Dad, the Hulkster and Me

This is one of those stories where in order to tell the story, I must begin with another story. When I was four years old, I was in a fairly serious go-cart accident that caused me to be hospitalized for three months in Birmingham, Alabama, a roughly four-hour drive from my hometown.

Now, being that I was only four, I don’t remember much from that time, but there is one thing that I remember very well. My dad worked night shifts at the local post office, sorting mail and packages. So, while my mom stayed in Birmingham with me, my dad would work all week, go in for his Thursday night/early Friday shift and then leave from work to come to Birmingham without sleeping first. He would sit with me during the weekend, giving my mom a chance to get away for a little while and relax a little bit.

Children's Hospital in Birmingham, AL.
Children’s Hospital in Birmingham, AL.

Every weekend he came, and every weekend we would find WWF programming to watch, typically Superstars. Being four years old, I was a huge Hulk Hogan fan. My dad was an Undertaker fan, and he would give me some good-natured ribbing about Hogan not being able to handle the Undertaker.

Typically me and my dad's program of choice.
Typically me and my dad’s program of choice.

Long story short, eventually I got better and was able to come home. As the years passed, I forgot lots of details about my hospital stay, but those weekend visits never left my memory.

I guess that’s why I never lost interest in wrestling, even after so many of my friends did. Something about it always brought back good memories of my dad. So, while my dad stopped showing interest in the mid-90s, I never did.

Despite being a staunch WWF supporter, I started watching Hogan in WCW and remained a fan of his despite the heel turn. I began a collection of Hogan memorabilia that I still add to periodically, and I have a little corner of our home office dedicated to the Hulkster.

One of my many pieces of Hogan memorabilia.
One of my many pieces of Hogan memorabilia.

Anyway, in the early 2000s, my relationship with my dad started to deteriorate and it got to the point where we barely spoke. Well, in early 2002, the news broke that the n.W.o., with Hogan at the helm, would be coming to the WWF. No Way Out 2002 came and went, and since I wasn’t able to watch the show, I tuned in on Raw the next night waiting to get a glimpse of my childhood hero. When the n.W.o. music hit and “Hollywood” Hogan came strolling to the ring, I was transfixed. Wrestling suddenly had me sucked in in a way that it hadn’t since the heyday of Hulkamania. While I followed Hogan in WCW, there was, is, and always will be something about him being in a WWF/E ring that just feels right, and so it was that night in Chicago. But along the way, I noticed something: a portion of the audience, a large portion, was cheering for Hogan, not booing. That, more than anything, reminded me of days gone by, when I was one of thousands of Hogan fans.

A surreal moment from a February 2002 Raw in Chicago.
A surreal moment from a February 2002 Raw in Chicago.

Wrestling fans all know what happened next. The Rock soon interrupted Hogan, and by the end of the night, it was official: Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock at WrestleMania X8.

I started begging my mom to let me order the show right away. I had a little bit of allowance money saved up, I argued, and I usually went to bed around 11 anyway, so I’d be good to go for school the next day. Of course, as moms often do, she gave the response I least wanted to hear: “Ask your dad.” Ugh.

My dad and I were on pretty rocky footing at this point, and I knew the answer that was coming. He was still working late shifts, meaning he had to go to sleep around 3 or 4 each afternoon in order to be ready for work. He wasn’t a fan of a lot of noise while this was going on, so I was usually restricted to watching television with the sound turned down way low in my room, rather than on the “big TV” in the living room that had pay-per-view access. So, I asked him, and made sure to mention that I couldn’t miss Hogan and the Rock. Of course, he said no, and that was that.

The weeks passed, with each week just adding to my excitement, anticipation and disappointment over not being able to see Hogan at WrestleMania. Eventually, the night of WrestleMania arrived. I set up shop in our spare room where we kept our computer with dial-up Internet access. That way, I would at least be able to find out the results as soon as possible.  As the show neared that day, I figured I could sneak into the living room and at least catch a little bit of the preshow.

So, imagine my surprise when I walk in to the living room and my dad is sitting there, rather than sleeping. “I ordered your wrestling show, so I figured I might as well watch it if I’m paying for it,” he said. I was in that teenager phase where it wasn’t “cool” to show a whole lot of emotion, so I just kind of smiled and told him thanks.

