Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bonding Over Sweaty Men in Spandex

Me, my dad, and my brother
By Kevin Hunsperger


Since it's Father's Day, I decided to revamp a blog I wrote two years ago on my other site.  This one looks back at my obsession with wrestling and how it started as a bonding experience with my dad and younger brother.

It was the early 1980's.  I'm guessing around 1981 or so.  I was about 8 years old and HATED professional wrestling.  My dad and brother, who's a year a half younger than me, were always watching it on TV.  This was before WWF had gone global.  Growing up in St. Louis, Wrestling at the Chase was a staple in our household.  But I never liked it.  I never got into any sports really.

Then in the summer of 1983, I finally gave wrestling a try.  I'm doing my best to remember, but I think it was a WWF Tuesday Night Titans show with Roddy Piper and Jimmy Snuka that really sticks out.  I also remember watching a show with my dad where Andre the Giant pulverized Nikolia Volkoff with a chair.  In my naivete, I remember thinking if this attack wasn't stopped, surely the Russian government would wage World War 3 on the United States (even though Andre was a Frenchman).

It seemed like back then, there were ALWAYS shows going on in St. Louis.  Usually NWA sanctioned events.  I can remember my dad, brother, and uncles attending events at the Kiel Auditorium and seeing the likes of Dick the Bruiser, Ric Flair, and a young babyface Ted DiBiase.  To this day I'm jealous of the fact that I was anti wrestling at the time and missed the classic brawl between Andre the Giant and Bruiser Brody.  I never had the chance to see Andre wrestle live.

But finally, I accepted wrestling and in December 1984, with my brother, dad, Uncle Dan (RIP), Uncle Tom, and a handful of family friends, we attended a WWF House Show at the old St. Louis Arena.  For folks who live in the Lou, you know the one I'm talking about, it had the checker dome top.  The main event was Hulk Hogan defending against Brutus Beefcake.  These were the pre-barber days of course.  We saw other superstars like Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka, Junkyard Dog, and Cowboy Bob Orton.  What a great first house show for a kid.  I can still vividly remember most of that night and the excitement us kids felt when Hulk Hogan came bursting through the curtain to get to the ring.

A WWF House Show in 1986 featuring Iron Sheik
In the months and years that followed, we added more house shows.  We watched Ric Flair battle Bruiser Brody and Kerry Von Erich on separate occasions.  Back in 1986 we watched Harley Race win the "King of the Ring" tournament by pinning Ricky Steamboat in the finals.  It was a great match.  In addition to going to house shows, we watched World Class Championship Wrestling Sunday mornings at 10, followed by WWF Superstars at 11.  Sunday nights I would catch Mid South wrestling on cable and WWF ran shows on TBS back then too.

As we got older, my brother didn't watch as much wrestling, but dad and I still did.  We didn't really go to the house shows like we used to, but he did take me to the Kiel again to watch Wrestlemania 4 on closed circuit television.  It was like watching a movie, but instead we were surrounded by other wrestling fans.  It was pretty cool, and I got my authentic Hulkamania shirt there.  I still wear it for YouTube videos.

Shortly after that my dad took me to a neighboring town to get a closer look at King Kong Bundy.  Bundy was at the grand opening of the store taking Polaroid pictures with fans.  It was my first chance to meet a wrestling star up close, but for whatever reason I choked and didn't do it.  I told my dad the line was too long and I didn't want to stay.  I wish now that I would have stuck around.  In hindsight, I've stood in much longer lines to wait to meet much lesser stars.

After I went to college and moved back home, I didn't have a whole lot of friends who were in to wrestling.  Dad was there for me though.  We went to a couple more WWF house shows at the Kiel, which by then was the Savvis Center.  One was on Father's Day.  That was fun, spending the evening with my dad watching the likes of Shawn Michaels, Goldust, the Ultimate Warrior, and the not yet pushed Stone Cold Steve Austin.  We went again several months later and watched Rocky Maivia defend the Intercontinental title against Owen Hart.

Me & Mason at a WWE House Show in 2009
Now, I'm the dad with a kid who likes wrestling.  Guess it's in his genes.  Although he's not as hardcore about it as I was (I never missed a show), Mason does enjoy it a lot.  He has a bunch of action figures (they're not dolls) and likes to watch Raw when he has the chance.  Unlike me, Mason is obsessed with all sports, not just wrestling.

A couple years ago, I took him to his first WWE house show.  I bought him John Cena wrist bands and a Triple H t-shirt.  I know, nobody's perfect.  Every year he asks to go to Wrestlemania with me, and one of these times he'll get his chance.  But the Royal Rumble is coming to St. Louis in January, and I've already promised to take him there.  It will be his first pay per view.  I was 17 when I attended my first one, he'll only be 10.  Pretty cool.

I'm sure there are lots of sons who have memories of their fathers and grandfathers taking them to see wrestling when they were growing up.  There's something about bonding over sweaty guys in spandex with the men in your life.

Happy Father's Day.

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