Bret Hart’s Calgary Sun Column
The wrestling fraternity mourns the loss of yet another brother. Big Boss Man, Ray Traylor, died of a massive heart attack. He was only 42. He leaves behind a wife and two daughters just, 8 & 11.I’ve started to become numb to the sad and seemingly never ending roll call of dead friends. The length of the list became alarming a long time ago. Why? Why are so many pro wrestlers of my era dying so young? And at a rate something like ten times higher than football players of the same age. Ray Traylor’s gimmick name became his calling. His friends called him Boss Man. He was a big, husky kid out of Georgia, the epitome of all that’s good about Southern rasslers. His good ole’ boy accent was no put on and despite being a 300 pound brute that terrorized Hulk Hogan with a billy club, in real life Ray was a big, friendly southern boy. A charming, likeable shy man with a penchant for laughing and joking all the time. He usually had a big grin on his face and it actually sounded natural the way he said, “gal dang it” a lot. The first time I met Boss Man was in the old Hart Foundation days. I’d joke with him that with his beard, shades and matching flat top he was Anvil’s younger bigger brother.
At that time the WWF was highlighting big monster cartoon gimmicks to work with the Hulkster. Ray Trayor got his start in wrestling in 1986 as Jim Cornette’s bodyguard, Big Bubba Rogers. He submitted his resume to Vince McMahon who noticed that he’d been a real life prison guard in Marietta, Georgia, and Vince took it from there and Boss Man was born. I could write about Boss Man’s epic battles with the like of Hogan, Macho Man Randy Savage and even Andre The Giant - or the rare but great matches when Boss Man teamed up with Akeem against the Hart Foundation. But I’d rather tell you about the real Ray Traylor, a good and decent family man who lived a clean life.
And he was a good westler. In the last bits of Hogan’s real era he drew serious money and was respected by his fellow wrestlers for being a team player and goold ole boy with a big heart. How that heart could finally give out, at such a young age, scares me.
I used to enjoy looking forward to a time, many years from now, perhaps a cauliflower alley or hall of fame get together. .. or maybe even just in my back yard sitting around my fire pit shooting the bull with Owen, Davey, Pllman, Perfect, Rude, Boss Man, even Miss Elizabeth. But the list of dead friends is yet another name longer.
like it here. After all I’ve been through I want to stay awhile. I took a long bike ride yesterday and thought about Boss Man all day asking why. Ray was especially close with Perfect and Rude and if heaven is indeed such a great place I find solace in believing that they will tell him why.
Good bye Ray Traylor.
I can't believe my heart's still pounding
I can't believe how close I came
And meanwhile heaven's falling
The fallen angels flown away
My worst nightmares became real
I got so scared that I forgot my name
And that'll be me someday
With stolen wings and evil ways
Straight south with the keys to the pearly gates
A guy came up to me at the airport in San Francisco yesterday, asked for my autograph and inquired what brought me out that way. When I replied that I was there to make an appearance at a wrestling show he got so excited that he ran off saying, “I have to call my friend and tell him The Hitman is making a comeback!” He was gone before I could stop him to tell him that I’m not making a comeback - because, in a sense, I never really left!
Here it comes again ... The Great Alberta Beef Eating Contest! I had such a great time at last year’s event that I’m really looking forward to doing it all over again - and them some!
The second annual extravaganza will kick off at 10:30 a.m. on Labour Day with a fun filled parade in Cochrane.Alex Baum has asked me to ride the Cochrane Dodge chuck in the parade.The last time anyone asked me if I wanted to take a chuck wagon ride it was World Champion driver Mark Sutherland during the last Stampede - and as much as I appreciated his kind offer I politely declined because I’m sure the speed limit would have been a wee bit faster than the Labour Day parade!
Then it’s over to the grandstand for the second annual Great Alberta Beef Eating contest. This year’s event will be bigger and better, in support of reopening the U.S. border to Alberta beef, a cause to which former Stampede wrestler Dan Kroffat and Cochrane Dodge owner Alex Baum are deeply committed. Over 50,000 concerned individuals from all over the world have already signed the petition on their web site opentheborder.com. Dan and Alex stress that they are not politically aligned and are in full support of all of the government’s endeavors. “Like restaurants are smoke free, we are politics free,” Kroffat explains. The pair hopes their campaign will raise awareness to all aspects of this crucial issue. Additionally, not being scientists, they do not preach the science of BSE and neither has any financial interest, either professionally or personally, in the beef industry.They initially envisioned this as a regional effort but were quickly delighted to find their campaign garnering national attention and now international support. “We’ve heard from parts of the world that we never imagined,” Dan exclaims enthusiastically and is only further encouraged.And of course The Great Alberta Beef Eating Contest is all in good fun too! For photos of last year’s event visit my web site brethart.com.
My personal trainer, Grant McReynolds, one of the strongest men in the world, will be on hand again. He’s bringing a contingent of ‘leaned out’ strongmen from B.J.’s gym not to mention Tokyo Joe’s equally hungry wrestlers who all plan to win the hamburger eating championship of the world! Grant is apparently keeping under wraps a secret weapon of sorts, James ‘Big Gulp’ Carmichael! There are those regulars at the gym who still fondly recall a time, years back, when James out ran and out ate strongmen Bill Kazmire and Ted Arcedi in an embarrassing dead heat run from B.J.’s to Peter’s Drive In for a hundred dollar bet!
I’ll have to check the rules but I’ll bet ya my pug dog, World Mexican Dog Wrestling Champion , Coombs, fresh off winning both the arm wrestling and hundred yard tractor pull at this year’s pug fest, could very well eat them all under the table!
Dan told me quite excitedly, with a nod and a wink, that he isn’t yet at liberty to say, but that he’ll have a big announcement on Monday. He asked me to pass it on that if you’re planning to attend any event in support of Alberta beef - this is it!
Knowing Dan - that’s no bull.
Yesterday was just another day for most people but it was a monumental turning point for the Hart family. Believe it or not, to the best of my knowledge, yesterday was the first time ever in the entire history of the Hart house that the doors were locked. No one even knew where the keys were - or if there really ever were any! The doors had always been open to all comers. And the phone number that had never been unlisted for all these years
now rings disconnected. What a strange feeling.
My way of saying goodbye was to simply ride by on my bike, the way I’ve done since I was small. A flood of memories came over me. I remember staring up at big husky behemoths quenching their thirsts with my dad’s homemade beer, after tussling for hours in the not yet so infamous dungeon. Some would be sprawled out on the grass but most sat on the stone steps that led to the dungeon.
My brothers and I would often split up into teams for tackle football with some of the wrestlers joining in. I remember waking up to a boarding house atmosphere as busy as an ant hive. Hart kids everywhere. There was one time, when I was about five years old, that I got chewed out by my mom and dad for something. I sulked for a little while and finally made the decision to run away from home. I wandered into the kitchen and chopped off a hunk of cheddar cheese with a butcher knife, grabbed myself a couple of huge red apples and wrapped it all up in a handkerchief. I think I even got one of my brothers to help me fasten the bundle to a broken tree branch - and I headed west!
I followed what was then called the old goat path that wound it’s way up past CFCN tower. There wasn’t much around there in those days, just a few houses scattered here and there. It was a warm summer day and I would have been wearing my nth generation hand me down hush puppies, brown shorts, a brown striped t-shirt, and my prized Popeye sailor hat.
I wandered down the Old Banff Coach Road for what felt like miles, still brooding about getting into trouble in the first place. Finally I sprawled out in a grassy field, not far from where COP is now. As I chomped on my apple and chewed on my cheese I could see the school busses that littered the yard of Mr. Fergusen, who was the bus driver who put up with all the Hart kids.
I thought it was pretty profound that the school busses were the same color as my cheese! I lay there with my hands behind my head wishing that I’d brought some water and wondering what I’d do tomorrow.
I fell asleep.
When I awoke that big old summer sun was still there but I realized that it was getting pretty late. I saw this image in my head of my poor mom crying and my dad shaking his head as they explained to the policemen that they’d been a little hard on me and I’d run away. I could hear the odd dog barking off in the distance. Perhaps, I told myself, they were blood hounds searching high and low for that missing Hart kid. The more I thought about it the guiltier I felt. And besides, my stomach was starting to growl. Enough was enough. After all, I’d only got yelled at. I made my way home expecting to see some sign of police cars and perhaps a few newspaper people, possibly Johnny Hopkins, one of my mom’s friends who wrote for The Albertan.
When I climbed the wooden back steps it struck me that it was awful quiet. I patted old Bing the boxer dog on the head, pushed open the screen door and walked into the kitchen thinking everyone would be crying and upset. I wanted to say. “Ah, don’t worry ...”
All was quiet. Dinner was over. The kitchen table was littered with messy dishes, except for the plate of food that’d been put out for me. My mom casually wandered into the kitchen with the newspaper and said, “Hi dawling.” With all the usual chaos that went on there every day and so many mouths to feed no one had even realized that I’d run away.
I shook my head as I shoveled spaghetti into my mouth and thought to myself, that’s the last time I’ll ever run away. And I never did again. Yesterday, as I peddled away, I found myself humming the long and winding road, that leads to your door, will never disappear, I’ve seen that road before, It always leads me here, lead me to you door ...
So much has changed. Houses fill the fields all the way past Ferguson's farm and they’re making the old Banff Coach Road into an expressway. Hart House, well, she belongs to someone else now. And I hear they’re tearing the old Victoria Pavilion down next.
The wild and windy night
That the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
Crying for the day
Why leave me standing here
Let me know the way
In recent years many professional wrestling schools have popped up across Canada and around the world. I more often than not have little good to say about most of them.
I wasn’t inclined to believe that the skills necessary to make the big time could be learned because many so-called teachers are limited in knowing the basics themselves and often take their fees based on teaching somebody a headlock or something simple like that.
I’ve always said that the Japanese pro wrestlers were always the best conditioned and well taught. I learned all the basics, not so much from my father, but from Mr. Hito and Mr. Sakurada, two Japanese wrestlers. I attribute a great deal of my success to both of them for all they did for me. The most important things they taught me were how to protect myself and how to protect my opponent.
I always took great pride in never injuring any of my opponents. How ironic that my career was cut short when Bill Goldberg inadvertently booted me in the head back in December, 1999. A transplanted nosetackle from the Atlanta Falcons, Goldberg learned his wrestling at WCW’s powerplant training camp, where I don’t think it was a priority to protect your opponent.
