Watching professional wrestling on a local UHF tv station in the mid-70s was one of my earliest guilty pleasures. During my middle school and high school years, this pleasure would extend to attending a few wrestling matches at The Spectrum. My friend Andy and I even saw a steel cage match!
Unlike Andy and a couple of other friends, my memories of the particular wrestling division we watched are extremely hazy. I'm pretty sure it was the early WWF. I know do recall that play-by-play announcer/mastermind Vince McMahon was still years away from injecting himself with steroids and jumping into the ring. You may recall some of the featured wrestlers, the likes of "The Living Legend" Bruno Sammartino; Chief Jay Strongbow; Ivan "Polish Power" Putski; Professor Toru Tanaka; "Superstar" Billy Graham; the hardfought, head-butting, frequent loser, BoBo Brazil, and two of my favorites practitioners of unique, "scientific" finishing moves, Stan Hansen (The Lariat) and Baron Von Raschke (The Claw). Yes, this is going back to the days when fresh-faced Bob Backlund was a good (and boring) guy.
I could go on all day - and maybe you, too, are finding you can't get enough of these memories. Take some time and dig around the dusty corners of your mind; call an old friend; keep the flame burning. First, however, let's recall The Executioners, the minimalistic, masked tag team, a powerhouse among tag teams of the 1970s. Although a tag team match was frequently featured on the broadcasts I used to watch, I felt like there were never enough matches featuring The Executioners. I don't recall this team having many special moves, although in one championship match I will never forget, a third Executioner was seen entering the ring. At the time, this was a scandal far outweighing any illegal move that wrestlers were known to attempt, such as the use of a foreign object or the ripping of the padding on the turnbuckles before slamming an opponent's head into said unpadded turnbuckle. Like a personal Zapruder film, the slow-motion replays of the entry of that third Executioner rank up there with replays of Ed Armbrister's alleged interference with Carlton Fisk after bunting a ball in Game 3 of the 1975 World Series (by the way, you can relive this clip on this page).
In researching this piece, as so often happens when I research another Overlooked Gem, a large part of my innocence was quickly lost: the identity of The Executioners, including the third Executioner, was revealed! In fact, the identities of all the masked wrestlers are now readily available with the click of the mouse. This information is a blessing and a curse. There's something to be said for hazy memories of things that really aren't important. There's something to be said for the unexamined life. It's one thing to know, at an early age, that professional wrestling is fake, but it's quite another thing to have the identity of The Executioners revealed so readily. I'm sorry if I've dragged you into this mess.
By the early-80s, when professional wrestlers turned to juice and updated cartoon characters that fed into the Reagan-era Cold War mentality, I'd long signed off from the "sport." Today, I know too much about the era I loved, but this won't extinguish the flame that still burns for The Executioners.