Reminiscing Nashville Series — WWF(E) at Municipal Auditorium In The 1980s

The first “professional” sport I remember seeing live in Nashville is really neither a sport nor professional. However, in the late 1980s, I had an infatuation bigger than Alabama football, Dale Murphy, and the Atlanta Braves combined. I was a wrestling FREAK and I couldn’t get enough of it.

If you read enough of my posts and as I post more, you’ll notice how my dad took me to events to which every dad would not take a grade-school-aged child. I wrote about my dad taking me to see Mike Tyson and Michael Spinks fight murder a frightened Michael Spinks on Closed Circuit Television at Municipal Auditorium in June of 1988 on Clay Travis’ Outkickthecoverage.com and Municipal will serve as the backdrop for the vast majority of this post as well.

Municipal Auditorium served — and continues to do so today — as an arena that could pass as a just-landed flying saucer, but for me it was more. In the late 1980s, Municipal was a larger-than-life fantasyland that housed the heroes who ran, slapped, slammed, and  hugged while wearing nothing more than spandex underwear and very tall boots. These were my heroes. My Days of Our Lives. My Housewives of [your city of choice].

I’m talking Brooklyn Brawler and some dork running around the ring in the opening match jawing at each other and the audience for seven minutes before  the impeccably timed moment when the referee would find himself distracted by a manager on the apron of the ring while the heel (bad guy) would grab a foreign object from his trunks and blast the face (good guy) in the face. As if it were scripted, the referee would be trying to decipher what the crowd was imploring him to turn around and look at from the top of their lungs only to turn around just in time to slap the mat three times while the heel lied on top of the good guy. The bell would ring to signal the end to the opening match and the night was officially underway.

Fun side note: there were times when said bell would be some form of a pizza pan. I’m still not sure what it was, but there was this dude at the ringside table and he would be going to town on said pan with a gavel or a hammer or a bat. It was loud and it was awful.

I was in 4th grade the first time I stepped foot inside Municipal Auditorium in 1986. It resembled the sensory overload and slight gasp of air that enters my nostrils today when I first exit the shaded concourse of Bryant-Denny Stadium and get the first glance of the sun-splashed green grass, white yard lines, and crimson end zones.

The moment you arrive and park on or around James Robertson Parkway, you knew you were somewhere special. As you exit your car and set foot toward Municipal, you pass NewsChannel 5 (WTVF). As I child, a television station held the same standing as the White House, so the event was elevated even higher when I knew that Chris Clark walked the same streets that my feet walked this very moment.

There is also a distinct aroma to every big event no matter what city or where the event takes place. Whether the event is indoors or out, the sweet smell of vehicle exhaust fumes mingled with the smoke from a cigarette burning in the distance fills the outside air and James Robertson Parkway could hold this aroma with the best of them.

As you entered the doors of Municipal and made your way inside you pass framed “art” with tickets from concerts that took place years ago inside this bastion of history. You make your way through another set of doors that leads you to where they tear your ticket and allow you inside the concourse.  There was no sweeter sound than that of a tearing ticket that you had been staring at for months on end believing the date on the ticket was this unattainable day in the far too distant future.

We enter and make our way past the guy nearly running us over holding a towering pole of cotton candy. We turn left at the pyramid of t-shirts, souvenirs, and WWF parafernalia that only the Egyptians could have built, past (not quite past) the first set of restrooms and the adults feel necessary to use and ruin any momentum we had built toward reaching the ultimate destination — our seats.

After about ten minutes inside, a new, distinct smell begins to waft in and around your nostrils. The exhaust fumes and distant cigarette smoke have been replaced with a mixture of overly processed pancake batter, nacho cheese, and musty toilet water. Again, these smells on their own have a special and unique quality, but when combined in one confined space it’s as if Kirkland’s had opened a store inside the Auditorium.