People often ask me where the best pro wrestling schools are. I’ve always felt that Calgary turned out the best of the lot, starting with my brother, Bruce, who helped launch Chris Benoit and Flyin’ Brian Pillman, along with very many others. My brother Keith also helped launch Chris Jericho and Lance Storm, while Leo Burke and I tutored Edge, Christian, Test, Ken Shamrock, and numerous others.
Lately I’ve been training at B.J.’s gym and what’s really caught my eye are the remarkable training sessions put on there by Tokyo Joe for a handful of dedicated young pro wrestlers, some of whom, not surprisingly, are Hart grandchildren.
Joe worked briefly in the Stampede territory back in the early 70’s where sadly his budding career was cut short when his car slid off the road during a terrible snowstorm. While he was pushing it out of the way of passing vehicles he was struck from behind by another car that slid off the road, costing him a leg, from the knee down.
Despite the loss of his leg Joe stayed involved in wrestling for years, crd booking wrestlers over to Japan, where notably both Owen and Benoit first became marquis names.
Seeing Joe put his recruits through his basic training is, for me, a thing of beauty. I know of no pro wrestling school anywhere in this hemisphere that takes the time and energy to teach with such meticulous science. His students are all stand out athletes that can break out into countless perfect moves timelessly, over and over, with such crispness that it makes many so-called wrestling schools hang their heads with embarrassment. In fact Joe goes to great lengths to teach everyone of them how to legitimately apply each and every submission hold with authenticity.
Joe’s best student has been T.J. Wilson, who is currently a rising star over in Japan. Another standout wrestler only just breaking the horizon is the highly talented Harry Smith, son of the British Bulldog. Some night soon Harry will have no problem filling his great father’s boots. Standing 6’5”, 240 lbs. he most certainly will be the best prospect to bank on making it to the big time in the near future! Harry is as dedicated and conscientious as his dad was strong and with Joe teaching him he cannot go wrong.
A rising star in the female grappler department is young Natalie Neidhart, daughter of Jim the Anvil Neidhart. She too has waded into the profession, showing great skill and determination, with the power and speed of a Bradley tank, much like her dad. Tokyo Joe is careful not to spread himself too thin, instead choosing only a mere handful that he personally feels will make the effort, put in the hours day after day, with respect and dedication worthy of his time.
It’s a pity that he can’t teach everyone the art of pro wrestling. Take it from me, Tokyo Joe is, without a doubt, the best teacher of pro wrestling in the world - and that’s saying a lot.
A friend in need is a friend indeed.
A little over two years ago I found myself dealing with the toughest battle of my entire life. To be honest, when I look back on it all now it seems like a bad dream.
In the early days just after I suffered my stroke I was still in shock as I desperately came to terms with the challenges ahead of me. I remember the doctors and nurses doing all they could to support me as I was prepared for my very first day of physio therapy.
It broke my heart when I was finally able to listen to my phone
messages, especially when I heard the gentle voice of my good friend Daniel Igali. He happened to be in town during the G8 summit and was kind enough to invite me out for dinner with the head of the United Nations, Kofi Anon, and all the African leaders.
Daniel and I had become friends when he passed through Calgary shortly after he won the 69 kg Gold medal for wrestling at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney. We had both dealt with recent tragedies within our families and I had the highest regard for Daniel when he represented Canada and I was proud of him when he dropped to his knees and kissed the Canadian flag after winning.
I’d only just become half paralyzed and oh how I wished I could have taken him up on his kind invitation. Deep in despair I was about to be wheeled down to the bowels of Foothills Hospital when in walked Daniel, along with his coach Dave McKay.
I sometimes wonder how I made it through that time in my life, let
alone that day. But I’ll never forget that it was Daniel Igali who pushed my wheelchair out of my hospital room and down the hall for what would be the first day of the rest of my life. Those first small steps were such a big step on a very long road to recovery. It’s not my intention to write about that dark
time. Quite the opposite, I’m happy to say I’ve been blessed with a miraculous recovery, in no small part because of the encouragement and support of my real true hero of wrestling, Daniel Igali.
Daniel, once again, is representing Canada and faces an uphill challenge as he’s moved up one weight class to the 74 kg division on top of suffering a neck injury, which he had operated on last year. There’s talk that Daniel is not the favorite to win but anybody who knows him knows that his is the heart of a lion and he has a way of realizing his dreams, not just for himself but for all of us who dream with him.
I don’t want to sound biased but I have no doubt that winning a gold medal in olympic wrestling is absolutely the hardest medal of them all to win! It takes incredible dedication, speed, strength, and conditioning to successfully meld mind and body equally while going full blast. I hope Canadians will tune in and watch this first rate world class athlete do us proud.
Daniel Igali is a true Canadian hero. Nobody appreciates that more than me.
Hart House has been sold.
If only the walls could talk. They can’t, so I will. To that extraordinary old house I’d like to say, thanks for the memories. Growing up in the world of pro wrestling was zany and chaotic but Hart house was always, to my earliest memory, a safe place. It was home. The sturdy mansion was built in 1905 by Edward Henry Crandell, a brick and masonry baron who came west from Ontario to settle in Calgary in 1899.
After the Crandell children were grown the house became a refuge for orphans and convalescing children run by the Red Cross until they gave up the lease. Crandell’s son moved back in with his own family until the brick business collapsed in the 30’s and Crandell turned the already quarter century old manor over to Judge H.S. Patterson, who raised his own children there until putting it on the market in ‘51.
In the late summer of that year my father fell in love with the estate on first sight and bought the house, along with the thirty acres upon which it sat perched atop Patterson Hill, surrounded by woods and wildflowers, and an exquisite unobstructed vista of downtown Calgary, seven miles distant, framed by the meandering Bow and snowcapped Rockies. It wasn’t long before the Harts turned this house of distinguished lineage into a cross between the Beverly Hillbillies and the Munsters - filled with a cast of characters that Barnum and Bailey would be hard pressed to top!
Maybe not so oddly, the house was always very much a reflection of my father. Strong. Sturdy. There for you in times of trouble. Warm. The heart of Hart house was unquestionably the dining room. Every Sunday for fifty years ( fifty years! ) my mother and father delighted in throwing lavish feasts for anybody who dared to show up. The Hart kids literally chewed the fat with an endless and ever changing assortment of freaks, musclemen, midgets, giants, and tough guys - who found out that at Hart house they were more normal than they thought.
The rest of the time the Hart kids generally did our eating in the kitchen, which Stu had equipped with the finest in second hand restaurant ware from Calgary’s best steak houses and hotels. Just to set the record straight, dad did the cooking, mom ran the office. When I think of the expression, “out here in the fields, we fight for our meals ...” all I can say is I won more than I lost. Stu grew up in the dirty thirties and having known hunger he was more than strict about wasting food. Every night he got great satisfaction in piling twelve dinner plates high, the older the kid the bigger the portion. Then he’d call us to dinner and all the Hart kids would come out of the woodwork in a race to get there first. It wasn’t that we were hungry, it was because the heaping portions were way too big for any of us so the older boys would grab the smallest dishes and the smallest kids would be left sitting there, for hours, having to finish off plates of spaghetti that you could barely see over, while my father stood guard. Nobody went hungry at Hart house. After years of utter frustration my poor mother completely gave up on trying to be Susie Homemaker and us Hart kids knew as much about housekeeping as we did about rocket science. Most of the bedrooms were always knee high in clothes but that didn’t matter, I always figured if you didn’t step on them they were clean!
I slept in a room with five beds and as many brothers. Trying to sleep on school nights, or any night for that matter, was a lost cause. It was all part of the routine, dad slamming his hand on the wall the office shared with the boys’ room telling us to knock it off.
Undoubtedly, the room that will always be the most famous is the infamous dungeon in the basement. Now if those walls could talk, they’d be screaming uncle!
Of course I’ll always remember the once spectacular view of the city from the picture window in the living room. I hope all those people living in those crappie matchbox condos are enjoying that view now. It helps me to feel less guilty about their back view of dead Cadillacs piled up in Stu’s yard for oh so many years.
So, after over fifty years of celebrations, victories, and losses .... the credits are about to roll at Hart House. There’s only one more whoop up before the final curtain call. And in keeping with my parents’ long standing open door policy, you’re all invited to come by! On August 14th from 2-6 a cover charge will benefit The Stu Hart Amateur Sport Foundation and space is limited. For tickets and information call Frank Sisson’s Silver Dollar Centre 287-1183.
SUBMITTED TO THE CALGARY SUN WHO CHOSE NOT TO PRINT THIS ANTI-HUNTING COLUMN
There is a responsibility that comes with celebrity and I consider it a privilege to use whatever influence I have to raise awareness of just causes. I often have a lot of fun with these columns and have written about everything from Mexican dog wrestling to Stampede memories, but this week I want to speak out about something serious.
In the pseudo conflicts orchestrated in pro wrestling guys in their underwear tell mythic tales of heroes and villains using only their bodies and a ring. There are no camera angles, retakes or stunt men. I have always had a great deal of respect for the art in that. It’s one on one. The same goes for amateur wrestling and boxing, where combatants face off on equal footing, may the best man win, one on one. The sense of pride and accomplishment in a fairly earned victory fuels champions and fosters role models.
I fail to see the glory in taking a high powered rifle with a targeting scope and blowing away a grizzly bear - often leaving orphan cubs behind to starve, get hit by cars - or to be exterminated themselves by some other jerk so he can mount their little baby heads on his wall.
The only thing animal trophies are a testament to is ignorance. In my view, there is absolutely no sport and nothing in any way admirable about hunting in today’s times, where we do not have the necessity of slaughtering our own food, unless the hunter plans to do battle with his bare hands,one on one, and then - what for? Hunting is just senseless butchering, and too often done inhumanely.
And don’t give me this crap about culling the herd, natural selection has done just fine without our ‘help’ since the beginning of time. If there are too many animals in a given area now it’s because we’ve encroached on too much of their natural habitat and upset the balance. I don’t like the very notion that we go around killing anything that gets in our way or inconveniences us - especially when they were there first!
There is absolutely nothing admirable about swooping down on any creature with helicopters, gliders, small planes, or chasing them with motorized vehicles until they cannot run any more so they collapse, only to have their heads blown off as they hit the ground. Or be skinned alive. Or if you’re an elephant you can look forward to being tangled up in a net so your feet can be cut off to become coffee tables and your tusks can be hacked out of your head - while you bleed to death in agony. Don’t get me started.
I would have thought Albertans are better than that! At least, we like to think we are. And that atrocities committedhoui on animals don’t happen here. They’re confined to some far off part of the world and some distant corner of our minds. Do we not pride ourselves in protecting and conserving our natural resources?
So why do we condone the reckless extermination of grizzly bears in Alberta to the point that they are in serious danger of extinction? Just two hundred years ago there were up to 16,000 grizzlies in Alberta. Now there are only about 600.
This shameful decimation is almost entirely due to human caused mortality. And the biggest problem, it’s no surprise, is the Banff-Bow Valley corridor.
In the past decade visitation to Banff has increased to more than five million annually. If this trend continues as many as nineteen million will be visiting Banff each year.
There is a serious question we need to ask before the grizzlies, and numerous other creatures in the Banff-Bow Valley ecosystem, are just plain gone - forever. I am not addressing this question to those of you who are already doing all you can to raise awareness - the question is for the rest of you. It is with great civic pride that we Albertans brag about preserving our national parks, but underneath it all what are we really more concerned about preserving, tourist revenue or ecosystems?
I am not blind to the economics of this. It’s just that I have no tolerance any more for those who turn a blind eye for a quick buck. It’s no different than poachers in the jungle who exploit or exterminate animals for money - except in our case I think it’s even more unconscionable because we have other means of supporting ourselves.
There are dedicated people much more knowledgeable than me about this issue and I think it’s long past time we all listened attentively to what they have to say. The Grizzly Bear Alliance is a growing collection of organizations, foundations and businesses representing almost 500,000 conservation minded individuals committed to maintaining a viable grizzly bear population in Banff National Park, the Bow Valley watershed and throughout Alberta. They believe that all of these issues can be addressed without harming Banff’s economy by a concerted effort and an effective long-range plan to maintain a healthy grizzly bear population.
Until such a plan is enacted, every time you show the mountains off to a visitor, or enjoy their natural beauty with your family, there is an invisible dark and heavy pall hanging in the air. A secret we don’t want the tourists to know and that we’d be uncomfortable explaining to our kids. Until you stop waiting for someone else to do something about it, just by being there you’re part of the problem instead of the cure. The bears and other wildlife were there first and as we encroach more and more on their habitant and migration routes, always remember, they are not a menace to us, we are a menace to them. To those committed individuals and organizations who have been sounding the alarm, I hope this helps.
After the great response that I received from last week’s column I’ve decided to take another dive into the past and bring back to memory my dad’s big Stampede show from July 3, 1981.
It was a very big show, especially in the minds of all the Hart boys. Stu’s budget was limited because the show was being held in the Stampede Pavilion instead of the Coral, where the gate would have helped recoup most of his expenses. I can remember that it was a real cooker, about 100 degrees. By the time I walked to the Pavilion from Scotsman’s Hill, carrying my bags, I was sweating as though I’d already worked.
The dressing room was packed with the usual unusual assortment of freaks and pro wrestlers of all shapes and sizes from around the world. I took one look at the disappointed face of a young, thin seventeen year old kid, Davey Boy Smith, who was a long way from being The British Bulldog. He was quite distressed being that it was such a big show that he would have to face the one and only Mandingo!
Mandingo was actually from Honolulu. He was a bell boy in real life, with nice, neat short hair that probably went well with his uniform when he brought people’s bags to their rooms. My brother Bruce appreciated his kindness in helping him with his accommodations while visiting Hawaii and because he was trying to break into pro wrestling Bruce invited him up to visit during the Stampede.
Despite the fact that Mandingo had never actually wrestled he was now sitting in a chair in the dressing room with a chain around his neck and J.R. Foley standing next to him holding a plastic bag containing raw beef livers and kidneys.
It was the second match of the star studded evening and the unassuming bell boy was suddenly frothing at the mouth as J.R. dragged him out for his match. Davey rolled his eyes and proceeded to go out and throw him around for ten minutes before beating him with a running powerslam. I do remember Bruce laughing so hard he had tears in his eyes!
The very next match was the legendary Sky Low Low against Frenchie Lamont. It was special for me in the sense that Sky Low Low was undoubtedly the greatest midget wrestler of all time and this would be one of his final curtain calls. He’d been hanging around J.R. Foley too much and much like J.R., Sky was a little tipsy as he made his way to the ring. Frenchie Lamont was one of the strongest midgets and he was somewhat of a hometown hero around the St. Regis and the Cecil. He made a point of launching Sky, who was easily in his sixties, like a cannonball, yet Sky gave him his greatest match that night. The third match saw Bruce get the best of Adorable Adrian Street, a blonde haired Brit working the over the top gay gimmick. Bruce was one of Calgary’s wildest cowboys year round - not just at the Stampede! After Bruce gave Adrian one of his famous running bulldogs for the finish it wouldn’t have surprised any of the fans if he’d have grabbed an arm and both legs and tied them up like a rodeo calf.
The highlight of the card was the six man triple tag team match with none other than the legendary Dr. D. David Schultz, along with one of the greatest tag team combos Stampede Wrestling ever had in Kerry Brown and Duke Myers. They had a real barnburner with Randy Tyler, Bill Irwin and the mangy Scotsman Duffy O’Rourke. What I remember most about that match is Dave Schultz poking Duffy in the chest declaring, “You stink boy! You stink bad! You need to take a damn bath before you step in the ring with me again!”
The Dynamite Kid, pound for pound, is probably the greatest pro wrestler of all time. In a world mid heavyweight championship match that night he squared off with my older brother, Keith. Keith was a top hand with a good background in amateur style wrestling. Dynamite may also have been hanging around with ole J.R. and seemed to wrestle with reckless abandon. Fans may appreciate remembering that Dynamite invented the tombstone pile driver, not Undertaker or anyone else, and after he tombstoned Keith he climbed to the top turnbuckle pad and most amazingly dove three quarters of the way across the ring to deliver a beautiful knee drop not quite perfectly, chipping some of Keith’s teeth before beating him.
I went out that hot July night for my AWA world title match against Nick Bockwinkle, one of the all time greatest champions of any league, with special guest referee seven time world champion Lou Thesz. I was wearing my dad’s once famous black velvet ring robe and I was as nervous as I can ever remember. The Pavilion, like every Stampede, was completely packed, standing room only. At that time I was a long way from being The Hitman. There were fans patting me on the back as I made my way to the ring, some that I remembered selling programs to as a kid and many that’d known me my entire life. Working with a bona fide world champ meant that he would lead the entire match and I would have to be up to snuff to follow. But after fifty eight minutes of a grueling paced catch as catch can where if I wasn’t in a hold I was putting one on, falls evened up at one a piece. I was sunk in deep with an abdominal stretch with no chance that the champ could ever reach the ropes. J.R. Foley cost me the match by casually strolling up to Tommy Carr the timekeeper right next to Ed Whalen and with his steel-tipped cane he rang the bell. The match ended in confusion with seventy year old Thesz peeling off his shirt and knocking Foley all over the ring! Just as Ed Whalen closed out the show with the immortal words, “ ... another ring a ding dong dandy!”
I’ve been wrestled around the world a few times over since that match with Bockwinkle and it still stands out as one of my favorite championship matches of my career. I learned so much from Bockwinkle, and from Harley Race, there’s no doubt they helped set me on the right course to winning seven world championships of my own.
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.
Well, well well. The wires have been burnin up. It’s a small, insignificant fact that a great many of the world’s pro wrestlers, old and new, currently reside in none other than Tampa. Throughout the week I’ve been receiving countless tasteless and totally uncalled for jabs about our beloved Flames on my voice mail.
It shouldn’t have come as any big surprise to me that the Lightning resurrected that old dinosau r, Hulk Hogan to help point out the way to their soggy ice! I can remember being in Tampa when nobody even knew what hockey was! But there was a time, a few years back, when I visited The Hulkster and he told me he was an avid Lightning fan with season tickets and that he and his son Nicholas never missed a game. So I can at least credit my old nemesis as not being someone who has merely jumped on the bandwagon. In truth I think his support can only help and anything that helps promote Canada’s gift to the world, hockey, in America, can only be a good thing!
Not to mention the super job his sixteen year old daughter Brooke has been doing singing both national anthems. I’m tempted to throw a Flames jersey on my pug Coombs and haul him out to center ice to sing - but I’m worried he might get some of the words wrong! He’s cute but not that cute! Interestingly enough, there are numerous transplanted Canadian wrestlers living in Tampa and I’m relieved to say that Chris Jericho has remained true to his Calgary heritage by backing the Flames. In fact Jericho, Chris Benoit, Edge and even Trish Stratus are backing the red and yellow all the way. Benoit, who is from Edmonton, told me how every scrap of Flames merchandise has been sold out all over Edmonton. I thought, my God, pretty soon cats will be sleeping with dogs!
But then I’ve had the likes of Brian Knobs of the notorious Nasty Boys confide in me that he’s been secretly coaching Cory Stillman, teaching him all those nasty little tricks that he used to try to use on me! But Andrew Ferrence did a nice job of ‘nastisizing’ him anyway!
Jim The Anvil Neidhart, a long time Tampa resident has no misgivings about backing the Flames, claiming that Chris Simon may in fact be one of his long lost brothers! In fact, the Anvil will be proud to be in attendance tonight wearing a signed Theo Fleury jersey that he’s been saving for just the right occasion.
I’m picturing it now, Hulk passing out Flintstones vitamins while Lecavalier and the rest of the Lightning are on their knees, hands clasped, saying their prayers as their best and only hope!
All I know is that the sight of The Hulkster peeling off one of his four sizes too small t- shirts just doesn’t move me and I think I know why! The Hulkster doesn’t look right in blue! Perhaps I need to remind him that the colors he wore as a wrestling champion were, of course, red and yellow ! My parting words to The Hulkster are, the LIghtning will be excellently executed!
Go Flames Go!