For the next four hours, we sat there and watched wrestling together for the first time in more than 10 years. We didn’t say a whole lot. That is, until it was time for Hogan and the Rock. As Hogan made his entrance, we both noticed the cheers and my dad even asked me why they were cheering for him since he was supposed to be the bad guy. I told him I didn’t know, but inside I was cheering just as loud.

We’ve all seen the replays dozens of times: The staredown to start, with the crowd going wild.Hogan tossing Rock to the mat out of the opening tie-up, and posing as Rock stared at him in disbelief. Hogan beating the Rock with the weight belt and Rock reciprocating in turn.

One of my favorite WrestleMania moments.
One of my favorite WrestleMania moments.

As the match went on, Rock got the better of Hulk and landed the Rock Bottom. When Hogan kicked out at the 2-count, I lost it. He began to shake his head back and forth while pumping his fists up and down, and before I knew it, I was doing it right along with him.

Quite possibly the biggest mark-out moment of my wrestling fandom.
Quite possibly the biggest mark-out moment of my wrestling fandom.

I jumped out of my chair, and to my surprise, even my dad was literally leaning forward on the edge of his seat. Before I knew it, I was four years old again, screaming in triumph as Hogan hit the three punches, the big boot and the leg drop. Unfortunately for me, that wasn’t how the match ended. The Rock beat Hogan that night, as he should have.  But, before allowing Hogan to leave the ring, Rock insisted that Hogan give the fans a little old-school Hogan posing. And as he did, I’m not ashamed to say, I got a little misty. If I’m in an emotional mood during a rewatch, I still do some days.

Well, as we all know, Hogan’s n.W.o cohorts, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, didn’t take too kindly to Rock and Hogan shaking hands and playing to the crowd’s desires. The Outsiders turned on Hogan, beginning to administer a beatdown. The Rock intervened, and Hogan and the Rock stood tall together, chasing off the n.W.o.

As Rock and Hogan celebrated together after chasing off Nash and Hall, I thanked my dad for ordering the show. Once I had done that, he told me I was welcome and said he had to catch a little sleep before work. But, he let me finish the show, even though it was over as far as I was concerned. While I wasn’t there live, I was mentally walking out during HHH vs. Chris Jericho just like many fans in attendance. Nothing was going to top Hogan vs. Rock. As I watched the rest of WrestleMania, I thought about how cool it had been to just sit there and watch wrestling with my dad again.

Well, that wasn’t the end of the journey. The next night on Raw, Hogan stood in the middle of the ring, to massive cheers, and tore off his n.W.o. T-shirt, signifying his official split from the group. Now, Hulk was a full-fledged babyface again. I was pumped about this, but I found myself remembering the good old red-and-yellow days and thinking that black and white just wasn’t the same for conquering hero Hulk Hogan.

Well, I soon got my wish. A couple of weeks later, Hogan was named the No. 1 contender for Triple H’s Undisputed Title, with the match set for Backlash on April 21. During the build to that match, Triple H came out on Smackdown to cut a promo on Hogan. All of a sudden, the sounds of Voodoo Child rang out through the arena, and red and yellow lights began to flash. Hogan came out to the ring decked in the familiar red and yellow, albeit with a bit more flash. The tie-dye, the boas, the sunglasses, the updated Hulkamania t-shirts. I loved (and eventually bought) it all.

Back in the red and yellow, with lots of merchandise for teenage Nick to buy.
Back in the red and yellow, with lots of merchandise for teenage Nick to buy.

Anyway, this left me in the tough position of having to ask my dad for second straight pay-per-view purchase. There was no way in hell I could miss Hogan getting a title shot. This time, however, I didn’t even have to ask my dad to order the show. Upon receiving his bill for WrestleMania, he had decided to figure out a way not to have to worry about paying for extra programming. This was in the days when satellite receivers were controlled by pre-programmed access cards that told the receiver what each person was authorized to watch. Somehow, my dad found a guy in town who knew how to rewrite the cards and could enable you to COMPLETELY LEGALLY access every channel. The only downside, he said, was that sometimes DirecTV could send a remote signal that would disable the card. However, that too could be easily solved, as the card could be reset by simply turning the receiver off, removing the card, replacing it and turning the receiver back on. But, we were assured that this would be a rare problem.

