If you were anything like me, professional wrestling played a big part of your childhood. For me, growing up in the Carolinas, sitting down for dinner at 6:05 with World Championship Wrestling on TBS was a weekly tradition, with my father explaining to me why the Midnight Express was kicking the crap out of jobbers every night or why the Four Horsemen would get cheered by the crowd despite being the bad guys. Ric Flair was the star of the show, with every episode hinging on whether the champ was in the house to cut a five star promo. (And when he did, it never failed to disappoint.) He was flanked by a plethora of charismatic performers, from Russian madman Nikita Koloff to pretty boy tag team Rock n Roll Express to weirdos like Baron Von Raschke and Jimmy Valiant.
When you think about it, this isn't really isn't much different than the modern day SEC Football scene, whose "Media Days" this week is always a circus of hot air and contrived drama. And that 3:30 ET slot starting mid-September on CBS is, week in and week out, must see television. And the star power in the conference is as high as ever. Alabama is looking to successfully defend its national title for a SECOND consecutive year, something never done in the modern era. There's that QB down in College Station that made some waves last year and getting a lot of hype this offseason. South Carolina has the single most dominant defensive force the college game has seen in a decade in Jadeveon Clowney. LSU reloads again, with batshit crazy head coach Les Miles leading the way. Georgia brings back star signal caller Aaron Murray after taking Bama to the limit in last year's conference title game. And it goes on and on...
I don't watch wrestling anymore. I get my fix of macho athletic feats and stilted melodrama every fall Saturday in the South. But if we were to compare the two, who's who in this overbooked soap opera for men?
ALABAMA is RIC FLAIR
This is a given. Nick Saban lives in the big house, on the big side of town. He rides around in long limousines and jet airplanes. His shoes cost more than your house. Bryant-Denny Stadium has the longest lines. I mean, what's causin' all this?? The Crimson Tide has more titles than anyone, even when you discount the disputed ones, like the Fujinami switch and that overseas three day swap with Rhodes back in the day, or when Bama claimed that national title after finishing the season ranked 20th in 1941. Nevertheless, to be The Man, you gotta beat The Man, and no bones about it, Alabama is "The Man" right now, not just in the SEC, but in all of college football. WHOOOOOOO, FAT BOY!
TENNESSEE is Dusty Rhodes
Speaking of fat boys, a football power from years past, Tennessee is Alabama's old rival, having squared off on the "Third Saturday in October" for years, even if it's now the fourth Saturday of the month. (Hey, even traditions like Starrcade got bumped a month due to money, ya know?) The Vols lay claim to the biggest stadium in the SEC, while Dusty lays claim to the biggest gut, but that doesn't keep either from putting away the alcohol when it's time, be it Natty Lights or wine via unconventional means. And if ANYONE knows about Hard Times right now, isn't it Tennessee?
Auburn is Ron Garvin
Will be remembered for a LONG time for being the champ under some curious circumstances. There were DEFINITELY some shenanigans afoot when Auburn stormed up the polls to take the 2010 National Championship. And there were plenty of backstage politics that led to Garvin taking the title from longtime nemesis Flair in the fall of 1987. In fact, if you look hard enough at the above picture, you can see the money changing hands, a la Cecil Newton a few years ago. (Maybe Trooper Taylor learned his $100 handshake from Jim Crockett?) Much like Bama the following season, Flair quickly won the title back, and Garvin, while not exactly escaping Utah State at the gun and landing on probation, wound up in lower midcard hell in the WWF not long after. Same difference.
Vanderbilt is Shaska Whatley
Once the harmless, lovable loser, destined for beatdowns at the hands the big boys week in and week out, Vanderbilt found itself a new head coach in James Franklin and things are looking up for the Dores. Much like when Pez Whatley found Paul Jones, was rechristened "Shaska," and instantly became a semi-player on the NWA midcard scene. I mean, yeah, Shaska wasn't beating Flair all of a sudden, but he was no longer doomed to jerk the curtain against guys like Sam Houston on syndicated Worldwide anymore, and Vandy isn't kicking off at 11:30 every week anymore. Amazing what a heel turn can do for a team.
Arkansas is Magnum T.A.
