[Originally published on this blog on January 18, 2010.]
On Sunday’s Face the State, Linda McMahon touted her experience “in a business that is very testosterone-loaded.” I wonder if she had in mind an incident her husband Vince recounted in his December 2007 interview with staff investigators of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
Vince had been asked about a National Public Radio commentary in which Frank Deford cited a study of pro wrestling deaths by Dave Meltzer, publisher of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.
First, McMahon dismissed Meltzer as “a gossip columnist.” Then he suggested that Deford held a grudge: “[H]e has no sense of humor and he doesn’t like me. We were bowling one night and I borrowed one of his shoes and he never found it. And so he had to walk home in a bowling shoe and one of his others, and he was upset about that I understand.”
As a public service to the citizens of Connecticut, I now provide you the full background of this bizarre episode.
I also am emailing this item to Ed Patru, spokesman for the Linda McMahon campaign, in case he or she cares to comment on it.
In 1991 Deford was editor of the short-lived daily sports newspaper, The National, for which Meltzer wrote a pro wrestling column. (Connecticut resident Deford, the celebrated Sports Illustrated writer and book author, happens to record his NPR segments at WSHU radio at Sacred Heart University, where Linda McMahon is on the board of trustees. Many faculty there were none too happy in May 2007, when Vince McMahon was chosen as the keynote speaker at commencement.)
Meltzer wrote a story for The National that was highly critical of the then World Wrestling Federation’s main “angle,” or storyline, for that spring’s WrestleMania show. The McMahons brought back a wrestler named Sergeant Slaughter, a superpatriot hero of the mid-eighties, to feud with Hulk Hogan. Slaughter was turned into not just a bad guy but a traitor, joining forces with a purported associate of Saddam Hussein and against his own country during the first Gulf War. To promote this shtick, WWF even sent Hogan on a tour of military bases.
Quoting WWF’s competitor promoters, Meltzer’s piece questioned whether this descent into poor taste was a bit much even for wrestling. (In reference to other controversial storylines, Linda McMahon yesterday acknowledged to the Face the State panel that there have been times when WWE “pushed the envelope.”)
In the end, the Sergeant Slaughter angle was both controversial and not as successful as designed: the McMahons originally booked the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum for WrestleMania before slow ticket sales prompted them to move the event to the smaller indoor Los Angeles Sports Arena.
A short time later McMahon and Deford found themselves together at a country club bowling alley for a birthday party for John Filippelli, a veteran TV sports producer who at the time was in charge of WWF broadcast operations. After everyone changed into bowling shoes, McMahon and one of his top aides, former wrestler Pat Patterson, made off with one of Frank Deford’s street shoes and one of his wife Carol’s, and never returned them. Vince and Pat found this hilarious.
After the transcript of McMahon’s Congressional interview was published, I verified this story with Deford. “I’m rather amazed that McMahon would bring this up, but it’s a pretty accurate account of him acting like a horse’s ass,” Frank emailed. “Really weird.”
Another Vince McMahon-Frank Deford anecdote:
In February 1992 Linda and Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation was fending off death by tabloid torture. For the full background, see this blog’s “Linda McMahon’s Husband Vince Fought the Law, and the Law Lost (Part 2 – 1992 Drug and Sex Scandals,” http://wrestlingbabylon.wordpress.com/2009/12/22/linda-mcmahon%E2%80%99s-husband-vince-fought-the-law-and-the-law-lost-part-2-%E2%80%94-1992-drug-and-sex-scandals/).
In the course of these developments, Frank Deford did an NPR commentary urging Hulk Hogan, whose name was on a brand of children’s vitamins, to come clean about his years of abuse of anabolic steroids.
Vince McMahon called Deford to complain. At one point in their conversation, McMahon screamed, “I have proof I’m not a mobster!”
Which was funny, because Deford had alleged no such thing.