The first weekend of the NFL Playoffs delivered some exciting action.
The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase probably watched.
DiBiase, a WWE Hall of Famer who turns 60 on Jan. 18, is a former college football player. He’s not the first nor last to trade football cleats for wrestling boots.
Similarities exist between pro football and pro wrestling with the latter creating its own brand of physical prowess, trash talk and thrills.
It’s no wonder why so many NFL players are pro wrestling fans, and why some even stepped into the ring. The inverse is also operational as finding pro wrestlers with football backgrounds (high school and/or college) is easy.
In today’s market, WWE superstars John Cena (Springfield College), Kane (Northeast Missouri State), Big E Langston (University of Iowa), Titus O’Neil (University of Florida), Roman Reigns (Georgia Tech), Tensai (University of Pittsburgh), The Usos (University of West Alabama), Darren Young (Farleigh Dickinson University) and Dwayne The Rock Johnson (University of Miami) played football collegiately. WWE commentator and former wrestler John Bradshaw Layfield also spent time on the gridiron, competing for Abilene Christian University in West Texas.
Speaking of West Texas, DiBiase earned a football scholarship to West Texas State University (now West Texas A&M University) in Canyon. Talk about a Who’s Who of wrestling talent who played football for West Texas State, DiBiase was teammates with Tully Blanchard and Tito Santana. Other West Texas State football players who became pro wrestlers include the Funk brothers (Dory Jr. and Terry), Bruiser Brody, Bobby Duncum, Manny Fernandez, Stan Hansen, Dick Murdoch, Dusty Rhodes and Barry Windham.
“It’s unbelievable,” DiBiase said. “WTS had a pretty good reputation for football, too. One year they had Mercury Morris (Miami Dolphins) and Duane Thomas (Dallas Cowboys) in the same backfield.”
Morris was an integral part of the Dolphins’ offense, helping lead them to three consecutive Super Bowls (1972-74), winning two (Super Bowl VII in 1973 and Super Bowl VIII in 74), including the 1972 perfect season team. Thomas helped the Cowboys beat the Dolphins in Super Bowl VI in 1972.
When they were competing in Super Bowls, a younger DiBiase was at West Texas State.
“One of the guys who I played college football with was John Ayers,” DiBiase recalled. “He was the starting left guard for the San Francisco 49ers during their dynasty years.”
Ayers helped the 49ers win two Super Bowls (Super Bowl XVI in 1982 and Super Bowl XIX in 1985) with quarterback Joe Montana and Coach Bill Walsh. Ayers was a key contributor on the final 89-yard drive that led to the play that has been immortalized as “The Catch” in the 1982 NFC Playoffs versus the Dallas Cowboys.
DiBiase said: “The guys who came out of [West Texas State] and became very well known names in pro wrestling ... the influence were the Funks, Dory and Terry Funk, whose dad, Dory Funk Sr., was the promoter of the wrestling territory there [Texas]. Tully’s dad, Joe Blanchard, was also in pro wrestling.”
Joe Blanchard, like Dory Funk Sr., wrestled and became a promoter for Southwest Championship Wrestling.
Because his step-father, Iron Mike DiBiase, wrestled professionally, too, DiBiase lived the life of an Army brat, moving periodically. They did have a home in Omaha, Nebraska; so DiBiase is a huge Nebraska Cornhuskers fan.
As for the NFL...
“When I was a kid growing up, I can still remember,” DiBiase said. “I was 12-years-old, and I watched the first Super Bowl, and I was a Green Bay Packers’ fan.”
In Super Bowl I, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 35-10 on Jan. 15 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“Even though I was a Green Bay Packers’ fan, I loved [Chicago Bears great Dick] Butkus,” he continued. “Butkus was the man’s man. I had Butkus’ picture on the wall. So I was kind of a Bears’ fan, too -- Gayle Sayers -- back in those days.”
As a youth in Southern Arizona, DiBiase won an NFL Punt, Pass & Kick contest. Arizona, back in the day, did not have an NFL team. The closest NFL team to there -- the Dallas Cowboys.
“So the first place prize was a Dallas Cowboys jacket,” DiBiase chuckled, “and I became a Dallas Cowboys’ fan.”
DiBiase now lives in Clinton, Mississippi. It’s been his home for a long time. Like Nebraska, that state does not have an NFL team.
“Living in Mississippi, I was personal friends with Walter Payton,” DiBiase said.
Payton, who grew up and played high school and college football in Mississippi, also starred in the NFL for the Chicago Bears. Butkus (linebacker, 1965-73), Payton (running back, 1975-87) and Sayers (running back, 1965-71) were three of the best all-time, NFL Hall of Famers.
Currently, DiBiase is hoping the Denver Broncos reach Super Bowl XLVIII and win it all.
“I am a huge Manning fan, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning, a great family,” DiBiase said. “I watched the piece that ESPN did on them. It was great.
“I was pulling for Eli because I felt like, for a while, he was living in his big brother’s shadow, and I guess, to a degree, he still is, a little bit, but he’s got more Super Bowl rings than his brother.”
Eli and Peyton grew up and played high school football in Louisiana. Their father, Archie, played quarterback in the NFL, most notably for the New Orleans Saints. Before embarking on outstanding NFL careers, Peyton starred at quarterback at the University of Tennessee, and younger brother Eli excelled at quarterback for the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss).
In the NFL, Eli helped lead the New York Giants to two Super Bowl wins (Super Bowl XLII in 2008 and Super Bowl XLVI in 2012). Peyton helped lead the Indianapolis Colts to two Super Bowls (Super Bowl XLI in 2007 and Super Bowl XLIV in 2010), winning once in 2007. Peyton is now quarterbacking the Denver Broncos, and they host the San Diego Chargers in an AFC Divisional playoff on Sunday, Jan. 12.
“Now I’m pulling for Peyton,” DiBiase said. “I know [Broncos coach] John Fox personally, due to a relationship I have with a pastor. My best friend is a pastor at a church outside of St. Louis, on the Illinois side of the river, and John Fox’s wife grew up in his church. So that’s how I met Coach Fox, and knowing Coach Fox, I’ve never met Peyton, but I’m pulling for them this year.”
• Charlotte’s own Ric Flair turns heel on hometown Carolina Panthers
Who did the San Francisco 49ers call to inspire the team the night before its wild card playoff game against the Green Bay Packers?
Joe Montana? Jerry Rice? Steve Young?
They called the 16-time world champion Nature Boy Ric Flair. Wooooooo.
Flair can light up any room, and he did just that in Wisconsin.
The 49ers players were like kids in a candy store when Flair appeared live in a meeting room.
Standing ovation. They cheered and yelled and Wooooed.
You can watch it.
Flair with the 49ers: http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-playoffs/0ap2000000310109/Ric-Flair-visits-49ers
Interesting, Ric Flair is a North Carolina guy, Charlotte his home, and in the corner of the Carolina sports’ teams ... until now.
The Nature Boy told the 49ers he is with them all the way, turning heel on Cam Newton and the hometown Panthers, just like he did to Sting, when Sting was a Four Horseman going for Flair’s gold.
With inspiring words from Flair, the 49ers beat the host Packers, advancing in the playoffs.
Well, WWE CEO/Chairman Vince McMahon couldn’t have scripted it any better as the 49ers now travel to Charlotte -- Flair’s hometown -- to face the Carolina Panthers in an NFC Divisional round on Sunday, Jan. 12.
Will Flair be there? The Dirtiest Player in the Game was accustomed to boos during his heyday, and he will relive those if he appears at Bank of America Stadium on Sunday.
Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith will probably be leading the jeers.
Read Steve Smith’s comment.