Friday, September 7, 2007

A Legend Comes Home

by Dick Bourne

When I first regularly started watching wrestling in 1975, a legend in the Mid-Atlantic area had just returned to action there: Johnny Weaver. For a kid who had only recently gotten hooked on professional wrestling, this was big. It was like Bart Starr had just returned to the Green Bay Packers or Johnny Unitas had returned to the Baltimore Colts.

As a young child, really up until I was around 10 years old, I was only a casual sports fan. But I had grown up hearing the names George Becker and Johnny Weaver. Just as I knew the names of Starr and Unitas in football, Pete Rose in baseball, or Wilt Chamberlain in basketball, I knew the names Becker and Weaver and I knew they were wrestling’s greatest tag team. For long time fans in the Carolinas and Virginia, there were no bigger names, and no bigger stars. In grade school, my friends would talk each Monday about the home run Pete Rose had hit, the touchdown pass Johnny Unitas had thrown, and right in there with all that discussion was how Weaver and Becker had just won the tag team titles. All of these guys were heroes.

So in 1975, as a young teenager now hooked on the weekly exploits of the Anderson Brothers, Wahoo McDaniel and Paul Jones, Blackjack Mulligan and a new kid on the block named Ric Flair, I was delighted to learn that one of the biggest names of them all was coming back to Mid-Atlantic Wrestling.

What I didn’t know then was that Johnny Weaver had been away on conquests in other territories, most notably the state of Florida where he held titles there. Johnny Weaver was wrestling royalty, and he was treated as such on his return by TV hosts Bob Caudle and Les Thatcher. It was as if Vince Lombardi had just sent Bart Starr back in the game to step under center once again.

And just as Unitas had that great arm, and Pete Rose had that famous head first slide into base, Johnny Weaver had the famous sleeper hold. And while there was always a big pop from the crowd when Wahoo went into the war dance or when Rufus R. Jones wound up the freight-train, there was no bigger reaction from the fans than when Johnny Weaver shot his opponent in to the ropes and then locked on the sleeper hold. It was something I looked forward to on television every week.

Yes, Mid-Atlantic wrestling’s biggest star was back. And as the old saying goes, business was about to pick up.