Wrestling legend Ric Flair created a big buzz when he surprised the 49ers with a pep talk at their hotel the night before they faced the Green Bay Packers. Whether the stylin' and profilin' motivation from the Nature Boy had anything to do with the 49ers' 23-20 win, San Francisco is advancing to face the Carolina Panthers, which provides the kind of plot twist that would be perfect for wrestling.
Flair is originally from Minnesota but settled in Charlotte, N.C., in the 1970s when he became a superstar in the old NWA (National Wrestling Alliance). He has become enough of a civic institution that the Charlotte Observer posted a poll asking fans for their reaction to Flair's support of the 49ers.
The Panthers have used Flair's signature "Woooo!" yell as part of their locker-room celebration, so you can imagine they were stunned to learn the 17-time world champ is backing San Francisco.
"As a guy who ... has a Ric Flair robe, I'm real disappointed in seeing that," Panthers receiver Steve Smith told Observer columnist Tom Sorensen. "Real disappointed."
Ric Flair & Steve Smith are buddies. But Smith wasn't too friendly Monday. About Flair he said: "That San Francisco bridge has been burned."
— Tom Sorensen (@tomsorensen) January 6, 2014
Here is a clip of the Panthers doing their cheer of "Two Claps And A Ric Flair."
So will the Panthers continue to howl, "Woooo!" if they keep on winning?
"We'll discuss it," Smith told the Observer. "We’ll have to have an executive meeting."
Before Flair addressed the 49ers, the Panthers had been hoping they could get a visit from him for the divisional playoff game.
"He's the man," cornerback Drayton Florence, the creator of Two Claps And A Ric Flair, told ESPN last week. "We want the man to join us."
Now Florence would prefer to change the subject, telling the Observer: "I ain't talking about that."
In case you missed it, here is Flair's appearance with the 49ers, in which he says, "Ric Flair's heart is with the 49ers all the way to the end. Woooo!"
Flair's connection with the 49ers is through coach Jim Harbaugh. Their friendship goes back to the days when Harbaugh was quarterback of the Bears, and Flair headlined some big wrestling cards in Chicago.
Another wrinkle to all this is that Packers linebackers coach Kevin Greene used to play for the Panthers and dabbled in wrestling as well. In the 1990s in the World Championship Wrestling promotion, Greene wrestled against Flair, and thanks to classic wrestling swerves, he also partnered with him in a tag-team match.