Oh, what might have been. A few years ago, Arkansas was a program on the rise, with an offense that was fun to watch and the potential to go toe to toe with the Bama's and the LSU's of the conference and become a major player. The Hogs even landed a spot in the Sugar Bowl where they got screwed by a fickle NCAA, allowing Ohio State to play with blatantly illegal players and beat them 31-26 in what remains the Big Ten's only BCS bowl win over an SEC school. Magnum, too, was on the precipice of becoming a superstar. After taking Tully Blanchard's U.S. Title in a bloodbath for the ages, he, too, was screwed by shoddy oversight, with archrival Nikita Koloff cheating like hell to steal the title in the summer of '86. And just when it seemed Magnum and Arkansas were both taking the final big step, the wreck happened. While Magnum was getting help just to walk at the '87 Crockett Cup, John L. Smith was losing by scores of 52-0, 58-10, and doing the job for Louisiana-Monroe. In Little Rock.
South Carolina is Michael "P.S." Hayes
It seems blasphemous to compare Badstreet, Atlanta, G-A's Michael Hayes to South Carolina and not the obvious school here, but I never said this would be perfect. Michael Hayes is one of the greatest talkers in the history of the business. Steve Spurrier is THE greatest talker in the history of his business. Whether it's gigging Georgia, Clemson, or referencing all of the coloring books in Auburn's library, the Head Ball Coach has talked smack to them all. Repeatedly. When Hayes struck off on his own, he didn't find much success. Neither did Spurrier, whose NFL tenure in Washington is laughed upon. Those failures were not the sole faults of Hayes and Spurrier, respectively, and each found more success when they returned to what they were the best at: being the figurehead for their tougher cohorts. One last note: while South Carolina flew the Confederate flag way longer than it should have, Michael Hayes WORE the Confederate flag way longer than he should have.
LSU is Terry Funk
Not exactly the most stable of environments, "Saturday Night in Death Valley" is renowned for its ludicrous fan behavior, alcohol consumption, and downright insanity. Terry Funk would fit right in. Another football power from years past, LSU stormed back onto the national scene in the last decade under Nick Saban, bagging a BCS Title before Saban left for greener NFL pastures, and eventually Alabama. The Tigers continued their domination anyway under their new head coach, as Jim Ross might put it, "goofy as a pet coon" Les Miles. Miles eats grass. Funk spits quarters. Despite being a former World Champion, the Funker was never all there either, a hothead known for crazy antics such as attempting to suffocate opponents with plastic bags, partaking in exploding ring "death matches," and doing moonsaults off of ladders twenty years past his prime. When Funk witnessed the title he once held go back around the waist of Ric Flair, he jumped him (while still wearing his tuxedo) and piledrove him thru a ringside table, setting off a feud of epic proportions. When Saban ended up in Tuscaloosa, the Bayou Bengals and the Tide set off on their own war, swapping wins, but, like Funk losing the blowoff I Quit Match to Flair in convincing fashion, LSU also lost the blowoff with Alabama, getting shutout 21-0 in the National Championship Game.
Florida is The Road Warriors
In the mid-80's, the Legion of Doom were the baddest of all the badasses. Hawk and Animal ran roughshod over the NWA, after having already run roughshod over the AWA. In the mid-00's, Florida was the gold standard in the SEC, banking two BCS Titles, just a few years removed from taking another National Title in '97, under Steve Spurrier. When Spurrier was there, you always took the Gators, no matter how ridiculous the spread was. When the Road Warriors fought, you always took the under on match time, as Iron Man would usually still be blaring when Hawk and Animal dumped some poor jabroni on their head with their Doomsday Device. Under head coach Urban Meyer, Florida unleashed a devastating move of its own, too: the Jump Pass! Guaranteed to be a touchdown every time it was thrown, the play resonates to this day, as we are reminded of it countless times on every CBS broadcast by Gary Danielson. The Gators haven't been the same since Meyer left, much like LOD was never the same without manager Paul Ellering.
Ole Miss is "Wildfire" Tommy Rich
While they may not be carrying high profiles, both Ole Miss and "Wildfire" Tommy Rich are legends in the South. Ole Miss claims three national titles from some 50 years ago and unfortunately hasn't seen much prolonged success since. Rich had a cup of coffee with the pinnacle of success, as well, upsetting Harley Race for the NWA Title in 1981 - a reign that lasted a grand total of four days. Both are HUGE in Memphis, and both are known partiers. The Grove in Oxford is generally accepted to be the best tailgating destination in the SEC and Wildfire is generally accepted as one of the biggest drinkers in wrestling history, so while not "successful" on paper, each have their perks.
