When It All Began: Survivor Series 1989

The Hulkamaniacs were the showcase team at Survivor Series 1989.
The Hulkamaniacs were the showcase team at Survivor Series 1989.

“The Survivor Series, the Thanksgiving Day Tradition, The Ultimate in team competition!

They say you’ll never forget your first. Your first kiss. Your first love. Your first day in a new school. The first day you realized you were all grown up. Perhaps even the first moment you realized your father wasn’t a super hero.

Lucky for me, I have yet to experience either of those last two! (Love you, Big Daddy Cool!)

For wrestling fans there is a very different type of first. I don’t speak of the first time they saw their favorite real life comic book character screaming into their television or when the heinous villain finally received his long overdue comeuppance. I am referring to that signature supercard or pay-per-view that made that fan stand up and say “I’m a wrestling fan and there is nothing in the world that is going to change that fact!”

For me, that show was Survivor Series 1989. I know it wasn’t one of the greatest events in sports entertainment history. Some will argue that it isn’t even in the Top 10 in Survivor Series’ illustrious chronicle which will eclipse 27 years in 2013. Smarks will make comments like “Nothing even happened at the show of significant value and most of what happened is overshadowed by Hulk Hogan politics and over-the-top gimmicks,” as they wipe the Cheetos dust off their neck beards.

But I couldn’t disagree more with those losers for something quite significant did happen to me on that chilly Thanksgiving night in 1989. I found out who I was that night and the 80 some odd nights in a row I wore out my father’s VCR with the number of times I watched that show. Because on that night, I became a wrestling fan and I have WWE’s Thanksgiving tradition to thank for that!

Everything about this show was what I was looking for in the very first pay-per-view event I was ever allowed to order. Back in those days, the company did everything they could to get the full roster a payday on their supercards so by purchasing the Survivor Series – an event centered around team elimination tag matches – I was guaranteed to see all of my favorites. I remember being so psyched that whole day. I could barely eat anything besides the occasional slice of pumpkin pie. You would have thought I was wrestling!  All hopped up on sugar, I went on and on about how I thought Hogan’s team would win easily but I definitely had a soft spot for this upstart in face paint everyone called Warrior. My buddy and I speculated about what match would go first and whose team was better until we inevitably came to blows ourselves which almost ruined the entire evening.

And when it started, all was forgiven because there were our heroes telling us exactly what they were thankful for on this very special holiday. We found out that the Hulkster was thankful that Hulkamania was still the strongest force in the universe. The late great Randy Savage was thankful that he was the “only man worthy of being the Macho King ooooh yeeeah!” Hall-of-Famer Dusty Rhodes was inexplicably thankful for his polka-dotted ring attire and on and on it went until Vince McMahon grabbed the mic and introduced us to all the teams in a way only Vinnie Mac could carry out. We were pumped! All the giddy school girl talk was over. The television was blaring and we were going to make the most of it because the way my parents were talking, odds were pretty good that this would never happen again.

But they didn’t know at the time that their 8-year old boy was about to become a wrestling junkie. When my favorite – Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake – took out two competitors and survived along with Rhodes in the opener, I was standing on the couch screaming in ecstasy. But when the Big Boss Man clubbed the two of them with a nightstick in the biggest act of poor sportsmanship these eyes had ever seen, I was afraid he was going to come after me next!  In the second contest of the evening, I was jacked to see “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan’s team run to the ring equipped with 2×4’s as they went into battle with The King’s Court. Even though I was a babyface fan all the way, even I could see they had no shot against Savage’s squad particularly with the last-second addition of the debuting Canadian Earthquake. Even so, it’s still pretty fun to watch the brief interactions between The Macho King and a young Bret “The Hitman” Hart – two of the very best of all-time.

Much has been made and written about the letdown that was the Hulk Hogan match in the center of the card. While I’m not naive in thinking that the “Yellow Dog” as my buddy would affectionately call him was entirely without fault, as a kid, I just wanted my hero to come out on top. Yes that match was stupidly booked with Million Dollar Man’s team getting screwed on three eliminations. I agree that the involvement of an actor from a lousy movie taking up a roster spot was pretty foolish. And I also could never understand why Demolition looked like absolute cannon fodder to a team they already beat on numerous occasions but goodness gracious, I saw my guy win. Plus I’ll reiterate, that Zeus thing was truly awful looking back now. In my universe, no guy with a uni brow and “Z’s” painted on the sides of his head should ever beat Hulk Hogan but that could just be me.

One memory which stands out was when the Hulkster pinned Ted Dibiase to become the sole survivor of his match, Jesse Ventura proclaimed, “It stinks Monsoon, it stinks!” This line resonated with my mother in particular who still to this very day uses that quote anytime something terrible happens.  It could be a lousy call during a sporting event or if one of her favorite shows gets canceled. She also liked the Bushwhackers so when they were eliminated later that night, you can bet she was screaming at Gorilla like the rest of us. What can I say? She must have been hooked too.

The last great surprise of the evening happened when the greatest manager in wrestling history donned his ring gear and called his own number in the finale against the Ultimate Warriors. At the time, I just thought he was showing a good example for the rest of his charges but in actuality, McMahon needed an emergency replacement for Tully Blanchard who was fired for testing positive for cocaine. This might have been common knowledge and all over Twitter if it happened today, but alas in 1989, we had no www.placetobenation.com or various podcasts to keep us well-informed. We just accepted Heenan, a novice fighter at best, as a capable combatant in your pay-per-view’s main event. I would’ve probably not slept for several months had “The Brain” been able to upset the Ultimate Warrior and Thanksgiving as I knew it would be ruined forever had they pulled that trigger. But much like the mid-card was owned by Hogan, the end of the night belonged to the Warrior.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention perhaps the single most important reason why this show will go down as one of my all-time favorites and that of course was the A+ announcing job performed by Gorilla and Jesse. From the time the red lights went on, these two did a remarkable job of putting over the team elimination concept while also playing their babyface/heel dynamic to perfection. Nobody, past, present, or future will ever have the chemistry and timing of these two and they made every show they were a part of feel like something special.

I say all of that to say that my wrestling love affair hasn’t always been wonderful. Much like any relationship, there have been peaks and valleys. I thought I’d never recover from the mid-1990s and then the N.W.O and Attitude Era happened. College and a broadcasting career took me away in the 2000s but a trip to the Royal Rumble two years ago got me back into wrestling’s good graces. And now, as the leaves in New England have fallen and I find myself writing weekly WWE recaps on the interwebs, I can honestly say my fanaticism has truly come full circle. It will all culminate this month when I attend my very first Survivor Series from the TD Garden in Boston. A spectacle 24 years in the making. As Gorilla would say, “it’s gonna be a happening!” I won’t expect John Cena to tell us what he’s thankful for on Thanksgiving. Not going to lie, but if anyone comes out with a 2×4 or a nightstick, I may go bananas.

And even though I’m older and I need more than posing, face paint and rope shaking to keep my attention, a part of that 8-year old boy will be in attendance that night in Beantown.  He will be on cloud nine from the loge seating section waiting in anticipation for his favorite super hero to walk down that aisle. And to think,  it might have been just another autumn Sunday for him had it not been for Survivor Series 1989.