#Potpourri

After all adults have voided their bladders “just in case” — in case of what, I don’t know, but in the event that the restrooms are marked off with crime scene tape at some point of the evening, my team of adult supervision will have beat the system and have the emptiest bladders in the venue — we finally exit the concourse and enter what, in reality, is a very humble arena in today’s — and even those days’ — standards, but my occipital lobe was informed by my wide-open eyeballs that this, indeed, was nothing short of a Circus Maximus and Roman Coliseum hybrid.

The usher tries to look at my ticket to help show me my seat, but his help is useless. Much like a bride on her wedding day, I’ve thought about this day for what seems to be all my life and the only person I need to escort me down the aisle is my father.

Not only had we reached the ultimate destination, we were sitting ringside.

Seventh row.

On the aisle where the freaking wrestlers would make their way to the freaking ring.

Say WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT!?!?!

The first thing I noticed was how small the ring appeared. It was also shockingly loud until you become accustomed to the sound. This was done to add effect for body slams and the like.

I remember wanting to touch the ropes ever so badly. As a child, I dreamed (literally) of doing two things:

  1. Slap that thing on Family Feud when you wanted to be first to answer the question during the showdown segment to open each round and
  2. Touch the ropes of a WWF wrestling ring. Were they ropes? Were they elastic? Were they [gasp] elastic ropes?

Stand By Your Woman
One of the big matches on this September 25, 1986 card was Randy “Macho Man” Savage vs. Hillbilly Jim for the Intercontinental Championship. This was at the beginning of Macho Man’s height of popularity.

I’m perched in my spot on the rail on the aisle where the wrestlers are making their way to the ring. I had already touched hands with a dude named Dick Slater [that's an awkward sentence no matter what order you arrange the words] in the second match as he left the ring and made his way to the backstage area. Don Muraco and Pedro Morales came and went and I felt pretty awesome because I had seen some familiar guys up close. Then Hillbilly Jim’s Don’t Go Messin’ With A Country Boy blared over the PA and the crowd went crazy. I got in a high-five as he did a dosey doe to the ring and I was pretty sure my life would never get any better than right now. I just knew that Hillbilly would get the win and the Intercontinental belt because I was here to see it and this night was special.

Then Pomp and Circumstance began playing and we all knew that Macho Man and Elizabeth were on their way. It seemed like an eternity before Savage and Elizabeth appeared from behind the curtain, but when they did, the spotlight hit them and you knew right then that this guy was different. His energy was more than just bigger-than-life. It was its own being. Savage was just plain special.

Elizabeth and Savage seemed untouchable, but some dude beside me who seemed to have already had no less than 231 beers got a finger on Elizabeth. Seemed innocent to everyone but one guy — Savage. I feel the breeze of a hand fly by my red-haired head and Savage connects a shot to the chest of Touchy McGhee. Savage, to say the least, was very protective of Elizabeth. I figured Touchy would have a hole in his chest and he may have, but he was too deep in the cup to feel it. He makes the great decision of shoving Savage yet again. Savage points his taped finger in the face of Touchy and proceeds to walloping this guy in the chest one last time. Savage’s words are laced with his trademark glottal fry rasp. Finally Savage makes his way to the ring and Touchy McGhee puts his arms in the air and yells at the top of his lungs. The crowd cheers and I’m just happy to be alive because every punch/shove thrown appeared to headed right for my mouth. I quickly moved on to more pressing matters such as Hillbilly Jim’s attempt to win the belt.

Hillbilly won — by disqualification — and the title didn’t change hands. I quickly learned that titles didn’t change hands in these house shows. Luckily, I didn’t know it this day so the magic of the night remained 110 percent real.

Touching Superman (or a very slimy and greasy Jake “The Snake” Roberts)
The main event involved two of my favorites at the time, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat vs. Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Every wrestler that made his way to the ring seemed untouchable and I might get a grazing hand against my pinky (Hillbilly Jim) as they walked (twerked and did a dosey doe) to the ring. Why I wanted to touch these men is beyond me, but as I write more and more words about my efforts to have physical contact with them, I see there may be an issue.

Anywho, when Jake makes his way to the ring with Damien his snake in tow, the Red Sea of crowd parts for a moment and I have a clear shot at his shoulder. I reach out, slap him on the arm and immediately wipe my hands on my jeans. He was as slimy as Damien and — to the delight of my father and a few uncles — my infatuation with touching sweaty wrestlers ended then and there.

Here’s the full card from that night:

WWF @ Nashville, TN – Municipal Auditorium – September 25, 1986 (5,000 in attendance)
Jerry Allen pinned Iron Mike Sharpe
Dick Slater pinned Terry Gibbs
Don Muraco pinned Pedro Morales
Hillbilly Jim defeated WWF IC Champion Randy Savage via disqualification
Sivi Afi defeated Barry O
B. Brian Blair & Jim Brunzell defeated Jimmy Jack Funk & Roger Kirby
Ricky Steamboat pinned Jake Roberts

Subject To Change
Hillbilly Jim was Nashville’s all-time substitute each and every time a wrestler experienced an airline delay overdosed, which seemed to happen more than once. He was from Bowling Green (billed from Mudlick), Kentucky, so I guess it made sense. I remember asking my mom and dad what “Subject to Change” meant when I would see a promo in the Tennessean and these words would be in small print at the bottom of the page. “It means something about the event may change,” they told me. “Oh, cool,” I replied. 

My dad took me to a random Wednesday night house show in 1988 when Jake ‘The Snake” Roberts was amidst his heated feud with the Honky Tonk Man. Snake and Honky were the main event on the night’s card. That is, until the ring announcer begins the evening doing his best Buzz Killington impression when he broke the news to us fans, “Due to the severe weather, Jake Roberts’ plane could not make it to Nashville. In his place will be…HILLBILLY JIM!”

Dang.

My dad leaned over and thusly advised me, “That’s what subject to change means.”

I now understood and have never forgotten.

So Many Memories, So Little Time
If you sat in the upper levels of Municipal, you had to take a small set of ramps to get to the upper concourse. It was like a series of wheelchair ramps (as to be handicap accessible). There would be large gaps between each ramp which would allow you to see the wrestlers hanging out backstage. You can imagine my shock when I see Dino Bravo walking in with Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty. Bravo seemed like just another guy. Like somebody’s uncle just walking in backstage and greeting other wrestlers. I would compare it to a kid sneaking backstage at Disney On Ice and seeing some guy in a Mickey Mouse costume with the head  of the costume off and puffing on a cigarette.

The Shadows

“Yes. Eric From Springfield picked up coffee for one of us at Municipal Auditorium and he had enough change for a small Coke. We don’t like to brag, but yes, that happened.” -The Shadows

At the same show where Hillbilly Jim and Honky Tonk Man fought in the “Subject To Change Match,” my dad let me roam the bowels of Municipal before the show began so long as I stayed pretty close (read just don’t get caught or I’m telling your momma that you went against my wishes). We arrived everywhere two hours early so I had plenty of time to kill.

No more than ten minutes into my voyage, I made “eye contact” with one half of the masked tag team tandem, The Shadows. He waves me down and tells me to come down to where he was. I acted like he was talking to someone else, but no one else was around. I make my way to this masked guy who was wearing street clothes (brilliant and safe move) and he gives me a couple of bucks and asks if I can buy him a coffee. I thought to myself, “DUH!!!!! Heck yeah I can buy you a coffee, Mr. Shadow No. 1 or 2!” He even tells me to get myself something with the change.

My actual words were closer to, “Ummmm. Okay. What kind… uh, do you like coffee? I’ll buy some.”

I find a concession stand and make the most important order of my young life. I return to Mr. Shadow’s post and I deliver his coffee. We immediately part ways and I make my way back to our seats with small Coke in hand and my dad seems half-proud, half-relieved that I wasn’t kidnapped by a masked guy in street clothes pretending to be a wrestler when I tell him what just went down.

When The Shadows arrive to the ring for their match, I show them full respect and boo them and talk junk from our upper level seat as if they can hear me. I see one of them point my way and I swear Mr. Coffee Shadow knows it’s me. Who cares that we are 200 feet from the ring. For one night, I was one of them. I mean, I got the guy coffee. How could he not remember me for life?

I found a website that lists almost every show of the WWF(E) era and I found these two that I attended. The first took place at the Nashville Fairgrounds and I was able to see Hulkamania at its absolute apex. I probably could do 3,000 more words just on this day, but I’m trying to build followers, not lose them.

WWF @ Nashville, TN – Nashville Fairgrounds – September 26, 1987 (10,000)
SD Jones pinned Steve Lombardi
Barry Horowitz pinned David Sammartino
Don Muraco pinned Bob Orton Jr.
Tiger Chung Lee pinned Sivi Afi
Jacques & Raymond Rougeau fought Greg Valentine & Dino Bravo to a draw
Bam Bam Bigelow pinned Sika
Randy Savage pinned King Harley Race
WWF World Champion Hulk Hogan pinned Ted Dibiase after Dibiase collided with Virgil on the ring apron

WWF @ Nashville, TN – Municipal Auditorium – July 23, 1988 (10,000)
Iron Mike Sharpe pinned Lanny Poffo
Bad News Brown pinned Jim Neidhart
Shawn Michaels & Marty Jannetty defeated the Conquistadors
Jake Roberts defeated Rick Rude via count-out
Hillbilly Jim (sub. for Bam Bam Bigelow) defeated the One Man Gang via disqualification
King Haku pinned the Junkyard Dog
Andre the Giant pinned Jim Duggan — match lasted less than three minutes.It was obvious that Andre was in awful health and could barely stand.

Father’s Day Epilogue
To this day, I can’t thank my dad enough for taking me to these events. We had a blast whether it was wrestling at Municipal, concerts at Starwood, and we still have a blast today when we attend Alabama football games and the SEC Championship Game every year in Atlanta.

Father’s Day hopefully gives you good memories of times you shared with your father. I sincerely apologize if it doesn’t. I can’t wait to build similar memories with my daughter and it’s memories like the ones I’ve written about and mentioned above that come to mind every Father’s Day.

I’m lucky to still have my dad. If you don’t, go make some great memories with your children so maybe one day they’ll remember the dumbest things about the time you spent together (like buying coffee for masked men in street clothes). If you don’t have children, find a nephew, cousin, or child out there looking for a big brother or a father figure. A memory made by spending a three-to-five hour window of time together can last a lifetime.

Maybe one day 30 years from now that kid will sit at his or her computer and write 3,000 words about a memory like it occurred yesterday.

 

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5 Comments

  1. Lou P. says:

    Great write-up — I went to several WWF shows at Municipal Auditorium shows circa 1990. You didn’t by chance see Flair vs. Steamboat for the NWA Title there in 1989, did you? Sadly I didn’t, but my buddy Josh did, and he hasn’t let me forget seeing one of the all-time classic matches in person.

    I did get to see Flair vs. Hogan there in 1992 though, which was pretty cool.

    • Eric Taylor says:

      I saw Flair there in the WCW days of NITRO. I missed that Flair-Steamboat match. That was possibly the best match ever… Next to Steamboat-Savage in Wrestlemania III.

  2. Dirk Hoag says:

    As a kid back in Detroit we used to go to Cobo Arena (which makes Joe Louis Arena look like a 21st-century marvel) for “Raslin’”, which is what the hand-written sign on the ticket window said.

    There’s nothing quite like getting close ringside seats on the aisle, is there? We did that once, and I got to slap Andre the Giant’s hand on his way into the ring. He was every bit as colossal in real-life as he appeared on TV.

  3. Darlene says:

    Love this story Eric. I laughed in so many spots as I imagined you as a youngster and experiencing these events.

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