I was flattered when Tony Spolitini invited me to speak at the annual Spolumbo’s Italian Sportsmen’s charity dinner and was very much looking forward to it. What I didn’t figure on was the amazing playoff run of The Flames - and I never dreamed I would end up with four great seats to all the playoff games! I promised my sons we’d go to all the games together - which would be special enough for any family, but when you consider how many occasions I had no choice but to miss out on with my kids when I was on the road wrestling for twenty four straight years, making the playoffs a family priority goes a long way towards making up for lost time. When I explained to Tony that I couldn’t let my sons down - again, and I had to pull out of the dinner at the last minute, he was nothing but the class act that he always is, fully understanding that this one time I had to put my kids first. Needless to say, I apologize to Tony and whoever missed me. I owe Tony a favor and look forward to making good on my promise next year.
It’s been almost two years since I was immobilized in the hospital after suffering my stroke when Jarome Iginla dropped by for a surprise visit. With all the countless times I’ve stopped in to visit patients, it meant more to me than Jarome and the Flames probably realize to have their support. Jarome gave me a Flames jersey on which he wrote Our team is thinking of you. Since then I’ve been blessed with a pretty darn good recovery and I’ve been wearing the jersey that Jarome gave me to each and every playoff game. I even wear it while I’m watching the games on TV! And now it’s me who is thinking of the whole team! I can’t lay claim to being any kind of a hockey expert like so many of my colleagues at the Sun are but just like everyone else here’s my take on where the Flames are going to go from here.
It’s not so much that any one player is playing great, so much as the entire team working and pulling together. There’s so much that I can say about how well Iginla has been playing but beyond that there’s a confidence and a true sense of leadership that clearly is lighting the way for the rest of the team.
Defensively I’ve felt that Regehr and the boys have done a superb job of keeping their composure. I’ve been especially impressed with Ference’s calm precision in and around his own end. The entire defense has made life considerably easier for Kiprusoff, who never ceases to amaze me. It’s a darn shame that Dennis Gauthier hasn’t been out there much this playoff run because of his knee injury. His presence is sorely missed, no doubt he would have rang quite a few bells by this time!
I’m so happy for Dave Lowry, whose leadership has also lifted the team. I have this vision in my head of Dave skating around the Saddledome hoisting up the cup much the same as Lanny McDonald did back in 1989. The way Lowry’s been laying out the bone crunching hits he must be trying to make up for Gauthier being on the sidelines!
When you talk about leadership it’s hard not to recognize the stand out job that Stephen Yelle has done all year and especially through the playoffs. Clearly the genius behind Coach Sutter’s late season additions Nieminen, Simon and Nilson have helped making getting this far a reality. Donovan, Clarke, Syprykin and of course Gelinas are all playing with an intensity that I believe is unstoppable!
As one of the biggest Flames fans I just want to congratulate Ken King and Darryl Sutter for a super effort all season long. The sea of red is only gonna get bigger and I boldly predict we're not only going to win but also fervent Flames fans will be the deciding factor in bringing the Stanley Cup back to Calgary.
It’s a great time to be from Calgary! Not that any time isn’t.
Last Monday at the Dome was an incredible night that I’ll never forget! I remember being surprisingly optimistic about the series with the Red Wings. I’d never seen the Calgary Flames fans so worked up and it was easy to see right from the start of the game that Iginla and the boys were tired of being second guessed.
Listening to the pumped up crowd brought back memories from my wrestling career when I rocked the Dome. It’s an amazing feeling to stand at center ice and hear a crowd roar like that ! Only a few people get to hear that kind of ovation in their life time and The Flames waited long enough! It’s my unqualified hunch that if there is but one man that holds the secret formula to beat the San Jose Sharks it would have to be Darryl Sutter. The way Sutter has motivated this team no doubt makes him a strong candidate for coach of the year.
With all eyes focused on The Flames it’s easy to have missed out on the amazing season that the Calgary Roughnecks have had! The National Lacrosse League franchise has done an amazing job of putting this team together and after the championship game they can hold their heads high. I was speaking with Roughneck’s captain, Tracey Kelusky , at the team office a few days ago. he, Kaleb Toth and the rest of the Roughnecks were nothing but the picture of confidence and they couldn't wait to take the field in front of 20,000 screaming fans.
I’ve never been to a Lacrosse game and I found watching the championship to be really interesting, especially the audience. The Roughnecks ardent supporters were as loud as any crowd for any event that I can remember, along the lines of what the Flames have been hearing for the past few weeks.
It was while talking to Roughnecks GM and President Brad Bannister that I bumped into Stan Schwartz, retired Stampeder President and local roughian, who was on hand to lend his support and maybe take a look at Bannister’s play book on how he’s taken this young team all the way to the top. With a strong fan base, an amazing assortment of some of the best lacrosse players in the world, and with the looming NHL strike the Roughnecks and The Hitmen could very well be the best entertainment in town next year.
All I know is that after waiting for years to finally come home from my travels as a wrestler it’s been a blast watching The Flames, The Hitmen and The Roughnecks entertain me for a change. Wouldn't it make for an absolutely wonderful year if Calgary became the city of champions? With the Flames and the Roughnecks playing the way they have maybe new Stampeder head coach Matt Dunigan can follow suit by lighting a fire under the Stampeders and cap it all off! Can you imagine that?
There’s magic in the air.
Back in ‘95 I was approached by some old school hockey guys, along with Theo Fluery and Joe Sakic, with a proposal to partner up with them to bring a junior hockey team back to Calgary to play in the WHL. I said count me in and was beyond flattered when they named the team after me - The Calgary Hitmen - and used the colors of my wrestling gear as the team colors!
At the press conference announcing the debut of the team we unveiled a really cool, edgy logo. So cool that as soon as it appeared in the papers the next day calls came into my office non stop from people wanting to know where they could buy T- shirts and jerseys with the awesome new logo. I was WWF World heavyweight champion at the time and when I wore the logo on TV The Calgary Hitmen filled phenomenal numbers of orders to legions of my fans - and hockey fans - from all over the world. Wherever I’d go, from Bangkok to Buffalo, people would show up at autograph sessions and ask me to sign their Hitmen jerseys. Sick and dying Make A Wish kids were often brought to meet me backstage at the wrestling shows, many of them wearing Calgary Hitmen shirts. That anyone would regard me as a role model is something that I always took seriously and did my best to live up to it. In a time when kids are bombarded with so many negative images, kids need heroes. Being The Hitman gave me the opportunity to carry the message that if you work hard, shoot straight, be true to yourself and do the best you can at everything you do, you can make your dreams come true.
Not a bad launch for a local junior hockey team, eh? But back at home, in Calgary, there was trouble. There was a handful of local media types- you could count them on the fingers of one hand - to whom the very thought of a junior league hockey team having any association with a lowly pro wrestler was just too much for them to take.
And as for the cool (successful) logo these nay sayers proclaimed it to be too violent! The logo that replaced it, a cartoon balloon that said Hitmen, was so wimpy that they couldn’t give merchandise away - and after one season it was quietly retired in favor of the original one, which the team still sports today. I honestly believe that if they had kept the lame one, in those early days, it could easily have been the difference to the ruination of The Calgary Hitmen!
During the height of the logo controversy, which fed on itself and took on an overblown life of it’s own, I couldn’t help but smile when I was kicking back watching Hockey Night In Canada and Don Cherry, who I’d never met, brought it up defending both the logo and the team’s association with me. He saw anything that promotes junior hockey and brings in new fans as a good thing.
There are those who said of course Don Cherry wouldn't have a problem with a logo that may have been a little tougher than the rest because the way Grapes likes the game to be played has always been more grit than glamour. Still, it meant a lot to me when he defended me personally and I never forgot it. Now it’s Grapes who is under fire - again.
My view, not that anyone asked me, but here it is anyway, is that Don Cherry is there to entertain us. And he does it very well. His down to Earth delivery is a breath of fresh air from too many look- alike -sound- alike cardboard cut out type announcers. They’re his opinions. He’s talking for himself and like anyone else we’re not going to see eye to eye on every point. So, just agree to disagree and get up and get a pop or something.
I’ve met Don Cherry on a few occasions now and he’s just like the guy on TV. What you see is what you get. The real deal. Journalist Jack Todd, and others, have said that Cherry’s first and most obvious motive is to make money and they allege that he doesn’t care what you or I or anyone has to say about him because he’s laughing all the way to the bank. Let me tell you a little story.
When Wrestlemania came to Canada for the first time, back in 1990 at Toronto’s Skydome, the WWF invited Don Cherry to be on the show. Despite the fact that there was big money on the table and it would have been an easy and quick pay day Cherry respectfully declined. Not that he has any problem with wrestling, he just felt that he’d stick with what he’s known for and does best. It was a classy decision that only begins to define a man who is tirelessly involved with community causes and charity work. The Rose Cherry Foundation, named after the departed love of his life, assists sick and dying children - and he donated all the proceeds from a recent reprinting of his life story to research on liver disease.
Don Cherry is at times brash, abrasive, arrogant and controversial - but he is a part of Canadiana, love him or hate him, and we’re better off with him than without him.
The other day I got a call from my friend Hal Eagletail. Earlier this winter Hal invited me over one frosty morning around 5 a.m. to take part in a sweat. Talk about a bracer. It’s like a big sauna in a teepee - and it was thirty below outside. Not surprisingly I found the whole experience rather uplifting and I felt an awareness and appreciation for the traditions of the native community.
When he called the other day Hal wanted me to take part in an Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Walk on the TsuT’ina Reserve. I felt a personal need to be there, having lost a brother-in-law who was half native to suicide a decade ago.
The Youth Suicide Prevention Walk is a group of First Nation’s youth walkers and their support staff and volunteers who last year walked from Nanaimo, B.C. to Ottawa, Ontario. Their objective was to raise awareness on the tragic problem of youth suicide on reserves and in native communities across Canada. This year’s goal is to exceed last year’s walk that carried the message to seventy three reserves across Canada.
On some reserves there has been a 400% increase in the suicide rate between 1986 and 1995.
On Friday I found myself at the administration building on the TsuT’ina Reserve signing autographs for about 100 bright eyed smiling native kids who seemed to get the message that their future can be anything they want it to be. Native youths who survived suicide attempts report that they did it because they felt they had no future. A teenage boy told me that the real problem is directly related to alcohol abuse. So it seems to me it’s not only a case of suicide awareness but increased awareness and funding for alcohol educat ion, intervention and rehab programs.
