George "the Animal" Steele passed away this week with Jason Christensen sending me the word.
Steele was 79 and had suffered from kidney issues in recent years.
Steele was a high school teacher/football coach in "real life" in Michigan,which is why in the territorial days,Steele would often show up in the WWWF/WWF during the summer for a run against Bruno Sammartino or Bob Backlund as his students in Michigan wouldn't see the WWF television and Steele wouldn't miss time in the classroom with school being in hiatus.
Steele is most remembered by fans for his mid-1980's "babyface" run as the lovable imbecile with a crush on Miss Elizabeth, the manager of the company's top (or second,depending on your perspective) "heel" Randy "Macho Man" Savage.
Savage would wrestle Steele several times over the course of a year,never defeating him of course,but being able to prolong a one note feud far longer than one would suspect that a program like this should have lasted without much overkill....
I must admit,I wasn't a huge fan of the Animal.
I thought the character was a dollar store version of the Sheik and Abdullah the Butcher and for the "Crazy" antics of Steele,the "violence" factor paled in comparison to the mentioned pair,although much of that was where he wrestled,which usually didn't feature as much blood and guts as most other territories.
The green tongue and turnbuckle destroying came across as more hokey to me than fearsome and even considering the age didn't make Steele a favorite of mine.
Even his finishing move in the pre-expansion days wasn't a strength as the Flying Hammerlock (Steele would put the opponent's arm behind his back,lift and hold him in the air for a submission) wasn't a finisher that was a visual thriller.
I do have two memories of Steele though.
The first was a few years ago when the Animal came to Harry Grove Stadium for a Frederick Keys game.
I didn't know he would be there and Bill Cover and I watched a dismayed Animal sit at his table for much of the evening with very few fans coming over.
I'm not sure why that was,but Bill and I both commented on how few fans were getting things signed.
I kinda felt bad for him,but thinking about his compensation for the evening made me think that Steele was OK with it!
The other is one is a memory that makes me smile.
You see,my brother and I have been on and off through the years and I rarely see him,although if we do,we are at a stage right now,where we do speak and things are at least cordial.
However,there was a time of my life from childhood to around my mid-20's where Shane was my best friend.
We shared tons of interests from baseball and football to comics to his love of loves-professional wrestling.
Some (not all) of my disenchantment (the current product is truly silly to me now) with pro wrestling since the change of millennium is the fact that I have no one that experienced my wrestling history to discuss it with me since Shane and I parted for the majority of that time.
How does this relate to George "the Animal" Steele?
Well,lets go back to the summer of 1981 with our rabid wrestling fandom in full froth and our dad still being a firm wrestling hater (I still need to tell some of those stories sometime!),Shane and I had the chance to attend our first live match as a fellow that played on my dad's softball team offered to take us with his kids to the Capital Centre for the monthly WWF card.
Shane and I were literally the kids in the candy store and I remember spending the night before at this fellow's house and not being able to be quiet to the point that he had to come in and ask us to be quiet so he could get some sleep!
The Capital Centre cards were big deals to me as when I first started to like wrestling,a person that rode my school bus had the first issue of "Pro Wrestler",which was a four page bulletin on wrestling,the last card at the arena and more important (to them) promoted the upcoming card at the Capital Centre.
I dutifully copied the address down off the back of the newsletter and sped my address off to Landover to get on the mailing list.
I received the second issue before the next show in Landover (destroyed by my mom in a rage one day,story someday perhaps).
I would then have every issue of Pro Wrestler sent to me until the program was discontinued and in my attic archives,those still remain as a great memory of those years.
Pro Wrestler made the Capital Centre cards more important than the Baltimore Civic Center cards to us and the Capital Centre was the newer and more modern arena of the two.
Ironically,it is the Capital Centre that is long gone and the Baltimore Arena is still standing as the main building of its type in Baltimore!
I don't remember a ton about the ring action that day over 35 years ago,but I remember a few things.
The massive size of Andre the Giant as he and Killer Khan brawled to a double disqualification,but the Giant would loom even larger a few years later when Shane and I would see him closer at South Hagerstown high school and Pedro Morales lifting his shoulder barely at two to defeat King Kong Mosca after a back suplex went awry for the former CFL star.
The true main event for me was the Magnificent Muraco (remember my past posts on my childhood hero?) defending his Inter-Continental title against Tony Atlas.
Tony Atlas almost never lost and when he did,he never was a clean loser (Pin or Submission defeat),so even with expecting that pro wrestling was pre-determined (it was a little easier after a while to see the pattern from the McMahon product),as a fan of Muraco,there was a little concern.
I was loudest during that match and when Muraco hit the referee to save his title from Atlas,I was more than a little relieved.
Muraco-Atlas was the main event to me,but the actual main event was Bob Backlund defending his WWF title against George "the Animal" Steele.
Keep in mind that as noted the date was August and Steele's was doing his "summer vocation vacation",which because of the lack of available time for Steele's return to teaching (no,we didn't know that at the time),usually saw Steele go straight to Bob Backlund and dodge working his way through the cards as most main eventers did.
Steele would win this match to set up a "Texas Death Match" for Backlund to get his conclusive win on the next card,but I remembered being surprised by two things.
The first was glaring:the managers (either Lou Albano,the Grand Wizard or Fred Blassie) didn't appear at ringside with their proteges.
I would discover later that was a WWF thing as in other territories,the managers did travel and spend their time outside the ring.
The other surprise was that the Backlund-Steele match was announced as the main event,but was the match held before intermission.
It seemed dumb to me then that the main event was held early and not last,but I remember people around us saying that the main event was always before intermission.
I would find out years later why this policy was installed-in Boston (1971,I think) a rabid Pedro Morales fan stabbed Blackjack Mulligan and ever since,the main events were held early,so the crowd would relax a bit and the heel would be able to leave the arena without fans waiting for him.
The policy would continue through the second Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund reigns,but I'm not sure exactly when that was changed.
It would be years before Shane and I returned to the Capital Centre for wrestling,although we would be in attendance for a few times that the WWF would come to Hagerstown as they hit all three places in Hagerstown that was marginally suitable at the then Hagerstown Junior College along with North and South Hagerstown high schools.
I still have such a fondness for 1980's pro wrestling,even today with the advent of YouTube,I still enjoy watching things that I remember for the memories and clips from other areas that I'm still finding items that I have never seen before!
But,half of the fun is still from the eyes of child/teenager/young adult and looking back on what life was like at the time that I saw those matches.
I have such great friends now and I have a great time hanging out with Derreck,Doug and Fred among others,not to mention talking with them on the phone.
I also have the IFL bunch too,even if I don't see some of them as much as I would like to,but there still is something to be said for the person that at one time knew you best.
Things change in all of our lives,but far more often than not,when I think of pro wrestling in the 1980's,I think of one person usually being a part of the memory right along with me.
It wasn't the wrestling that I most remember about that night in 1981,it's who I shared that first wrestling night with as one of many great pro wrestling memories.
And there aren't any bad memories in that bunch...
Back later with this weeks boxing challenge on a free Showtime preview weekend,so you can catch tonight's card even if you usually do not have Showtime.