I remember the night as vividly as any other that I have experienced in my 32 years. December 29, 1998. That night, I would be heading up to Worcester, Massachusetts with a group of friends to attend a taping of WWF Raw is War. Wrestling was blowing up, WWF was cruising and attending a Raw taping was something to be quite stoked about. Normally it would have been a quick ride from my dorm at Assumption College over to the Centrum, but I was home in West Warwick for winter break of my freshman year and it had been a roller coaster day. As like most 17 year olds away from home for the first time, I slacked a bit, assuming my natural ability to memorize large quantities of text and bullshit the rest would carry me to the needed 3.0 GPA to maintain my scholarship. I was wrong. Philosophy whipped my ass. Aristotle was not kind to my study habits at all and my grades suffered. Still, I assumed things would pan out just fine and I would pull it out like I always did. And if not, I could schmooze the professors into making sure I hit the mark. I like to think my confidence was warranted, considering I had been working the system for over a decade at that point.
St. Mary School in Cranston, Rhode Island was my home away from home for ten years. The unique aspect of attending Catholic elementary schools is the size of the class and the fact that everybody knows everybody, regardless of age, grade, sex and level of intelligence. You travel through your formative years with the same troop of kids, teachers and administration, ebbing through the sacraments and puberty from year to year. In the spring of 1990, I was in fourth grade and was starting to get a bit ballsy in my actions as I suddenly realized my natural ability to talk my way out of almost every situation. I didn’t care if people were actually swayed by my arguments or just got so sick of hearing from me, that they just tapped out and went along with their business. It started innocently enough, yanking a chair away from Josh Fonseca as he was about to sit down, causing him to smack the back of his head as he collapsed to the ground. If you know Josh, you know it didn’t really cause any damage because he was a walking concussion and always trucked along as if he were a direct descendant of Jimmy Snuka. Of course, I denied to the end, adamant that Josh just missed the chair and his own clumsiness led to the sound of skull cracking off lacquered wood. Things escalated a bit a year later when I was hanging in the school yard, spending recess with my late homeboy, Mike McKenna. We were wandering out by the nursery school and found a loaded diaper lying by the fence. It took no more of a cue than a quick glance at each other before Mike was ambling around with the diaper dangling from a stick and I was searching for a car with an open window. After securing the target, Mike tossed the diaper into the window and we scampered off. Of course, being that we were ten and a close knit group, it didn’t take long for word to spread and get back to the teacher. After we went back out to retrieve and dispose of the soiled Huggy, Mike and I faced our sentencing, separately of course. And if you have been following along, you know Mike got detention and I was let off with a warning. And from that point on, I knew I could bullshit like a world class lawyer and I was now shrewd enough to make it effective. With my younger cousin Tommy under my wing, we were a force of nature. Whether it was chucking bologna sandwiches over the fence so we could go get a Del’s Lemonade or crucifying his sister Lauren to a telephone pole and somehow making it her fault, we rarely did time for our crimes. Not a surprise that Tommy grew up to be…a well-paid lawyer. I would fine tune these skills as I moved on to high school and began working at Stop & Shop, always able to talk my way in and out of trouble as smoothly as Michael Jordan gliding through the lane on his way to another jam.
As the post-Christmas lull settled in, I was just hoping to make it Raw before my report card hit the mailbox, unsure of how my final exams played out and just how far away from that 3.0 I stood. Unfortunately for me, when the mailbox clanged shut on the afternoon of 12/29, there was an Assumption envelope waiting inside it. I tore that bitch open, yanked out the contents and my jaw dropped…2.6. Two point freaking six. For you non math wizards out there, that would mean I would need a 3.4 in the second semester to keep my scholarship. That seemed damn near impossible. As I dragged my jaw up off the floor, I realized I needed to come up with a plan. I was still reeling a bit from the speeding ticket I received the night of my senior prom back in June. I had managed to talk my way through that one, explaining that my date had forgotten her purse in my car and realized it in the wee hours of the morning, which is why the time on my ticket from the overzealous cop read 3:00 AM. Of course, the truth was slightly to the left of that, but that is neither here nor there. It was also during this winter break that my January traffic court date notification arrived. The buzz of getting accepted into college on a partial scholarship had worn off thanks to the speeding ticket and now the 2.6 bombshell. To say my parents weren’t happy was an understatement and my dreams of attending Raw seemed to be slipping away. I went into spin mode, explaining that there was no way I could have done that poorly in my history class and that there had to be something wrong. I vowed I would get to the bottom of the issue and also clean up my act when I returned for the spring. My mother relented, understanding the adjustment to college is a tough one and betting on my past performance of starting slow and finishing strong when it came to school. Crisis averted, for now. As I mentioned above, it had been an up and down day all around. Earlier in the day I had gone to the eye doctor in an attempt to finally break free from the glasses that had framed my face since second grade. That morning, I received my first pair of contact lenses and the battle to get them into my eyes and subsequently enjoy the frame-free experience was a miserable one.