Native roll models like Hitmen hockey player Brent Dodginghorse and NHLer Jordan Tootoo have done a lot to inspire hope, especially in Nunavet, where native suicide rates are seven times the national average. In my travels all over the world people always remark to me that they respect the way Canadians face our problems head on and we have a distinctly Canadian way of finding straight forward practical solutions. Why then, might I ask, do most of us seem to have our heads buried in the sand when it comes to this problem of epidemic proportions?
Elders on the reserve say. “Silence is deadly when we pretend the problem is not there, communication is a healer to break the silence.” For more information go to www.theyouthsuicidepreventionwalk.com
When I was a young boy around five years of age my dad had a wrestling bear living in a cage. Under the back porch steps. I’d let my Revel ice cream drip on my bare toes and dangle my feet between the wooden steps so the bear could lick it off. Us Hart kids thought that was pretty cool. I figured it was a good way to keep my feet clean - and it kind of tickled too.
It just so happened that I was invited to the next door neighbor’s birthday party, which was going to be held up at CFCN at a kiddie show called The Headhunter Show.
I’d never been to a birthday party or been on a TV show so I was pretty hyped when I got on the set and took my seat on the bench. Out from behind the curtain suddenly came Terrible Ted - that very same bear who lived under our porch!
The bear handler scuffled around with Ted just long enough to amuse us kids. Some of the kids were even scared, but not me! Heck, me and Ted were practically on a first name basis and no doubt he appreciated the ice cream drips!
By the end of the show Headhunter, the host, came around interviewing various kids. When he came to me he innocently asked, “Wouldn’t you like to have a bear like that in your back yard?” It seemed like a pretty stupid question. I matter of factly told him, “I already have a bear like that living in my back yard.”
Well, he kind of winked at the camera and chalked it up to the over active imagination of a five year old boy. This was all the opening he needed to have a little fun as I found myself pleading with him to believe that I really did have a bear just about that exact same size living at my house! He had some more fun with me but then the show ended and I felt really annoyed that as hard as I tried nobody believed me!
I remember getting home only a few minutes later, since CFCN was so close, and my mom, who'd seen the whole thing on TV, gave me a big warm hug and smiled, “Aw dawling, no one ever believes me when I tell them what goes on around here either!”
You might be wondering where the heck I’m going with this. Well, I wanted to tell you about Buckshot, which is the show that replaced Headhunter. I was at a Flames game a few weeks ago when the happy go lucky face of Buckshot himself, Ron Barge, appeared on the giant screen. Dick Clark’s got nothing on Buckshot, who looks the same as he did twenty-five years ago! It was while I was leaving that some drunk spotted me and in quite a dissing give-me-a-break tone he pointed and bellowed out, “First Buckshot, and now The Hitman!” I wanted to deliver a nice wise crack back but as I made my way to my truck I realized that I took it as a huge compliment to be held up to the same light as Buckshot!
For kids to have heroes is an important thing and I always took that part of my job seriously. I always took great pride in knowing that if young kids were watching The HItman they were in good hands.
I met Buckshot many times over the years, mostly when I was a kid hanging around CFCN, and he was always as gentle and kind as he was on TV. But I always heard Benny the Bear was a total jerk!
I remember, back in 1980 at the Edmonton Sales Pavilion, meeting a twelve year old kid named Chris, who was just the biggest Dynamite Kid fan there ever was. And that’s saying something because Dynamite had a lot of fans - and deservedly so!
I happened to be standing right there when Chris met his hero for the first time. He stared down at his feet and blushed but it was easy to see how excited this young man was.
Every week he was there - studying every single move we made in the ring.
So it wasn’t any big surprise when I bumped into Chris when he was eighteen o find that he’d filled and out joined my father’s Stampede Wrestling promotion. He was working as Dynamite Chris Benoit and later as The Pegasus Kid and Wild Pegasus. He earned his stripes in Europe and Japan and amazingly enough he built a reputation every bit as respected as his hero The Dynamite Kid.
In those days I was forever on the road in the WWF and I took every opportunity to recommend not only my brother Owen but I strongly suggested to Vince McMahon that he take a look at this talented little wrestler who wrestled just like Dynamite.
In fact, when the time came for Dynamite to hang up his boots he found Chris and gave them to him, which is a huge honor among wrestlers. Soon enough, Chris began making a name for himself when he surfaced in WCW in ‘93.
Upon my arrival to WCW in ‘97 one of the shining examples of raw talent that impressed me was Chris and soon enough I had the pleasure of locking up with this well muscled pit bull. Much to my relief, and that of serious wrestling fans everywhere, With Chris I finally started to have my first respectable matches in WCW. In fact, the most memorable WCW matches I had were with Chris. At the 1999 Mayhem pay per view in Toronto I won the WCW World Heavyweight Title, from him, for the First Time. But, by far, my most important match of all time, to me personally, was the tribute match Chris and I put on for my brother Owen at the Kemper Arena in Kansas City, Missouri. I chose Chris because he and Owen were very close. They’d started their careers together in both Stampede and Japan and I knew Chris would take the match to heights that would have made Owen proud. And he did. It didn’t surprise me when, just days later, Chris abandoned the sinking WCW ship to make his long overdue WWF debut.
A few weeks ago my heart soared watching Chris defeat both Shawn Michaels and Triple H to become the undisputed Heavyweight champion of the world! Immediately following his victory I was elated to leave him a congratulatory message. Just last night it was nice that Chris finally had the chance to get back to me, having been swept up in a whirlwind that I’m all too familiar with. Just talking to him I couldn’t help but picture that same little kid from Leduc standing in the doorway of the dressing room in Edmonton dreaming of one day being a wrestler. The one thing that stood out long after we hung up the phone was his deep sense of gratitude for the old Stampede Wrestling days. I’ve always felt that I never really did enough for Chris, or at least not as much as I wanted to. As he thanked me I realized that he should probably be thanking his mentor,The Dynamite Kid, who, sadly, is back home in England confined to a wheelchair - for the rest of his life. Chris said he’d love to be able to thank Stu, Davey and Owen - but I told him I’m sure they already know.
I hope that when the WWF returns to Calgary on April 19th fans will all turn out to honor Chris Benoit, our new World Champion - and a true Canadian hero.
Anybody who really knows me knows I've always been a huge hockey fan. When I first began wrestling, I can remember being greatly annoyed because I worked every Saturday night and never got to see Hockey Night In Canada.
Once the Flames came to town, in 1980, I never once had the opportunity to take in a game, so I had to settle for spending much of my time hunkered over the radio, in the old Stampede van, listening to HNIC on CBC radio in French -- with live, on-the-spot English translation by some of the French-Canadian wrestlers.
Over the years, I was able to stay up to speed on my hockey, thanks to the marvelous invention of VCRs. Of course, I had to make a point of not knowing the scores before finally arriving home from some long prairie drive at the crack of dawn when I could finally watch the tape.
Every year around playoff time, I really wished I could phone in sick but that wouldn't have gone very far with my boss -- my father.
Once I eventually got hired by the WWF, I was horrified at the complete lack of NHL coverage by much of the U.S. media in those days.
That was especially true in the sunbelt, where hockey was seen as something lumberjacks and Eskimos played on a frozen river.
Every morning, I'd make due with the hockey coverage in USA Today, where the scores were often two days old. And on the back pages most of the time.
Luckily for me, once Wayne Gretzky was traded to the L.A. Kings, American interest in hockey skyrocketed. It amazes me Florida, Carolina, Nashville, Atlanta and Phoenix all have franchises now.
Being on the road nearly 300 days a year meant I missed all the great NHL moments.
I missed the Flames winning the Stanley Cup in 1989.
I also missed all the Olympic hockey from 1988 onwards.
Oh, how I wish I could have seen some of the dustups at the height of the Flames-Oilers rivalry.
To make a long story short, I always promised myself someday when I came home for good, I'd get myself a pair of Calgary Flames season tickets and catch up on what I'd been missing for nearly 23 years.
I've always been reluctant to pester the Flames players for fear of coming across like the big fan I am.
I think back to how honored I was when Jarome Iginla took the time to pay me a visit and give me a signed jersey when I was in the hospital just after having my stroke.
I'm looking forward to attending my first-ever NHL playoff games.
And, as a fan, I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Flames head coach-GM Darryl Sutter and team president Ken King on a terrific season. And I want to wish all the best to each and every Flame, especially Jarome, who deserves credit for getting us into the playoffs.
The best advice I can offer is what I used to tell Jim The Anvil Neidhart: Get hungry. And forget your manners.
I just got back from Vancouver where I attended a charity dinner organized by my good friend, olympic gold medalist Daniel Igali. Aside from his dream of winning the gold, when he’d accomplished that, he promised himself that he’d build a first rate elementary school in Eniwari, Nigeria, the small African village he hails from.
The school they have now is a two room shack. With no running water. And holes in the roof.
I’m not really surprised that Daniel was able to raise over $200,000, because it’s the kind of tenacity with which he does everything. Like how he just overcame neck surgery and still managed to qualify to compete in the upcoming 2004 Olympic Games!
With a matching grant from the Canadian International Development Agency, Daniel is proudly looking forward to being able to move ahead with construction of the school by the end of the year! If you’d like to help, send a check, payable to Canadian University Services Overseas, to Canadian University Services Overseas, University Advancement, Simon Fraser University Room 2118 Stand Hall, 8888 University Drive Burnaby, B.C. V5A 1S6 or call 604-291-5301.
I’d like to take this opportunity to congratulate Chris Benoit for winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania XX! I remember Chris when he was just a little kid hanging around the Stampede Wrestling dressing room in Edmonton. Chris idolized the Dynamite Kid and when he first broke into the business Dynamite thought enough of him that he gave him his wrestling boots - and there’s no doubt Chris still has them too!
For all the years that I’ve known Chris Benoit he’s exemplified a dedicated work ethic and long ago earned my respect for him as a wrestler, besides being an all around good guy in a business where it’s easy to forget where you came from.
Chris deserves everything he’s got - because he earned it. With Benoit holding the world championship I can’t help but be impressed with the direction the WWE is going. I’ve always felt that after exhausting the shock value aspect the only place they could go is back to what built that company in the first place, back to realistic, skillful wrestling. And there’s nobody that does that better today than Chris Benoit. Long may you run, my friend!
