boss.
The next thing I remember is standing in the ring staring up at Andre and smelling the alcohol on his breath as he stared back down at me.
No, he wasn’t very intimidated by me. The bell rang and before I could even think about it I was bouncing my fist off his buffalo- head sized cranium and was astonished when the giant staggered backwards and fell back into the ropes, tying himself up by the arms.
A spark of hope! Now what ? I tore off into the ropes - only to run right into his size 22 boot.
Unfortunately it was downhill from there. I remember eventually rolling under the bottom rope for safety - or so I thought. Using the top rope to support himself Andre put one gigantic foot on my chest.
Okay, Andre the giant is gonna stand on me....
I took a huge deep breathe and braced myself as he stepped up with the other foot.
Andre literally squashed the breath right out of me and stood there for a few more seconds ... while I turned blue feeling like a building had fallen on me.
Then he casually stepped off me and I came back to life. At that moment I understood why Andre did this to everyone he worked with. It was his way of secretly letting me know he could kill me for real any time he wanted.
The coupe de grace was when he slammed me to the mat and then started teetering like a house. I laid there too terrified to move as he fell on top of me with an elbow drop. I’m forever reminded of that wicked witch kicking her feet beneath a house in the Wizard of Oz. The referee slowly counted 123 and back in the dressing room I teased Andre that my shoulder was up the whole time and that he never really beat me at all! He laughed and told me in his deep scary voice to insist that I get a rematch someday and it became a good hearted joke between us as I playfully teased him about it for the rest of his life.
I’d eventually learn that it was Andre who’d asked to wrestle me that night in Milan because he admired how I worked and he wanted to say that he worked with me just one time. After that match Andre shook my hand and thanked me telling me it was a dream of his. I understood then, as I do now, what a great compliment this was.
So last night as I sipped espresso I couldn’t help but insist to a group of Italian fans that big ole’ Andre the giant never really beat me at all ... my shoulder was up the whole time. Blade’s eyes got wide. I winked at him with a sly smile.
I’d say if there’s one thing missing at the Stampede recent years it’s the wrestling.