Missouri is "The Z-Man" Tom Zenk
The new guy in town, Missouri's one year in the SEC was fairly uneventful. The most notable thing to happen was the bizarre thunderstorm delay in their home game versus Alabama, prolonging their eventual misery. In the late 80's, Tom Zenk was the new guy on World Championship Wrestling, and didn't do much of anything for many months. Zenk was just happy to be out of his crappy deal with former WWF tag team partner Rick Martel, as Zenk was getting paid way less than his Can-Am Connection partner had been. Missouri feels the Z-Man's pain, having ditched their old Big XII home due to other schools, namely Texas, getting more than their fair share of the pie, at least in Mizzou's eyes.
Mississippi State is "Bullet" Bob Armstrong
Poor Mississippi State gets no respect. They're trapped in the toughest division in college football, the "other" school in their own state, and just plain behind the 8 ball. But they bust their butts under new head man Dan Mullen. Bullet Bob never got much due either, OWNING crowds all over the Southeast back in the territory days, but could never put it altogether while working for Crockett, a tad past his prime. "Bullet" chants were the norm wherever he wrestled, much like the cowbells follow State wherever they play. A second generation of Armstrongs found more success, particularly Brad and especially "Road Dogg." Perhaps the Bulldogs find some success of their own as their new generation begins under Mullen.
Georgia is Lex Luger
Oh yes. Lex Luger had it all when he came into the NWA, so much that he was nicknamed "The Total Package." He was groomed to be the next big star; he had the size, the look, the youth, and the charisma to be HUGE. And, for a multitude of reasons, it never quite panned out. Sounds like a football team in the SEC to me! Georgia has all the tools to be a football powerhouse. Beautiful campus, gorgeous women, prime access to the biggest city in the South, and a central location in the hottest recruiting region in the nation. And, for a multitude of reasons, it hasn't quite panned out. Luger could never get the big win over Flair. Georgia could never get the big win over Florida. Even in later years, when Luger finally did win the title (not over Flair), he pissed it away days later. And when UGA finally won an SEC Title (after losing to Florida), they were embarrassed by West Virginia in the Sugar Bowl. Luger could never shed the choker label. The Dawgs have to shake it now.
Texas A&M is Sting
Could A&M be the next marquee superstar in the SEC? They asked the same question about Sting and the NWA back in 1987 when he debuted as the hot, young rookie. It took neither long to make their marks. A&M upset defending national champion Alabama in Tuscaloosa months into their first season in the league. Sting wrestled defending champion Ric Flair to a 45 minute draw months into his first year in the NWA - and would've won the match and the title if not for a crooked judge. Their instant success quickly dwarfed their prior homes, the Big XII for the Aggies and the UWF for the Stinger. Sting was always a tad naive, having been turned on by friends (unofficially) 874 times, usually Lex Luger or Ric Flair. Johnny Manziel hasn't exactly handled his new found fame with maturity, either, but both can get it done on their fields of battle. Sting was destined to be a multiple time World Champion, just as A&M seems destined to be the next superpower in the college football landscape.
Kentucky is The Mulkey Brothers
Every football conference needs its bottom feeders. Every wrestling company needs its jobbers. Whenever you see either of these teams, you know they're about to get their asses kicked, usually in highly entertaining fashion. I'm guessing the Mulkey boys were counting down til basketball season, too.
Paul Finebaum is Jim Cornette
The greatest shit-stirrers of their respective businesses. Cornette had a job - to manage the Midnight Express - but was always sticking his nose in where it wasn't needed to make the product more entertaining. Finebaum has a job - to host a radio show - but he pokes and prods his listeners (and callers) to make the product more entertaining.
Clay Travis is Bill Apter
Both operate independently of the business they cover. Both produce supplemental materials that aren't necessary to keeping up with what's going on, but certainly are interesting. Apter made magazines like Pro Wrestling Illustrated a household name, huge in the territorial days when you didn't know what was going on everywhere else. Travis has made himself a household name by giving his takes on the SEC thru a couple of books and his SEC-focused website. Some fans hate Travis for his takes on off-field silliness, while Apter's refusal to break kayfabe irritated fans for years.
Verne & Gary are Tony Schiavone & David Crockett
Duh. They might not be the best announcer tandems out there, but we love them anyway. If Verne calls out a player by the wrong name, drink. If Tony claims this to be the greatest night in the history of our sport, finish your drink.