On a sadder note, the wrestling world says good bye to yet another. Hercules Hernandez (Ray Fernandez), succumbed to a fatal heart attack - at forty six. Herc will be best remembered for his bouts with the Ultimate Warrior and Earthquake (John Tenta), but I remember him best for tagging up with Paul Roma as Power and Glory and having some epic battles with The Hart Foundation. Herc had a big heart and what I remember best about him is how he kept his sense of humor through some wild, unpredictable times.
And how about them HItmen! Making the playoffs for the seventh straight year! I’m looking forward to watching them upset and bounce Brent Sutter’s Red Deer Rebels in the first round. With all the Hitmen dying their hair blonde I just want to say that as much as I support you guys to the bitter end, no, you won’t be seeing The HItman with blonde hair! Then again, if you make it to the Memorial Cup I’ll have no problem doin’ the Gorgeous George for ya!
Wrestlemania X. March 20, 1994. Madison Square Garden. It was unquestionably one of the biggest nights of my career. It was arguably the greatest opening match ever held at the greatest wrestling hall of them all!
In the first of two co-main event matches on a huge show celebrating the tenth anniversary of Wrestlemania my feud with my brother Owen was at it’s red hot peak and we blended his high flying skills and my solid technical style to build a match that would finally earn Owen the respect that he had for so long deserved.
It seems ironic now that the only way that both Owen and I could get to the top of the WWF when each of us first got there was to become nasty, vicious, ruthless, villains.
What a lot of people don’t know about is how Owen and I figured out, not one, but two completely different ways to reverse the sharpshooter! In what was then considered to be one of the biggest upsets of all time, Owen pinned me when I went for a victory roll! It might seem strange but nobody was more proud of his victory over me than I was!
I opened the show and I closed the show.
In the other main event I squared off with five hundred pound Yokozuna and regained the world heavyweight title!
The wrestlers piled out of the dressing room and hoisted me up on their shoulders in what was a very genuine and spontaneous showing of respect that I’ll never forget!
Wrestlemania XI was at the Hartford Civic Center on April 2, 1995 where I took on two time world champion Bob Backlund in a classic match up of the old generation versus the new. Unfortunately it was a submission match centered around one of us having to say ‘I quit’. When I finally hooked old Bob in his own hold, the cross face chicken wing, he soon found out just how painful it really was. It hurt so much that when guest referee, Roddy Piper, stuck the microphone in his face and asked him if he’d had enough he couldn’t remember to say ‘I quit’ so he blurted out, “yes!” With no disrespect to Bob, this was probably my least memorable Wrestlemania match, but only because it was a poor concept to start with.
I redeemed myself the following year at Wrestlemania XII in the infamous iron man match with Shawn Michaels. I’ve always felt that this was the toughest match I ever had. That year Shawn took the winter off to train solely for our one hour marathon match while I was being jackknifed and pancaked all winter in short but physical matches with the biggest behemoths in the WWF at that time -Diesel, Undertaker, Psycho Sid and Yoko! This, along with a grueling tour of India only weeks before Wrestlemania XII, made it extremely difficult for me to build my stamina for a one hour pay per view main event match! Luckily for me, I could see that I was being set up, with the full intention being that Shawn would scrape me off the mat so that Vince and Jim Ross could describe in their commentary how Shawn, who was a few years younger than me, had just taken over for the new generation. Instead, I trained like an absolute lunatic every day, on my own time, and I think if you watch that match back you’ll come to find that, more often than not, it was The Hitman scraping The Heartbreak Kid up off the mat! To both our credit, I think the iron man match at Wrestlemania XII still sets the standard for hour long matches, which is no doubt why the WWE wrestlers themselves just voted it the greatest Wrestlemania match of all time!
The following year I fully expected to have my planned rematch with the still reigning champion, Shawn Michaels, but rather than lose to me he came up with another of many phony injuries and forfeited the title so that he could, as Shawn tearfully put it during an in ring interview, go home to find his smile. So, plans were changed and I was hastily matched up with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was just beginning to make a name for himself. I’ve always felt this match opened the door for Stone Cold, who told me, just a few months ago, that it was his all time favorite match! It’s no surprise that in two weighty polls conducted by the most respected news chronicle of the pro wrestling business, The Wrestling Observer, one for fans and the other for wrestlers, promoters and others in the business, the Wrestlemania XIII match between The Hitman and Stone Cold was voted the number one Wrestlemania match of all time! I’m flattered and I’m happy to agree that, in my opinion, that knock down drag was not only my best Wrestlemania match but also the single greatest Wrestlemania match ever!
And ... as for the massive rumor that I’ll be appearing at Wrestlemania XX .... I want to wish Chris Benoit all the luck in the world ... and to all the boys, have the time of your lives!
I’ll be watching ... but I won’t be there. Let’s just leave it at that ... for now.
I’ve just learned of a comprehensive poll conducted by The Wrestling Observer, the most respected pro wrestling news digest, in which my Wrestlemania XIII match with Stone Cold Steve Austin was voted by both wrestling fans and wrestlers as the best match in the history of Wrestlemania!
Yeah, it was one of my all time favorites too. And it was also my last Wrestlemania.
With Wrestlemania XX only a week away I thought I’d take a stroll down memory lane until the big show.
I’d just gotten to the WWF when they were putting together the first Wrestlemania, but my first pay per view was Wrestlemania II, in Chicago, at the Rosemont Horizon. I was in a twenty man over the top battle royal with such notable names as William “Refrigerator” Perry, who I remember bowling over me and my tag partner Jim The Anvil Neidhart like a couple of bowling pins. It did, in fact, come down to a show down between me and Andre the Giant and the last thing I could remember was Andre tossing me over the top rope, like a bag of flour, to the ring floor into Anvil’s waiting arms.
The following year, Wrestlemania III, at the Pontiac Silverdome, boasts the largest indoor crowd in history, 93,173. In a triple tag match The Hart Foundation and Danny Davis took on two of my brothers-in-law, the British Bulldogs with Tito Santana. I remember that the Silverdome was so huge that we were driven out to the ring in a little motorized cart and I was absolutely blown away by the magnitude of the crowd! Unfortunately, that was the only part I clearly remember because before my match started The Bulldogs jumped the three of us and just as I rolled to the floor I looked up to see Davey Boy Smith press slamming Danny Davis over the top rope on top of me. Danny came down like a skittish cat and nearly poked my eye out. The rest of the match was nothing but a teary blur!
At Wrestlemania IV, at Trump Plaza in Atlantic City, the twenty man battle royal came down to two guys, me and Bad News Brown, better known up here as Bad News Allen Coage. Old Bad News double crossed me and won the battle royal, which ultimately turned me from a ruthless villain in pink into a rugged babyface.
Wrestlemania V was also in Atlantic City and The Hart Foundation manhandled Greg The Hammer Valentine and The Honky Tonk Man. At Wrestlemania VI over 67,000 fans packed Toronto’s Skydome. The Hart Foundation made wrestling history with the fastest ppv pinfall of all time when we defeated The Bolsheviks in only seventeen seconds! Wrestlemania VII, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, turned out to be my final run as two time WWF tag champ when The Nasty Boys managed to take the Anvil out with a motorcycle helmet to win the belts. This lead to the eventual break up of the original Hart Foundation and launched me into a singles career.
Wrestlemania VIII, at the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, would be a defining moment of my career. In the co-main event Rowdy Roddy Piper kicked me with the toe of his boot just above my eye, opening me up, but I rallied back to pull off an amazing upset victory over the never before pinned Piper to claim the Intercontinental Title - for the second time.
By the time I got to Wrestlemania IX, at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, I was WWF World Heavyweight Champion, having climbed to the main event against six hundred pound Yokozuna. What happened that day didn’t make any sense then - and it still doesn’t now. After having salt thrown into my eyes by Yoko’s manager, Mr. Fuji, Hulk Hogan suddenly appeared at ringside and ended up with the title! It was arguably the phoniest Wrestlemania finish ever contrived.
But little did I know that my all time best Wrestlemania moments were yet to come. Next week, I’ll shed some light on my classic world championship bouts with my brother Owen, Bob Backlund, Shawn Michaels and, of course, Stone Cold Steve Austin. See ya next week.
I was asked back to Ernest Manning, my old high school, to speak to a few hundred of the best high school amateur wrestlers from all over Alberta. I pulled up in front and found myself swimming in a million memories.
Walking in the front doors just the sight of the old Griffin fountain immediately made me think of a girl who had a crush on me in grade eleven. I couldn’t help but smile at the memory of her slamming a packed icy snowball into my face and down the back of my neck. She ran off giggling and I was starting to get tired of her routine so I chased her down, picked her up and dropped her right into that old fountain!
I enjoyed watching her come up for air - until Mr. Vicorey jerked me by the arm saying, “I didn’t think you’d do it!”
He took me ‘round the corner and I concluded that I was in a heap of trouble. I was picturing how I was going to explain this to my dad when Mr. Vicorey anxiously looked around and told me. “I won’t say anything if you don’t say anything. Just get a mop and clean that mess up!” Needless to say she didn’t throw any more snowballs at me after that!
One of my favorite classes was commercial art.
One day I found myself in the art supply room with my friend Danny Bickell, in which there were a bunch of felt covered mannequins. Of course, it didn’t take long before we were both using them to practice every wrestling move we could think of. My art teacher, Mr. Hutton, a tenacious little Scotsman, came looking for us and he didn’t appreciate the spike piledrivers being done to his prized dummies! He took us out in the hallway and ordered the two of us to stand with our backs against the lockers, his last words being, “Don’t let me catch you lying down!”
No sooner did he walk back into the classroom that my buddy Dan, who was never very good at following orders, asked me to show him a few wrestling moves. So, we started wrestling away but every now and then I’d look to make sure that Mr. Hutton was nowhere around.
I like to think that Dan and I had ourselves a nice little ring a ding dong dandy! I remember pretending to bang Dan’s head on the lockers and him crumbling to the floor pretending to be out cold!
Then I told him that I wanted to practice my stomps and to put his hands by his sides. I stepped back just in time to see Mr. Hutton calmly approaching with his head down, whistling. I quickly spun around and pressed my back against the locker like a perfect angel ... while Dan lay sprawled at my feet! Mr. Hutton, who could be a bit of a grump on his best days, couldn’t believe his eyes, seeing this flagrant challenge to his authority! I still have marks on the insides of my cheeks from biting down so hard to stop myself from laughing! You snooze, you lose!
