The Loyal Fan
“The whole point of loyalty was not to change: stick with those who stuck with you.”LARRY MCMURTRY, Streets of Laredo
Loyalty. It’s likely the characteristic I most laud in others. That admiration was molded and burned into my skull at an early age. So here’s an accounting of what loyalty meant to my Father…
In the nineteen-eighties…Dusty Rhodes had assumed the role of executive producer, matchmaker, “booker” at Jim Crockett Promotions. Hearing it from one of pro-wrestling’s most special men, Paul Heyman(who as a young man and photographer hid in the back row of my Father’s production meeting)…wrestler after wrestler pulled into that Carolina territory. Most thinking of it as another notch in their body-of-work…just a stop on the train that was territory wrestling in the concluding era of The National Wrestling Alliance. They pulled-up in Chevy Novas and Pintos, wayward wrestling cowboys and cowgirls.
Wait…how I know all this?? Being that I was born in 1985…study? Various accounts from the men and women who lived and lived it with ferocity, and of course from a man I consider(and without argument I might add, for his multi-faceted contributions to his business, one of pro-wrestling’s Mount Rushmore) my Father, BUT whether I was in the backseat of a mini-van watching him pick his teeth with a plastic bag or it was being fortunate enough to hear it from him as he helped my Wife with an interview in the “pre-tapes” room, nobody was more specific and flush with the details like Paul Heyman.
Like I said, most of these young men and women…or aging stars thought this would just be business as usual making a dollar in the wrestling game. But as we students-of-the-game know, the eighties and JCP was anything but business as usual…it was white-hot fire. The gritty “real” opposition to the World Wrestling Federation. Next thing you know, those Pintos and Novas were Mercedes Benzes; and those apartments had now ripened to 250,000 dollar houses…paid in cash. Arn Anderson went from doing an interview on the beach while hanging out with Ric Flair to becoming the “enforcer” of the Four Horsemen to becoming an elite “super genius” and WWE Hall Of Famer. That’s just one name on a very long list.
And then we turn the clock forward…when the bottom fell out and when JCP delved into the red. The same man you were looking to for another adrenaline fix or showering with gifts…it was all his fault. The same ideas that got you into the game, that got you the house on the hill, the car you dreamed about…well apparently those ideas eventually led to game-over. And to this day, whether it be a “shoot” interview or a panel…some delusional men still point the finger at The Dream. Now the point of this story isn’t to say what happened in the period before Ted Turner bought out what was left of the promotion and Georgia Championship Wrestling, or to shed light on the negative bad-blood that came to be. Hell!! There are those same men who look me in the eye today and advise me on this industry and think I don’t know that they gave Dusty Rhodes their back(and the whole time I nod and remain polite, I want to headbutt their teeth inward)…but that’s not the point.
Because loyalty still existed. It was December 1999, it was The Tabernacle in Atlanta, Georgia…it was ECW. Prior to this, as a bitchy teenager I had seen the proverbial fall from grace, I’d seen my hero…my Dad lose the thing he might have needed the most. His confidence. Years of being used in a minimal and neutered role in the modern WCW, and the inevitable clock that kept turning forward…bringing him further away from standing under that evening’s spotlight with “The Nature Boy” and hearing it in the air…”DUSTY…DUSTY…DUSTY…” (The ultimate seal of approval from the paying customer, your name), but like I said…loyalty called. Paul Heyman called. He told my Father, “just come down…meet the guys, I’ll pay you and you don’t have to do a thing”.
“I’ll pay you and you don’t have to do a thing…”
Now, Paul Heyman did have something in mind…and although we needed the money, my Dad hesitated to make the trip. Extreme Championship Wrestling, the promotion…even the venue…was a departure from the wrestling Dream was accustomed to. He was so reluctant in his showing-up, that he brought a few of his hunting buddies along for the ride…just so that if he was gonna’ be an alien on the extreme planet, he wouldn’t be alone. Now Heyman can tell you how he convinced Dusty to take-place in the segment that would come to pass…needless to say they both called eachother “super-geniuses” in the end.
But that’s not the part that interests me. The part that interests me, is what the fans gave Dusty Rhodes that night…
The stage was set, a young Steve Corino stood in the ring drawing the ire of the two-story play house like’ venue…he then called to a man he knew was in attendance, my Dad. Joey Styles, very aware of the contractual legal mumbo-jumbo of the nineties, called for the truck not to show Dusty and then to flat-out cut the feed.
But they showed him. They showed him in my least favorite shirt of all time. His “Cleveland Bowns” legit hole ridden tee. I hated that shirt. And if you go back and watch this clip, the man you’ll see…is the man I described. It was a man who’d lost his confidence…his footing. It was painted on his mug, and it killed me and eats at me today when I watch it. He made his way to the ring though…adrenaline coursing through his veins I’m sure, but you could still tell that he wasn’t sure how to do “it” anymore. There was a reluctance in his step that he played off with a quiver like gyration; even the muscles in his face seemed to not remember how this part goes. As he and Steve came face-to-face he allowed the verbal abuse of the bleached-blonde antagonist…and then “it” happened…
BIONIC ELBOW TO CORINO, BIONIC ELBOW TO JACK VICTORY, AN UNCHARACTERISTIC AND FUNDAMENTALLY FLAWLESS BODY SLAM…
Followed by a mighty elbow-drop to Corinos chest as the Tabernacle fans and a wood-plank wrestling ring composed a echoing score. If you watch it, you’ll see what some refuse to ever see…you don’t pop-up to your left knee like it was day one at Verne Gagne’s camp , when you’re 50something years old unless you’re an athlete.
Lil’ rant here, but for the pro-wrestler who recently did a string on interviews for his reality show who claimed my Dad wasn’t an athlete…that’s fiction, his body looking how it did was common knowledge, but you don’t hold the home run record in distance and quantity at Johnston High or play in the CFL unless you’re an athlete. Oh, and the reason you didn’t see eye to eye, is because you’re four feet tall. End of rant, back to story.
Like I said, you can watch that ECW clip and see these things, but if you listen to it…you’ll hear it…
The audience returned to him his confidence…his footing. The Dream was asleep no more.
I can never thank those fans that night enough. Paul Heyman will NEVER know how important that remains to me. Maybe one day I can pay him back. It’s always been my intention.