Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Tony Barnhart: The Rocky Side of Wrestling (1981)

One of my favorite sportswriters and college football journalists is Tony Barnhart, who, by the looks of things, might have been a bit of a wrestling fan going back to his college days. You never can tell, but his familiarity with the tomahawk chop and the sleeper hold are tell-tale signs.

The following is a transcribed article that appeared in the Greensboro Record in August of 1981.

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The Rocky Side of Wrestling
By Tony Barnhart
Greensboro Record, 8/14/1981  

There are few places more laid back than a newspaper on Sunday night. The Saturday evening cardiac contest has been survived once more and those stuck in the office can at least look forward to working in a low-key atmosphere. It can be depressing, but it is rarely life-threatening.

Last Sunday, however, it became apparent early on that the night would be anything but typical.

The security guard, a congenial and well-groomed fellow, looked a bit ruffled. “Do you know who won the rasslin’?”

I was expecting something a little more original – like “Hello.” I appeared confused – and with good reason.

“You know, the rasslin’ they had at the Coliseum last night. The phone’s been ringing off the hook all day because it ain’t in the paper.”

I felt bad about being unable to shed any light on the guard’s problem, but I soothed my conscience by promising to let him know the minute we heard anything.

I walked up the steps to the second floor, chuckling to myself about how the poor guard had let a few complaining calls affect him so adversely. But he did not have the benefit of working for years in sports where one develops a thick skin for such.

Being a little late, I expected my working companion to be furiously going over the pages for the next morning’s edition. Instead I found him with his face pressed to the window, staring blankly into the parking lot.

From across the room I called his name, but he did not respond. Then I walked over next to him and called his name again.

“I can’t take it anymore,” he said. “They just keep calling and calling. It’s never going to stop.”

The phone began its angry ring.

The Fans Respond

For years, both newspapers have printed the results of the pro wrestling matches held here. And the bottom line is that when such information fails to appear, a segment of the population gets quite upset – and they all have telephones

Normally, we receive a call from the promoter at the end of the matches. He gives us the information and we print it – a flawless system. But for some reason, that call did not come last Saturday night and we were left down for the count, as it were.

I cradled the receiver as though it were the handle of a boiling pot. I was in the middle of identifying myself when the party on the other end began to bubble over.

“It wasn’t in there,” she said.


“The wrestling was not in the paper.”

“Yes ma’am. We normally get a call on that, but last night we didn’t.”

“Well why didn’t they call you?

“I don’t know, ma’am, but we’re trying to track it down now.”

“Well, hurry up and find out because I want to know if Wahoo McDaniel won.”

“Well ma’am, I don’t know about that, but I just heard a rumor that Gene and Ole Anderson were disqualified in their match.”

“Well that’s par for the course.” And she hung up.

And so it went. Before the evening was out, we grew to know each pro wrestling fan in Greensboro on intimate terms. They wanted those results and suddenly it had become a challenge to find them.

The Search

My colleagues wouldn’t want me to tell you this, but that night our office because consumed with the idea of finding out just who had done what to whom on the mat out at the Coliseum.

Calls began going out all over the state looking for a promoter, a fan, a popcorn vendor – anybody who had an idea what had gone on out there. On their best days, Woodward and Bernstein had never put this much into an investigation.

A change began to take place in the personalities of my co-workers. On two separate occasions, I had to fight my way out of an Indian Death Lock just to get to the phone. One guy spent his dinner hour practicing the Atomic Drop on a small filing cabinet.

About 9 o’clock, we had our first lead. One of the guys had gotten the phone number of a Coliseum usher. The usher said that Wahoo McDaniel had indeed won, at least that’s what one of the janitors had told him.

But that little tidbit of information did nothing to stem the tide of phone calls which overpowered us sometime around midnight.

The next morning, they found our bodies strewn all over the office. I was slumped over my chair, an unwitting victim of a Tomahawk Chop. One guy spent the night with his legs tangled in a chair after failing to execute a Kiwi Roll.

As we were being carried out of the building, I stopped just long enough to whisper to the fresh troops coming in. “Go get it, fellows., Those people out there deserve to know because it’s important to them and they care. Don’t ever quit – EVER.”

They told me I collapsed after those words and that just a few minutes later the call came through from the promoter. The results made the afternoon edition.

We had failed on our mission, but like Davy Crockett at the Alamo, we had paved the way for others. Hopefully we’ll never fail to get another wrestling call and perhaps be asked to make the supreme sacrifice

But if we do, My Sleeper Hold will be ready.