Saturday, November 21, 2015

Cultureshark Remembers...Nick Bockwinkel

Former American Wrestling Association World Heavyweight champ Nick Bockwinkel passed away last week at the age of 80. If you'd like to learn more about him and see him in his prime, don't go to the WWE Network, which still hasn't uploaded much of its AWA footage.

I didn't see him in his prime, but I enjoyed him as a young wrestling fan even though he always seemed kind of "out there." His mannerisms, his look, his style--everything suggested a cocky prick who would more likely hire someone to mess you up--and brag about it at the country club--than to actually mess you  up.

And the name? BOCKWINKEL? I was just fascinated by that name. Bockwinkel. Go ahead, say it out loud. Bet you can't do it just once. You'll want to do it over and over again. It doesn't sound like an ass kicker, but somehow it kicks ass.

But the man could go in the ring. He was middle aged when I got AWA Wrestling on ESPN, and in one of his most memorable matches of the 1980s, he was already about 50 when he battled Curt Hennig to a 60-minute draw. I loved this match, not just for the work in the ring, but for the great overwrought announcing of Rod Trongard. He really worked to get across how momentous the match was, and it was funny, but it was appropriate, and it worked.

After saying they neared the 58-minute mark: I don't know if I have two minutes left.

Then: We're in the final minute. I will never forget it as long as I live, however this ends. With less than 60 seconds remaining, these two men have given everything that there IS to give--not only that they have to give, but there IS to give--to the sport of professional wrestling.  They have pounded, they have hammered, they have clawed, they have dug, they have  put on every hold that they know, every weapon at their we're in the final 30 seconds of this match.

People like to mock the AWA, and it was well past its own prime at that point, but that remains one of my favorite wrestling calls ever, and what a show Bockwinkel and Hennig put on that night.

After Bockwinkel finally left the fading AWA, he had a short run as a color commentator on WWF house shows, with a lot of his work turning up on "Prime Time Wrestling." I loved Bock in this role because I hated what I considered cartoonish aspects of wrestling, and I liked how he treated it like an actual sport.

One thing that always bothered me was when a babyface covered a heel for pin when the referee was knocked out or indisposed, and by the time the ref crawled over to make a count, the crowd would already have reached 10. An announcer would invariably say, "He would have had him if only the referee had been in position!" Now I appreciate more the desire to give someone a "visual pin" to save face before he went on to lose the match, but then I thought it was hokey and took me out of the moment.

One time this happened, and Bockwinkel told his play-by-play partner he wasn't so sure. He explained that a wrestler, through training and instinct, responds to that sound of the referee's hand hitting the mat, and therefore you couldn't assume that he wouldn't have kicked out if the ref had been there earlier. I don't remember how the PBP man responded, but I was elated. Finally, someone says what I've been thinking for so long! That comment alone won me over. Of course, that kind of intelligent, reality-based commentary wasn't a great fit for 1980s WWF, and the gig didn't last long, but I always considered Nick one of the most underrated announcers in pro wrestling history.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Vault of Coolness: Not just ESPN, but SPORTS, period, was different back then

From the Wednesday, January 5, 1983 L.A. edition of "TV Guide":

6:00 pm  (9)  NBA BASKETBALL

The Los Angeles Lakers at the Philadelphia 76ers, aired on a 90-minute tape delay. (2 hrs., 30 min.)

The Lakers are the home team. The Lakers rule at this time. And as good as they are, the Sixers are even better. In fact, these two teams went on to play in the Finals several months later, with Philly sweeping. The point is this a marquee match-up...and Channel 9 isn't showing it live.

Granted, 4:30pm is an awkward time to start a sporting event for those like me in the Eastern time zone, but it's not like that doesn't happen all the time out in Cali. Maybe Channel 9 had something important on at 4:30, like another live event or maybe even another sports contest?

Well, there is some basketball going on, like Dwayne dribbling that ball over the credits in...


And then there's some more basketball, only of the fictional variety:


I understand why non-fans think sports has a disproportionate impact on television, but, jeez, I don't want to go back to 1983, when an NBA Finals preview airs in a home market on a 90-minute tape delay.