As Backlash drew closer, my dad told me that he wasn’t going to be able to watch the show with me. The post office, for the two weeks preceding and following Tax Day, typically had him work extra hours. Backlash fell in this time frame, so he was going to need the sleep. However, rather than letting me watch with the volume turned down, he told me I could have friends over to watch the show with if I wanted, even though he was going to be sleeping. So, I invited several friends over that night and from the beginning, the satellite card kept getting frozen. The first two and a half hours were a constant stream of me unplugging and replugging the receiver. However, as Triple H and Hogan made their respective entrances, the freezes stopped and the picture quality was pristine.

Now, let me clarify: I had no illusion that Hogan might actually win. I knew for sure that Triple H, fresh off his grand return and title win at Mania was going over the Hulkster that night. I was just hoping for another solid match and a good crowd reaction for the now red-and-yellow clad Hogan. The Kansas City crowd that night certainly did their part, and the match, despite what some might say, was pretty good.

People should really be more thankful that Hogan helped to spare us from the 2002 HHH babyface run of doom.
People should really be more thankful that Hogan helped to spare us from the 2002 HHH babyface run of doom.

As the end neared, Triple H hit the Pedigree and defeat seemed sure for Hogan. As Triple H went to make the cover, something terrible happened: the screen froze. Suddenly, a match that I was sure could only have one outcome was causing me immense levels of personal stress. I scrambled for the receiver, reached around to the back where the access card was kept, and dropped the card. The card fell from my grasp and slid underneath a box of CDs that sat directly under our television. I fumbled with the heavy wooden box and eventually got the card. I unplugged the receiver, reinserted the card and plugged the receiver back in. As I hit the power button, a black screen appeared.

Then, for about two seconds before the picture finally kicked back in, there was only the black screen with the sounds of the pay-per-view. There, clearly, was the sound of Voodoo Child playing in the background as Jim Ross screamed in excitement. Before I ever actually saw Hogan holding the title, I was again transported back to my childhood. I ran out our front door in excitement, unable to contain myself. I screamed in joy and ran a lap around our house before coming back inside to see Hogan holding the undisputed title. As the show went off the air and my friends left, I realized that my dad was sure to come down on me pretty hard after all the noise I had made celebrating.

The next day, when I got home from school, my dad was waiting on me. “Sure made a lot of noise last night, didn’t you?” he asked. I said yes and told him I was sorry. To my astonishment, he told me not to worry about it. I went off to my room, smiling. My dad, for what seemed like the first time in years, wasn’t completely furious with me, and Hulk Hogan was the WWF champion. All was right with the world.

hoganwwftitl2002

Since then, there have certainly been some ups and downs for the Hulkster. There was the whole Mr. America trainwreck. Coincidentally, I was actually in attendance in the fourth row for the infamous lie detector segment on Smackdown.

Who was this masked man? The world may never know.
Who was this masked man? The world may never know.

I had begged my mom for tickets two months prior, back when it looked like I’d be getting Hulk Hogan and not Mr. America. I even died my hair blonde and shaved the middle out for the event. I tie-dyed my own pants and bought some feather boas. Sadly, this was my first time getting to see Hogan live, so I was pretty bummed about what I actually got to see.

Years later, I went to a TNA Impact taping that had Hogan appear, but it still wasn’t the same.

Even Hulk Hogan couldn't make me care about TNA for more than a few months.
Even Hulk Hogan couldn’t make me care about TNA for more than a few months.

Now, I’m finally getting a chance to check something off the so-called “bucket list.” At WrestleMania XXX, I’m going to get to see Hulk Hogan in a WWE ring. I know there are a lot of hardcore wrestling fans that are sick of Hogan, but I never will be. At the Superdome in New Orleans, the sounds of Real American will play, Hogan will come to the ring and he’ll cup his hand to his ear. And I’ll scream like I’ve never screamed before. It’ll be a surreal moment for me, something I’ve waited my entire life for. And in that moment, I know I’ll think of my dad and that one 2002 night that will forever live in my memory.

maniaxxx

Author: Nick Duke

Father, husband, nerd.