Tim Brando is Jim Ross
If Verne is Schiavone, this makes Brando the not yet "Good Ol' J.R." Jim Ross. Brando's the voice-in-waiting for the SEC, much like Ross was obviously the next voice of the NWA. Hell, in that case...
Keith Jackson is Gordon Solie
The greatest. Everyone else is playing for second place.
Sixth Year Seniors returns in August.
You might've heard the news late Wednesday. How they managed to keep it under wraps, I have no clue, but the Boston Celtics sent a shock wave thru the basketball world by snagging young prodigy Brad Stevens from Butler to be their new head coach. What he'll exactly be coaching is unclear, given the ultimate rebuild has started in Beantown, with only Rajon Rondo left from the core of players who made two Finals appearances in the past six seasons, and even Rondo himself seems to be the final piece on the move.
No matter what happens in Boston, Stevens will be fine. Worst case scenario, the Celtics win 30 games combined over the next two seasons, GM Danny Ainge is run out of town for lack of acquiring any talent, and the new guy in town runs Stevens back to college, leaving him to choose among a dozen major conference suitors who would undoubtedly sign him to a BIG contract within hours of his removal from Boston. Best case scenario, after winning the 2014 Lottery, Stevens builds a title contender in Boston around Andrew Wiggins, and his X's & O's approach pays huge dividends in the Association, and he's the second coming of Red Auerbach, sans victory cigar, not having to deal with the trivialities of convincing 17 & 18 year old kids to come throw on a jersey to play in Indianapolis or whatever college town in which he may have landed.
But where does this leave Butler? Behind guys like Hayward, Mack, and Nored, Stevens coached the Bulldogs to heights so-called "mid-major" schools had never dreamed of: two Final Fours and back to back NCAA Championship Games, literally fractions of an inch of a Hayward 45-footer from hanging an NCAA Title banner in Hinkle Fieldhouse. These journeys had led Butler to a new conference home, from the Horizon League to the Atlantic 10 to being invited by the "Catholic Seven" to join the new (old) Big East, where football is pushed aside for the hardwood and the battles within a 94' x 50' rectangle are what define collegiate athletic glory.
Butler will have to chase that glory under the command of a new general. Who will it be? The Bulldogs are already handicapped by the timing of Stevens' departure. The coaching carousel in college basketball has made its rounds already, the biggest splash coming when Steve Alford left New Mexico for UCLA. Presuming that never happened, wouldn't Alford have been a natural fit for Butler, the native son and legend returning home to coach the upstart school? Wouldn't going from New Mexico (in the Mountain West) to Butler (in the new Big East) be an upgrade? Moot point now, but it would've been perfect.
I bring this up because the question lingers: with two Final Fours in the past four seasons, but its coach now gone, how much clout does the Butler brand carry? Can the Bulldogs pluck a hot, young coach from another "mid-major" school? Guys like Shaka and Marshall aren't going anywhere, but who's left? Alford's to UCLA. Andy Enfield went from tournament sensation Gulf Coast to Southern Cal seemingly overnight. Son of the reigning National Title-wining coach, Richard Pitino, made his move from FIU to Minnesota. Longtime Duke assistant Chris Collins (I will refrain from making editorial comments here) finally made a move, to Northwestern, leaving Krzyzewski to find some other peon to handle his halftime interviews. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself.)
Butler's left in a huge bind here, and it seems to me they have two options. One, they find a top assistant from a big time school. I think Collins would've been a good fit, someone in that mold. Or two, and from the early reports I'm seeing this is the plan, hire from within and try to hold the course with one of Stevens' assistants, Terry Johnson or Michael Lewis.
How does this hurt Butler as they move to the Big East? I think they're okay. You can't forget that behind all the hype of the new Big East, it's really only Georgetown, Marquette, Creighton, Xavier, and some also-rans. If the Bulldogs can find an X's and O's guy that can come somewhat close to replicating Stevens' game management and pair that person with a decent recruiter that can point to the conference name and the Final Four banners, Butler should be able to maintain their standing as pesky upstart who you'll have to deal with in March, despite the upped competition in the new conference. Where Stevens' departure hurts them is building upon the foundation which he laid, and that is where this new hire is going to be critical.
Butler has to be competitive in the Big East, that is the minimum expectations for the next head coach. Returning to the second and third weekends of the NCAA Tournament will be a bonus, at least for now, as they make acquaintances with their new conference neighbors.
Spoiler: You will get more takes from Mikey on the NWA U.S. Title scene from 1986 thru 1990 than you will on PAC-12 or Big Ten football.