It’s hard to say what the most valuable lessons I got out of my days at Ernest Manning were. Maybe I was going to end up a pro wrestler either way, no matter what.
As I told the gathering of students and wrestlers, I have numerous trophies and championship belt buckles but there is nothing that means more to me than my amateur wrestling city championship medal, which is framed and hangs in a place of honor in my house.
My closing words at Ernest Manning on Friday were a thought from author Mark Helprin, “The one thing you’ll discover is that life is based less than you think on what you’ve learned and much more than you think on what you have inside you right from the beginning.”
It’s not like funerals are ever a happy time. But I have to say that when I walked into my father’s house after his memorial service it made me smile when one of the first faces I saw, that I hadn’t seen in a very long time, was that of Mr. Hito, who lives in Osaka, Japan now.
Back in the heyday of Stampede Wrestling Hito was one of Stu’s most trusted foremen and reliable workers. A lot of people assume that my father taught me to wrestle in the fabled Hart dungeon but what Stu taught me was submission wrestling. When I was twenty years old my father’s tag team champions were two of the toughest and hardest working Japanese wrestlers in the business. Hito was a respected friend of the family. He said to me, one time at my father’s house, knowing that I’d been city and provincial amateur wrestling champion. “You biggest one (of Stu’s sons). How come you no wrestle?” He and Mr. Sakurada offered to teach me in their spare time. I said sure. I would learn over time that there was no such thing as spare time in wrestling so these guys taught me in time they never really had! I’d had a lot of wrestlers offer to teach me, but they never actually showed up. Japanese wrestlers are different, they’re true to their word.
I lived in the carriage house behind Hart house and I woke up a couple of days later to Hito and Sakurada pounding on my door and peering in my window, “Come on! We teach you wrestle!” It seemed like every morning I was down in the dungeon learning endlessly how to fall, to protect myself and even more importantly how to protect my opponent - yet be physically convincing as a wrestler. The Stampede Wrestling territory was world renowned for being one of the most realistic, hard core promotions in the business. After five months of “taking bumps” they told me I was good enough. I remember asking when they were going to teach me drop kicks and head scissors and Hito smiled and said, “That’s the easy stuff. You can figure that out yourself!”
People often say to me, where would wrestling be without Bret Hart! But my answer to that is, where would Bret Hart be without Mr. Hito! Early in my career I gradually became a sharpened sword thanks to many matches with both Hito and Sakurada, the Cuban Assassin, Dynamite Kid, Leo Burke, and countless others. I would go on to become the Excellence of Execution, respected and loved by my fellow wrestlers for twenty two years with an untarnished safety record. In all those years of slams, kicks, and punches I never hurt one wrestler - except, unless you count the time I chipped big Vader’s tooth with a steel chair. Hey, he moved. But the point is that I owe all my success as a pr o wrestler to the greatest grand master of execution, my old friend and mentor, Katsui Adachi, better known as Mr. Hito. After staying the winter in Calgary visiting his family Hito is heading back to Japan next week and I wanted to thank him, with the deepest gratitude and respect, - for everything.
One of my dearest wrestling pals, Brian Adams, who worked under the name Crush as the third member of Demolition, rang me up and asked me to say a few words to the audience and sign a few autographs for a small time Hawaiian wrestling promotion.
Hawaii in late January? Why not!
He ran a list of names by me of the wrestlers who would be on the card, the legendary Superfly Jimmy Snuka, Barbarian, Buff Bagwell, Sabu and Perry Saturn, to name a few. My nephew, Teddy Hart (Ted Annis) would also be wrestling.
It was a two week vacation for me, with four small time wrestling shows stuck right in the middle of it and I have to admit that I didn’t feel too bad hearing that it was 45 below zero back in Calgary!
And suddenly I was back on the road again! Riding around in a van filled with young bucks and old timers reminded me of the old Stampede Wrestling days working for my father!
Those Holiday Inns all smell the same - and so do the dressing rooms.
I found myself sitting with various wrestlers wondering about what I wanted to say to the crowd as I watched boots being laced and knees being wrapped before the first show started.
The crowd was small but that didn’t take away any of the enthusiasm and excitement brewing amongst the wrestlers and the fans in the bleachers. Jimmy Snuka and the Barbarian began talking to me about having seen Wrestling With Shadows on TV recently. Snuka told me that he was never more proud and his words meant the world to me after all this time because I like to think that what I did that day in Montreal I did for wrestlers like him.
My music played and I headed out to the ring, still unsure of what I was going to say. The last time I spoke to a wrestling audience was back in June and at that time I was still having difficulty expressing myself because of my stroke, but this time I felt totally at ease, confident, and grateful just to be standing there.
I began by telling the fans that Hawaii is a special place to me because I have fond memories of wrestling my brother Owen there back in our WWF days. I spoke briefly about overcoming my stroke and was a lot more comfortable talking to a small gathering of old time wrestling fans than I would be with an audience of twenty thousand. I assured the crowd they were in for a great show and my words seemed to inspire the wrestlers who proceeded to march out and try to out do each other one match after another. I wasn’t sure if I was sad or proud as I watched Superfly Jimmy Snuka, now in his sixties, climb up to the top corner and launch himself half way across the ring onto his opponent. All I know is I respected him.
What was initially the opening match on the first night, not surprisingly became the main event by the fourth and final show. Teddy Hart astounded and mesmerized all of us with an absolutely breathtaking match and lived up to the Hart name. I was equally impressed with his opponent, a young TNA wrestler named A.J. Styles. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen wrestling this good! In my opinion A.J. Styles might very well be the very best young wrestler in the business today. He’s the embodiment of everything a great wrestler needs to be and is destined to become a great champion in the not too distant future.
After four days on the road I got back to my vacation, lounging around the pool under the shade of big palm trees.
People often ask me just how I became involved with junior hockey. Years ago when I worked the Stampede Wrestling circuit there were often junior games being played next door and I loved watching the Pats, The Blades and even the Tigers or Hurricanes whenever I had the chance. My whole life I secretly wished I might have been a hockey player but in my family wrestling boots were easier to come by than hockey skates.
Back in ‘93 I was asked to drop the puck at a Pats game in Regina to raise money for the Lupus Foundation and in what was a delightful surprise the Pats drew their biggest crowd of the season. Unbeknownst to me Theo Fleury and Joe Sakic, along with a small group of wannabe owners, saw this as a positive sign and sought me out to join them in finally bringing junior hockey back to Calgary. I was as flattered as I was keenly interested, especially when Theo Fleury suggested naming the team after me!
I always felt there was a close parallel between my early Stampede Wrestling days and junior hockey, much the same as the NHL and WWF. Right from the very first Hitmen game I ever went to I was impressed by the heart and gritty determination of these young players. The Hitmen had a moderately successful inaugural season, with the only set back being that the team logo was deemed too violent by some do-gooders in the media so it was changed to something so wimpy that the result was a merchandising disaster!
Thanks to the shrewdness of Lorne Johnson the Hitmen managed to acquire some damn fine players and for the first few seasons we stayed focused and competitive despite major obstacles and built a dedicated and solid fan base. The dream of junior hockey coming back to life in Calgary, where it was strongly believed that junior hockey couldn’t survive in an NHL city, came true when superb young players like Brad Moran, Chris Nielsen and Brent Dodginghorse refused to be turned back and we won the western canadian championship and a shot at the Memorial cup in May, 1999. Since then I’ve taken in many a Hitmen game and I believe junior hockey is still the best sports entertainment in the city and across the entire country.
When I take my usual seat at the Saddledome it’s impossible not to recognize many of the Hitmen fans who never gave up and loyally supported this team right from the start. I’m happy to say there are many people in this city who love this team even more than I do - and that’s saying something. I see it in so many happy faces after the games, win or lose. If I had my way, they’d be making bobbleheads of all the diehards that I see at every game. I’m sure there are so many of you who remember those cold snowy Saturdays with the sky already growing dark as the Stampede Wrestling theme played with the credits rolling - and that intense, eager two hour wait until Hockey Night In Canada came on! I just want to take this opportunity to thank the Hitmen players, team management and Wendy’s for honoring me with a bobblehead and letting me realize a dream.
There are those in the Hart family who have, from time to time, implied that I, Bret Hitman Hart, have a big head. Well, okay, they can have it their way. At least on Friday night, January 16th, when the invasion of the Hitman bobble heads hits Calgary!
I’m very flattered to be immortalized by the Calgary Hitmen in such a fun way and I can only hope that there’s a big turn out to inspire the team on to victory against the mighty Moose Jaw Warriors.
It’s not always easy coming up with shining tidbits of literary wisdom ( I jest) - and I thought I was going to have an easy time writing my column this week because I was eager to say, now there’s another Hitman whose won gold - Ryan Getzlaf - but, you know what, I’m just as proud of the Canadian national junior team for bringing back some silver. As disappointing as it was for everybody, especially them, I feel it’s only fair to say that losing to the Americans will no doubt do a lot of good for the world of junior hockey south of the border - and that’s a good thing for junior hockey everywhere. But, at the same time, I want to congratulate Ryan on rising to the task and making all the Hitmen fans back home so very proud! As much as we missed him, it’s great to have him back in the line up!
I was watching Mike Eggener explain how he couldn’t bear to watch the world championships on TV because it was just too painful for him not to be there, being that he was the last cut. Hey Mike, I know what you mean, I sometimes feel like that when I watch wrestling.
With Kelly Kisio’s recent trades it looks like it’s gearing up to be a real scrum come play off time! Gerry Festa played a really good season for us and I want to wish him luck and welcome aboard our new goalie, Barry Brust, in from Spokane. All the best to Aaron Boogaard who has gone to Tri-city. I also want to welcome a new Brett The Hitman to the team, Brett O’Malley, acquired from Lethbridge. Why, only last week, I was up in my usual seat shaking my fist at him, but now all I can say is welcome aboard! He’s just what the Hitmen needed, with a style reminiscent of Brent Dodginghorse - gritty and determined! O’Malley is a player that can - and will - make things happen and is not afraid to mix it up.
Hitmen hockey is still the best bang for your buck so come on down and check it out. The best part of the hockey season is yet to come. If you want a bobble head of yours truly at the game on January 16th , go to Wendy’s to get a voucher, while they last! There’s more than a good chance you might see me waiting at the drive through ordering my usual number eight , super sized.
