Back in the day, professional wrestling would come on WWOR-TV Channel 9 at 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and the older kids on my block would go inside to watch. Then, at 6 o’clock, screen doors would fly open and those same kids, now hopped up on soda and cake, would run out of their homes looking for us younger kids to practice their wrestling moves on.
Since we were much smaller and lighter, it was easy for Darren, Peter, and Carl to twist our little bodies into full nelsons, figure-four leglocks, and hoist us way over their heads to pile drive and body slam us onto the concrete street. My friends Eddie, Joe, and Guiliano were luckier than me; their attentive parents were an open window and a cry away from running out and saving them. I lived with my grandparents who didn’t speak much English and were hard of hearing, so my wails went unattended.
Professional wrestling in the ‘70s brought me nothing but scrapes, bruises, blood, and pain, and yet somehow, I still look back fondly when I think of the great wrestlers of that era: Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund, Superstar Billy Graham, Andre the Giant, Larry Zbysko, Nicolai Volkoff, and Chief Jay Strongbow were a few of my favorites.
On June 11 of this year, Dusty Rhodes — “The American Dream,” the little plumber’s son who was 265 pounds of blue-eyed soul — passed away, and with the news, so did a lot of childhood angst. Dusty was my favorite wrestler of all time. He was the working man’s professional wrestler. He was blue collar all the way, and as Dusty himself put it, “I admit, I don’t look like the athlete of the day is supposed to look. My belly’s just a lil’ big, my heiny’s a lil’ big, but brother, I am bad. And they know I’m bad.” And he sure was. Dusty Rhodes had personality and charisma, and gave the best interviews.
When my kids were younger, somehow, while I was busy working as a police officer, they got into watching professional wrestling, and I couldn’t have been happier. Now I could get us tickets for the WWE instead of the Rugrats on Ice show (where I fell asleep a minute into the program). I’ll never forget the look on my son and daughter’s faces when they saw Batista smash CM Punk over the head with a garbage can just several feet away from where we sitting in Madison Square Garden.
Professional wrestling is like a soap opera for little kids, and since mine were into wrestling now, I could introduce them to some of my favorites. So I sat them in front of the computer and we watched clips of the old-time guys…the wrestlers from my generation.
Maybe it was the dull colors in the grainy footage, or the lack of pyrotechnics before every match, but my kids seemed bored and unimpressed — until I showed them a clip of Dusty Rhodes.
They liked the way Dusty talked with his heavy Southern accent, his friendly disposition, quick wit, and the way his big belly jiggled when he danced before his matches. Then I told them that Goldust and Stardust — the “Rhodes Brotherhood” (contemporary wrestlers) — were the sons of Dusty Rhodes, and they fell in love with him.
Back in the day, my friends and I would walk to the smoke shop on Ditmars Blvd. in Astoria to check out the wrestling magazines. The covers were filled with photos of wrestlers in pure agony with blood spewing out of their foreheads. Then, for some inexplicable reason, my friends and I would rush back home in time for the older kids to fly out of their homes when they were done watching wrestling on TV so they could fling us around the backyard until we were bloody, bruised, and in painful agony like the wrestlers on the covers of those magazines.
Thank you, Dusty Rhodes, for all the great matches, interviews, and wonderful entertainment you brought to several generations of wrestling fans. You were one of the greats, and you will be missed. When St. Peter opens those pearly gates, “Rip off his head and dance down his tonsils!”