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ST. PAUL… Earlier in the month I was watching a late-night west coast NHL game and with my laptop in hand I went online to do some reading and one of the first stories I saw was an announcement that former AWA Wrestler Larry Hennig had passed away at home, at the age of 82. A ton of memories came flooding into my mind as I constructed a mental chronology of my memories of him. As a kid in St. Paul I first saw him on the weekly Saturday evening AWA shows on the old WTCN channel 11 in the Metro. Observing the show on a medium sized old black and white TV in the family living room with my brother Paul always at my side, it was an absolute rarity for us to ever miss a week of viewing unless we were traveling and away from home.
The show had a unique cast of characters of course, and in reading an article in an upscale National publication years ago, whereby the author was trying to describe the appeal of professional wrestling and the type of fans that it drew in, I was caught by a couple of lines in his story where he described the spectacle as a modern day Greek Theater where the “good guys” and the “bad guys” were very acutely delineated. There were no gray areas, the performers were either one or the other. On some rare occasions a performer would change from “heel” to “baby face”, but it was infrequent and when it did happen, the changeover had to be very cleverly crafted so that the aura of the show could continue forth without any fans questioning what in the heck just happened.
One of the first “bad guys” I have solid memory of was Hennig. Back then he was referred to as Larry “Pretty Boy” Hennig. And he was very much a bad guy, no questions or ambiguity existed over his role on the show. He was mostly a singles wrestler at the time but would eventually team up with another wrestler creating a bad guy nickname matchup straight from wrestling heaven when he and “Handsome” Harley Race paired up to become the AWA’s most despised heel Tag Team back then. They quickly established a program of some pretty epic bouts with a team of “cousins”, The Crusher (Reggie Lisowski) and The Bruiser. (William Afflis) The “related” team also happened to be the reigning AWA World Heavyweight Tag Team Champions at that time.
The Crusher was coming off a series of bouts with good guy World Champion and owner of the AWA promotion, Verne Gagne. He wasn’t exactly loved by the fans at that moment, but when Hennig and Race were quickly established as the “worst” bad guys on the show, the Crusher quickly got over as a good guy. When he brought in his “cousin” in an attempt to reign in the despicable Hennig and Race team, they were immediately loved from that point forward. Aiding in that was the everyman, beer drinking, working class persona of the Crusher. He was excellent on the microphone in promo spots and fans loved him. These two teams were headed for wrestling Armageddon and in late January of 1965 at the Minneapolis Auditorium, it occurred. Since I was a relatively “new” fan this would be the first and biggest match to date of my fledgling viewership. The place was packed, and there was a high volume of standing room fans that night as well. This match was that anticipated. The first five or six matches were a blur and then the Main Event. The combatants wasted little time in getting down to business, as in the moment their boots hit the ring. After about 15-20 minutes of mayhem, the brash young bad guy team won, and the titles changed hands. A lot of fans were “distraught” and unruly.
This was a huge event and made it on to a prominent Twin Cities TV stations sports segment, getting about a 45 second spot. Time would march forward and Hennig would leave the territory and wrestle for other promotions and at some point, in the early seventies he would return, mostly for good. He would eventually do a “turn” and become a good guy and had the fans adoration from that time until he retired. His son Curt would come in, in the very early eighties, (I recall some of his first matches, pudgy and unpolished) and they would team up before Larry called it a day. Curt would go on to become Mr. Perfect before his untimely demise, attaining top performer status wherever he worked. He was that good.
I would eventually end up out in the “country” (it’s pretty much a suburb now) and Larry had his Real Estate business there. At the local place where I would frequently have lunch, many a time Larry was seated at the table next to mine. He was a very friendly outgoing guy, unfailingly polite, and when my Grandma would shake hands with him, he would pretend that it hurt. From about the age of 12 on I figured the business out and decided to learn to appreciate it for what it was. These men and women in it are total athletes. You can’t not be. They are human beings with families and all the stuff that you and I have and go through in life. And they are some of the greatest entertainers in the history of the World. It’s that simple. Larry was one of the best…ever. RIP
THE WILD just went 0-3 for the week, Matt Dumba will be out for a long time, and suddenly the team’s chances for a spot in the Stanley Cup Tournament are in distinct peril. The team dropped a 2-1 OT decision to the Dallas Stars this eve. The team is now on their Holiday break and resumes Thursday eve in Chicago. How will that go? I’m not sure…
WILD DATA; (as of 12/22) The Athletic, 17th, trending for 91 points with a 53% chance of a playoff spot, 2% chance of an SC win. The SAGARIN, 13th on a 17-17 record, 2-9 vs T10, 5-12 vs. T16, 18th ranked schedule difficulty. NHL Stats & Standings (12/23); t18th with 17 wins, 20th on 37 points, 19th on points pct. @ .529, 20th on a 17-15-3 record, 3-6-1 in L10, 11th in the Western Conference, 5th in the Central Division, in the 5th Wild Card position, 2 points out with DAL holding the 2nd spot, but DAL has played 1 more game, EDM holding the 3rd WC, identical numbers to DAL, VAN in the 4th position with 38 points but has played 4 more games then MIN. Coming up from behind is STL, 5 points behind, 1 game in hand. 18th in GF @ 103, 4th in GA at 98, 9th in PP% at 23.1, 2nd in PK% at 86.7 and 14th least penalized team at 309 PIM’s. HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL! PEACE!