My flawed eyes were officially opened to the world of professional wrestling back in 1990, shortly after I pulled that chair away from Fonseca’s ass. I had dabbled here and there thanks to my dad, brother and cousin, but it took a friendship with Jim Price to blow the floodgates wide open. I knew the basics, Hulk Hogan was the best in the world, WWF was where it was at, WrestleMania was the big dog and Saturday Night’s Main Event was the holy grail of TV programming. As the summer arrived, I was locked in and Tommy was along for the ride. I spent the summer living in my grandparents’ downstairs level as our house was in the process of being renovated. This was ideal, because Tommy and his sister Lauren were living down the street while my aunt and uncle were building a new house out in Chepachet. This meant that every Saturday morning, Tommy and I were parked in front of the TV watching Superstars. Things got dusty when Earthquake squashed Hogan, things got dustier as we watched the ongoing saga of the Dusty Rhodes/Randy Savage war, two of the first guys that really drew me in with a feud. I loved Brutus Beefcake and Demolition and Tommy and I dreamed of flying around the ring like the Rockers. We attended our first house show that summer and as SummerSlam drew near I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I was devastated when Beefcake was injured in a parasailing accident and replaced by the Texas Tornado. As 1990 tapered off, Tommy started to lose interest in the sport but his slot in my army was replaced by Cousin Matt, who had become just as die hard as I now was. Once I got back to school, I was back to spending hours and hours with Jim and our interest in wrestling increased and dominated much of our day. Whether we were collecting action figures, battling wrestling buddies or eventually filming ourselves wrestling in the basement, Matt, Jim and I were hooked and enveloped into our own little world. And it was awesome.
As the 29th edged along, I gave up on the contacts, pushing that experiment back to another day. I had bigger issues ahead, trying to figure out how the five of us were going to get to Worcester in the now steady snowfall. The original plan was that Andrew Flanagan was going to drive us up in the family van (dubbed the Flanavan), with room enough for six. However, neither his parents nor mine were now enamored with five teenagers trekking up Route 146 at night in a snowstorm. Things were again looking bleak; however my mom stepped up and became an unlikely hero for us. Since we were just weeks removed from my 18th birthday, she decided to heap on one additional present by booking us a limo for the evening. That is right, friends, we would be riding in style to the Centrum, sipping on sparkling cider the whole way up. Word quickly spread to the group as everyone arrived at the house: Flanagan, Price, Adam Murray and Paul Gil. All varying levels of interest, all varying levels of friendship, all jacked for this show.
Like many wrestling fans, my wrestling-centric circle of friends has vacillated based on the year. Tommy, Matt and Jim were there in the beginning, then there was Josh Richer, followed by Flanagan, Murray and a fleeting appearance by Gil, an introverted wrestling fan I stumbled upon while working evenings at Stop & Shop. There were the fringe fans as well, Josh Capron, Josh Roch, Rich Moore and even my sister, only watching or discussing the sport when they were hanging with me. I met Murray at college orientation, as Flanagan was our mutual friend. He was an odd duck, but a big time wrestling and sports fan so we naturally gravitated to each other immediately. There was also the wild card, Don Carrara, a rare Northeast fan that only liked WCW. I met Don at Stop & Shop late in 1997 and while we clicked immediately, this was a rare deep friendship that didn’t involve wrestling outside of a random conversation here and there. That changed a bit come the summer of 1998 when Don, Gil and another buddy invited me to go with them to meet Bret Hart at Warwick Mall. A WCW house show was coming to Providence, Rhode Island and Hart, along with Nitro Girl Spice, would be at the mall signing autographs to aid ticket sales. I told Don I would come along to meet Hart but really didn’t want to spend the money on a house show. However, as expected, I got wrapped up in the moment and went against my original plan. As the legend goes, August arrived, WCW rolled in to town, but Goldberg missed his flight and no showed the event. WCW was always good at losing money, so they offered full refunds to any fans that wanted one and there was no way I was passing that up. Luckily for me, Murray had also experienced the same fate. So the two of us, and Gil, now had a surplus of cash just as tickets for Raw in Worcester hit the box office. After quick calls to Flanagan and Price, the plan was set.
As the snow continued to fall, we loaded into the limo, buzzing with excitement. Even though it was a taped episode of Raw, set to air on 1/4/99, and rumors swirled that Undertaker and Steve Austin, both nursing injuries, were being held back to return on the 1/11 show, we were still jacked up. WWF was a machine, red hot and catching on big time with the mainstream. Attitude was in full effect and the Monday Night Wars were raging on, so you never knew what may happen on any given episode. We debated the possibilities as the limo weaved the winding roads of 146, merged on to 290 and dropped us off at the front of the Centrum. As the limo pulled up, we were mobbed by fans, assuming we were somebody special. They were disappointed, but we were not. There was no way we could be, because we had floor seats for the hottest show in town. And little did we know that on that snowy night in Worcester, we were about to witness wrestling history, one of the greatest moments in a business filled with unlimited letdowns and disappointments. It would be an experience that none of us would ever forget. As we walked inside, I took off my glasses, wiped the snowflakes off the lenses and headed to the gate. As a fan of an industry loaded with bullshit, this world class bullshitter was about to witness one of the most honest nights in wrestling history.