Recently the WWE took a crew of fifteen wrestlers to entertain 5,000 troops at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq. When I was in the WWF, in April, 1997 I had the privilege to spend a day and a half with the 7th Calvary Regiment, “GarryOwen” Tank Division in Kuwait. It has always stood out as a rewarding memory and while channel surfing last Thursday night I couldn’t help but see huge smiles on both the WWE wrestlers and the soldiers in Iraq.
Back in ‘91, at the outbreak of the Gulf War, the WWF built their storylines around Sergeant Slaughter, a one time American hero who was now wearing curly toed wrestling boots that, as the story went, were supposedly given to him by Sadaam Hussein, when he fought Hulk Hogan at Wrestlemania VII.
Wrestling has always parodied war time villains, even after WWII , when German and Japanese wrestlers were hated heels, but in 1991, a lot of people felt uncomfortable about the then family oriented WWF making light of such a serious conflict. I would later read in Norman Schwarzkopf’s autobiography It Doesn’t Take A Hero, that the WWF wrestling shows aired for the troops were a great help in bolstering morale and relieving stress and that “ .... (they) depended on trucks leased by civilian contractors and driven by pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Filipinos and Bengalis to haul our ammunition and supplies. We prepared sleeping quarters for the drivers, but they were used to sleeping at home.
So when they finished hauling a load of howitzer shells to the front - work they didn’t relish in the first place - they more often than not would drive back home to their company garage and go home. We’d then have to ask their employer to dispatch them again, a process that could take days given the distances involved and the roundabout manner in which Saudis did business. One day, somebody noticed that the drivers were fascinated by video tapes of American professional wrestling ...so transport officers set up a huge tent at our main supply base near Dhahran with a projection TV. Every morning, as the drivers set out, the officers would announce that night’s bouts. At the end of the day, the drivers would race back to watch and we would have them on hand for the next day’s runs.”
As someone who doesn’t often sing praises about the WWF much any more, I personally commend them for stepping up and doing something so positive. Many years down the road the participants will look back on their trip to Iraq, as I do my trip to Kuwait,, as one of the most uplifting experiences of their lives I still, to this day, get e-mails from soldiers I met over there. Switching gears towards a different kind of “few good men’ the third annual Stu Hart invitational amateur wrestling tournament is today at Lindsay Park from, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Many of the best and brightest amateur wrestlers from across Canada and as far away as Alaska and Japan will compete.
Interestingly enough all the winners of the Stu Hart tournament last year went on to win the national championships. This year in my dad’s absence, I can think of no more fitting honor to his memory and legacy. I want to congratulate organizer and coach Mike Dunn of the King of the Mat wrestling club for assembling such a first rate tournament, one that in it’s short history has already become one of the most prestigious amateur wrestling events in the world. It’s a great way to spend the day watching some superb athletes give their all, including Stu’s own grandson, Conor, and I’ll be there to watch him do the family proud. See you there.
The days are fading fast on what, for me, has been a very long, interesting year.
People I don’t even know come up to me all the time and tell me I was in their prayers when it comes to recovering from my stroke and I happily thank them and reply that it must be working!
My first big step, which might not seem that big any more, was being able to chat with Michael Landsburg on Off The Record. When I sat in the chair on that show I feared that I might be as recovered as I was ever going to get. Now I think back to last January and smile at how much I’ve improved since then.
Vince McMahon told me once that I was the most stubborn wrestler he ever knew. He’s probably right about that.
But sometimes stubbornness can be a good thing! I got to do a lot of traveling that I really didn’t think I’d ever be able to do and another big hurdle that most people wouldn’t realize is that it was difficult for me to even talk. I challenged myself by addressing wrestling audiences in far off places like Australia, New Zealand and Italy. It was difficult at best, but it was a huge step and unbeknownst to me at the time, it prepared me to give a fitting eulogy for my father.
For the Harts it was the first Christmas without both our parents. I know they’d be proud of how we carried on!
It would be hard for me to sum up this year without making mention of wrestling's’ growing list of departed - Curt Hennig, Miss Elizabeth, Road Warrior Hawk, Crash Holly, The Wall, and young local hopeful Mike Lozanski. Don’t get me started on that because it’d take a book. Too many, too soon. One of my personal highlights of the year was when my youngest son, Blade (13), handed his city championship hockey medal to my dad and the sparkle in both their eyes! I found joy in so many simple things. Riding my bike. My daughter, Beans (15), astounding me when she sang at a recital. Touring Europe for two weeks with Blade. Feeling so proud of my oldest daughter Jade (20) - the first Hart grandkid to go to college! And working out with my oldest son Dallas (19), whose pleasant encouragement has helped me bench press an amazing 271 lbs. - for four reps! It’s a far cry from what I used to do (before the stroke) - but if it doesn’t sound like much try it sometime! I look back on a year filled with small bits of simple pleasures.
Reading. Paris 1919, Train, True History of the Kelly Gang, The Crimson Petal and The White, They Marched Into Sunlight and The Pirate Hunter. As for movies, being a wrestler I loved Nicholas Cage in Matchstick Men and who couldn’t be blown away by the Lord Of The Rings.
It looks like both the Flames and the Hitmen are coming on strong again and it could be that’s all I need to inspire me to an even better year than the last!
Happy New Year from the Hitman.
I’m happy to be back from a three week holiday in the land down under. I enjoy Australia for the simple reason that it reminds me of a strange upside-down version of Canada. It might surprise you to know there are more similarities than differences.
One might ask just what does the Hitman like to do on a vacation. I load up my backpack with books and ten speed up and down the Yarra River taking in the never ending beauty pageant.
I was surprised at what I saw as a even split between overly health conscious people and chain smokers. Everywhere I went people smoked one ciggerette after another and it definitely made me appreciate our strict non smoking by laws.
On a trip to Glenrowan, 150 miles North of Melbourne, I took in some of the history surrounding Australia’s infamous outlaw hero, Ned Kelly, a cross between Jesse James and Robin Hood.
It was on the way back from Glenrowan that I noticed kangaroos leaping alongsie the road. An echidna, the Australian version of a porcupine, scurried across the road and it made me think of the big, fat porcupine that’s been hasseling my pug at home.
When I called home I was pleased to hear how I was missing the twenty below weather but I wasn’t so lucky. Melbourne was drenched by the worst rain there in a century to the point where the flooding was bad enough that people were stranded on the roofs of their cars.
At the Melbourne Zoo I finally got a glimpse of a platypuss. I always had the impression they’d look like a cross between a beaver and a duck but they’re much more like a cute little otter with a duck bill glued on. One thing you probably won’t read in any tourism book is that Australia has the most tenacious, aggressive, annoying - flies! They’d follow me along the bike path and it was pointless to shoo them. They flew up my nose and back out my mouth. The locals were oblivious, puffing on cigerettes with flies on their foreheads!
I was walking down the street mindng my own business when I was suddenly surroundd by a hord of vacationing Calgary university students who couldn’t believe I was there. We joked about the weather back home and I left them with the reminder to stop by and see me sometime at a Calgary Hitmen game, my usual winter hang out.
And just like that, I arrived home late last Saturday and there it all was. Home. Rocky Mountains. Snow. What would Christmas be without snow? Not the same. Driving along the road to my house I saw a caribou casually loping along and in minutes I was greeted by my number one fan, grinning from ear to ear, my dog Coombs ! He likes to think he’s chased off that pesky porcupine again and I’m not gonna break it to ‘em that he’s ony hibernating - ‘till next year.
I collected myself and a handful of kids and headed off to the Dome to watch The Hitmen battle it out with their arch rivals from up the road in Red Deer. As I watched 9,000 teddy bears fly though the air destined for needy kids at Christmas, it made me feel good to be back. It’s nice to get away but it’s always nicer to come home.
Being that I never got to have my final wrestling match perhaps I can appreciate in a unique way what could possibly be more exciting for Wayne Gretzky than coming back to perform with all his old team mates at a Mega-stars Alumni Game as part of the Heritage Classic. There’s an overpowering sense of pride and excitement filling my heart in anticipation of this once in a life time event, the long awaited climax of a year of celebration commemorating the Oilers twenty five seasons in the NHL and marking the NHL’s 86th anniversary.
It will be the first - and only - time that any of Gretzky’s kids will see him in an Oilers jersey as they were not born yet when he was traded to Los Angels in 1988. He’ll lead a team of Oilers alumni against Guy Lafleur and Canadiens alumni and says that at forty two this will be the only old timers game for him.
Don’t let anyone tell you that it won’t be a thrill, even for The Great One, to play a game with legendary rivals who can’t wait to do the same! I can imagine that Wayne will get a rush of adrenaline as he laces up his skates and looks over at Mark Messier asking himself is this really happening? The joy of it being in Edmonton, where he set the hockey world on fire like no other, can’t be lost either. I can attest to the fact that Edmonton sports fans are among the loudest and most loyal ... and they deserve this event. With a stadium full of exuberant fans cheering over a backdrop of live music and fireworks, it’s inescapable that a flood of memories will wash over Gretzky, including those outdoor games as a kid when Walter schooled him much the same as my father schooled me in wrestling.
I can’t help but wonder what could have been for me. Maybe a super show for charity at the tiny Pavilion or the Saddledome. One last rematch, possibly teamed with some of my brothers , against old Stampede greats like Archie The Stomper, Sweet Daddy Siki or even Abdullah The Butcher. Even if some of us are too old and rolly polly it would still be a blast!
I remember my dad, in his sixties, standing on the ring apron as my tag partner when we teamed up against Stomper and J.R. Foley. For me, those dreams are gone forever and it might sound crazy but it’s not my battle back from a stroke that makes it impossible, it’s only because Bill Goldberg nearly kicked my head off my shoulders. That one mule kick is the sole reason that I’ll never be able to come back and have classic dream matches with the likes of Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit or Brock Lesner. Then again, I’m just happy to be alive and I don’t dwell on these things much any more.
I have a good idea what it will be like for the hockey legends who take the ice today in front of 58,000 elated fans. It makes me think wistfully back to when The British Bulldog and I showcased Stampede style wrestling for the world to see in front of 86,000 at Wembley Stadium in ‘92. I’m excited about the game. I’m proud to be a Canadian hockey fan.
And I say with all due respect and admiration, I envy you this moment, Wayne Gretzky! That you were able to choose your time and get out in one piece and can still come back from time to time and do what you love and what everyone loves you to do.