I’m not sure how many reads this concept will get, but in honor of today’s Royal Rumble, I’d like to write an edition of “The VHS Memoirs,” a collection of more personal stories to reflect on my adventures as a wrestling fan for as long as I can remember. I decided to use that particular title because many of the events that will be referred to or written about were originally recorded on VHS tapes as I first watched them air live. Yes, tapes, those clunky blocks that now clog the bargain bin of most thrift stores.
I know usually I don’t mention much personal information because you click (and I thank you sincerely for it) on these columns to read about wrestling, not me. However, hopefully this short story can provide some nostalgia for those that choose to read this entry.
While I have many memories about “the most exciting 60 minutes in sports entertainment,” there’s a specific tale that highlights the retro aspect of this concept quite well.
In 1994, when I was nearly 5 years old, the sport of professional wrestling was still in the mist of the cartoonish, and now infamous “new generation” phase. But, these over-the-top personas suited little Jim just fine. I had already began to collect everything wrestling, place mats, pillow cases, and of course, action figures. In fact, I vividly remember trips to the now defunct “Hills” department store and that finding ANY Hasbro figure that I didn’t own was an exciting occasion.
I loved the heroes, booed the villains, and wrestling was perceived how it was originally intended.
I will sound like the grumpy old man with a cane here, but at the time of Rumble ’94, the concept of digital cable and ordering pay-per-view events through your remote weren’t the standard yet, which more than anything shows how fast technology progressed in a relatively short time. At this point, you had to call your local cable company, a familiar tagline to those earlier “free-for-all” shows, and order the event on the phone.
My parents were attending a family gathering so my Uncle BJ, who was in his early 20s at the time, came to keep watch on the house and make sure the pay-per-view was ordered. Since he was a wrestling fan, he brought his cousins, Nikki and Chris, both in their early teens at the time. Ironically, this trio took me with them to attend WWF house show events nearly five years later, but that’s another entry for another time.
One of the many gripes I have about all the instant access to almost everything currently is that shows don’t have that “special event” atmosphere to it as often as in years previously. As was usually tradition for kindergartener Jim, when these “big” pay-per-views happened, I put the classic blue plastic Hasbro ring in front of me just in case I wanted to reenact the action with mini versions of the larger than life stars I saw on screen.
Again, I was two months short of 5 so forgive me for not providing recall of every original detail of the show, but two specific occurrences standout even more than two decades later. Prior to the show, pizza was delivered and then my uncle called the cable company to order the Royal Rumble. The problem was, if there was a particularly high demand for a pay-per-view event, you would often get a busy signal or were put on hold until an operator could take the call. If you couldn’t get through, you simply couldn’t order the show until someone on the other end of the line could take your call. Through the years, there were several occasions and several tense moment before the signal was beamed through the cable box to broadcast the bright colors of the era through the screen.
With only five PPV events a year, Rumble ’94 was “one of the big shows” and phone lines were jammed as Chris and Nikki were nice enough to play with action figures so that little Jim was entertained. Uncle BJ patiently waited on the line, as not to disappoint his nephew and the minutes tickled close to the start of the show. Almost as if it was on cue, just before the live broadcast began, the order was placed and we had access to the event. I specifically remember everyone frantically running down the steps and to expedite the process, Chris was nice enough to grab the action figures, and Nikki was a kind citizen, putting little Jim over her shoulder toward the TV. From the actual event, I remember that I was mad that The Undertaker was being attacked by all the “bad guys” and it wasn’t fair. I’m guessing I can remember this segment because he later “rises” to the video screen, which was a memorable moment. What I recall next is what that year’s event is known for the most, the ending sequence that saw both Bret Hart and Lex Luger hit the floor at the same time. Everyone watching had a different opinion about who won the prestigious Royal Rumble match. I was (and still am) a Bret Hart fan so I thought he won, and pointed at the screen to show evidence that probably didn’t actually exist that Lex had hit the floor.
As history tells us, they both won and went on to wrestle Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 10 with Bret winning the championship that Hulk Hogan refused to drop to him. Now, more often than not, the heroes on screen, aren’t always nice people and the perception of sports entertainment is very different among fans. But, it was nice to remember when the internet didn’t cater to jaded fans, right? An energy drink will replace the Hasbro action figures, but I will tune in to watch the Rumble, a yearly tradition that kicks off Wrestlemania season. I’m going to (try to) enjoy the event and I hope you enjoy it too. Feel free to let me know some of your Rumble memories and it’s always nice to hear stories from others.
Enjoy the Rumble!
Until next week
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