The pro wrestling icon known as "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes died Thursday at the age of 69. While fans and fellow wrestlers reminisced about his classic matches and outrageous interviews, this media geek thought of a magazine printed 30 years ago.
Back in 1985, Rhodes was in his prime, just a year away from winning the NWA World heavyweight championship for the third and final time. As a promotional gimmick with Pro Wrestling Illustrated, Rhodes supplied a pair of his wrestling boots as the prize in a trivia contest about his career. Supposedly they were the boots Rhodes wore when he won the NWA title for the first time against Harley Race. Who really knows, but it wouldn't have been the first wrestling angle to stretch the truth.
At the time, I followed wrestling to a level that my parents found disconcerting, so naturally I entered the contest. A month or two later, a PWI editor called to tell me that I had won the contest. The boots arrived via FedEx shortly thereafter.
Perhaps that didn't justify all the hours I'd devoted to wrestling, but now I held a piece of significant memorabilia and a sliver of fame within a sub-culture. More than a decade later, while I was a sports reporter at the San Jose Mercury News, I occasionally received emails from fans asking if I was the same guy who had won Dusty Rhodes' boots in that magazine contest. As recently as 2011, the boots contest was mentioned in a conversation on a wrestling message board:
Classic. Some Asian kid won them. Yes, I did.
Unlike the many stories you hear about moms who trash boxes of old baseball cards that are now worth millions, the Dusty Rhodes boots remain in my possession. Here they are, pretty much in the same condition as when I got them from PWI:
Pulling the boots out of the closet and writing this piece also reminded me of the time my basketball team was riding the bus to an away game. I tried to explain to a teammate that Ric Flair actually had considerably stronger wrestling skills than Hulk Hogan, and that the Hulkster's greater popularity was only due to the WWF's media superiority. (Flair was an NWA guy then.) The coach overhead my spiel and interjected. "How can you know all that and be failing math?" he said. Well, maybe because my math teacher failed to communicate in a way as effective as Dusty Rhodes: