"It's Still Real To Me...Damn It!" Dave's Story of Spartanburg
By David Wills
(JG Note: WorldWrestlingInsanity.com is pleased to welcome David Wills. David has agreed to tell the story of that famous day at Fanfest. You can interact with him, as well as our other columnists, on the Insanity Message Boards . To see the video that started it all Click Here.)
On a cold November Saturday, my friend Craig and I headed out to Spartanburg, South Carolina for Tony Hunter's Tribute to Starrcade: Fanfest. Arriving at the Coliseum at 8:30 and waiting in line to get into the building, I was able to speak and visit with other fans. Folks were buzzing about so many things including Ricky Morton's arrest, Jeff Hardy possibly appearing, and the question-and-answer session Terry Funk and Harley Race had given for a group of fans the previous evening. Many people had different items which they were bringing to be autographed. From Wrestling Action figures (No, they aren't dolls like my wife calls them.) to Books to posters to other items, fans were prepared to get them signed.
While I was waiting, I spotted Harley Race getting out of his vehicle and coming inside the building. He was going very slow and seemed to have trouble getting around. After seeing so many matches with the King and "Handsome" Harley, it was very heartbreaking to see this once great champion having trouble walking, an action we do every day and so often take for granted.
When I got inside, Harley was still on my mind, but I was there to have fun, to meet wrestlers and personalities, and enjoy myself. I met Bill Apter who had been the face of the Pro Wrestling Illustrated family of Magazines. (My Mom used to ask me when I was living at home if I had any idea how much I had spent on "wrestling books." I tried to add up how much once and realized I kept Bill Apter employed for a long time with all the money I spent.) I met Tracy Smothers, who I felt always felt was one of the more underrated guys in the business, and Tully Blanchard, who still can give a great interview to this day. There were so many former Crockett stars there from The Mulkeys to George South to Rocky King.
Later, I saw some of the wrestlers I had met at the first Fanfest I attended in Charlotte, NC. There were great talents like Tony Atlas, Brad Armstrong, JJ Dillion, Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condrey, Jim Cornette and Synn in attendance. It was touching having Terry Funk autograph his book for me, yet heartbreaking, seeing Terry Funk having difficulty getting around as he was coming to sit at his autograph table.
While all of this was on my mind, I also had some of the happier moments in my wrestling fan life. I got the pleasure to meet Jerry "The King" Lawler and Jimmy Valiant and get a photo with them. I met Jimmy Hart, who was always so entertaining to watch on TV. I was even shaking like a leaf with nervousness when I met Konga the Barbarian, one of my personal favorite wrestlers. What a treat it was to be able to talk history and so many other wrestling things with Dr. Tom Prichard. When noon came, Craig and I went upstairs to find some lunch and wound up eating a slice of pizza with Bill Apter.
The day was very memorable for me already. I was so happy that I was able to meet so many legends I had grown up watching and cheering for. During the Question and Answer session with Bobby Eaton, Dennis Condrey, Jim Cornette, and Funk, that all changed when someone asked about dream matches and Funk mentioned he would like to have one more match with Eddie Gurrerro. Terry also spoke about how most cities have a crack house. He ventured to say that a crack house in Spartanburg would have had less deaths in the last five years than wresting has had. Furthermore, Funk said that the wrestlers needed to clean up their own house by steering the next generation who was being mentored by them away from the illicit substances and negative influences.
All of this was very moving to the audience, but it really resonated with me. While the rest of the Q & A is going on, I sat there in the bleachers thinking about all the things I had witnessed and how I felt that day. I thought about Eddie Guerrero's death the week before. I thought about substance abuse that is going on in the sport. I thought about how so many wrestlers have been injured and how wrestlers pay a such a high price for all their years of bumps in the ring. I remembered the Cactus Jack ECW promos about "How many of you hardcores have called Dynamite Kid up and thanked him for all the dives he did out to the floor? Sorry you don't have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of, but thanks anyways." I thought about how the business has changed and kids won't be able to have the same experiences regarding the sport of wrestling that I had, with kayfabe now non-existent. What an emotional roller coaster I was on as I had went from very happy about meeting all the stars to extremely saddened about the dark clouds and demons that wrestling has.
When I first sat down for the Q& A, I wanted to ask the panel for some Dick Murdoch stories. He is a character who should be remembered for his in-the-ring and out-of-the-ring antics. When I got up to ask my question, I wanted to thank the wrestlers for their sacrifice and hard work. I wanted to say that I appreciated what they did to their bodies for my entertainment.
Well, needless to say, it didn't come out that way at that time. I choked and started crying and said "Thanks, Mr. Funk for saying what needed to be said." I was taken a little aback by this myself as I didn't expect to tear up. I started stammering with nervousness and instead of making a point about the deaths in wrestling what came out was "I don't want to see another one of these." I then yelled out "It's still real to me, damn it!"
I regained my composure, finished asking my question, and enjoyed some Murdoch stories form the panel. I enjoyed the rest of the Q&A and I was a little shocked to have lost it emotionally along the way. I was able to see Mick Foley and get a t-shirt from him. After that, Craig and I were on our way back to the Peach State.
On the way back from Spartanburg, I reminisced about the day and realized how much reality there is in wrestling. The happiness I have had for over 20 years of being a fan. The joy I got from meeting my favorite wrestlers, and our memories and passion are all very real. Sadly, the injuries and the problems with substance abuse are all too real also. So much for this being a "fake" sport.
Where did "it's still real to me" come from? Perhaps I was thinking back to a day when I was buying wrestling magazines when I was kid. Perhaps I was thinking about how wrestling had been more athletically based and how that era is now gone having been replaced by "sports entertainment". Perhaps I was thinking about how wrestlers get that horrible chant of "You F**ked Up" sometimes and how the profession could use a little more respect from some of the fans. Perhaps I was thinking about how I know that some wrestlers from this generation will not make it to be at Fanfests in twenty years if changes regarding drugs and muscle enhancers aren't made from inside and maybe outside the industry. Perhaps I want to see the business improve and make the reality for the wrestlers of today and tomorrow better for them and their families with health benefits, easier schedules and less emphasis on certain body types. I honestly am not quite sure to this day where that line came from. In hindsight, I know it probably came from my heart or my gut. Either way, what a strong feeling it was!
I know the kayfabe wresting era of yesteryear will not come back. While I am not the biggest fan of the some of the WWE incarnation of wrestling, I can see myself being a fan of the sport of wrestling for the rest of my life.
Wrestling is unlike any other form of sports or entertainment. If done well, it can be a hybrid of both with some of the best athletes, unbelievable personalities, and some of the most passionate fans you will find . This hybrid is one that will grab you and keep you hooked. A place where there can be comedy and tragedy, heroes and villains, excitement and intrigue, victory and defeat, and even revenge and retribution abound and flourish. For an hour or an evening, you can have action that will thrill you like a studio blockbuster movie, but characters and stories that can draw you in like a good book or a soap opera. This is an environment where Super Heroes come to life and fight the battle of good versus evil nightly. This sport is one where a child can still dream about growing up to overcome the odds and be the best he can be for himself and dream about being the best in the ring and be able to be called "champion".
This is the sport which I love. Professional Wrestling...
It's still real to me.. DAMN IT!!
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