Interviews (37)

Controversy and Professional Wrestling has always seemed to be married to each other; whether it is in a storyline, a locker room or a court room, it appears to be an inescapable fact that the industry will be forever laced with it, regardless of the era.

In the mid 1980’s, Wrestling was poised to enter its first boom period since the 50’s. The then named Connecticut based World Wrestling Federation was beginning its push to conquer the United States by signing top talent from other regional territories and running shows across country. Under the ownership of Vince McMahon Jr., the WWF was also expanding its television into markets that under the previous unspoken rules of wrestling promoters were not be crossed. Prior to McMahon, each promoter had their region and running a show outside of that area was frowned upon. This was not the only thing that was changing in the world of professional wrestling.
When people talk of U.S. Hockey, often the first image that comes to mind is the “Miracle on Ice” victory over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics. The “Miracle” was not an exaggeration, as this was a time when a player had to maintain amateur status to perform their country. Although many of the American group would go on to have productive careers in the National Hockey League, none of them at this point had ever played a shift of professional hockey and to say that they were overmatched on paper against a Soviet team that was considered to be the most talented group in the world is not an understatement by any stretch.

It wasn’t just a battle on ice between the two countries, as it had the undertones of Capitalism VS Communism, Youth VS Experience and David VS Goliath. The Americans were the vast underdog, not a position familiar to the United States in many forms of athletics. It was a story worthy of Hollywood; in fact Hollywood went there twice. It had the “Do you believe in miracles?” call by Al Michaels, possible the most perfect sentence in sports broadcasting. This may have taken place thirty two years ago, but its place in American sports history remains untarnished and remains an iconic moment.

Since that time hockey has taken an upswing in America. Granted, it is far from perfect; as it is no longer carried on ESPN and numerous NHL franchises in southern cities struggle to find a fan base in their respective cities. However, there have never been more talented American players than there are now. Internationally, the United States are a serious threat to win any championship they enter; a status that was far from true when they won in Lake Placid.

Bldg-Photo-2010U.S. Hockey has come a long way since the 1980 Winter Olympics, and as such the United States Hockey Hall of Fame has grown along with it. Officially opening in 1973 in the small town of Eveleth in Northeastern Minnesota, the institution has created a place where young Americans who lace up the skates endeavor to finish their career.

We had the opportunity to chat with the Executive Director of the Hall, Doug Palazzari, who himself was a former seven year NHL player with the St. Louis Blues and is also an inducted member to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. Doug shared with his thoughts on American hockey, its future, and the wonderful institution that he oversees.

 

The United States Hall of Fame is located in a very small town in Northeastern Minnesota. I know in doing my research that Eveleth appears to be a very appropriate place for the Hall with the history that took place there. Was there any pressure to put it in a larger city, such as Minneapolis, which would still allow it to be in a hockey state like Minnesota?

Eveleth-Exhibit-Case-1“Back in the late 60’s it was put out around the country for communities to bid on. Eveleth was chosen for a number of reasons, of course being its rich tradition and history in hockey. So many great players came from here, like Sam LoPresti who holds the record for the most saves in a regulation NHL game when he made eighty saves in a 3-2 loss against the Boston Bruins. In goal for Boston that night was Frank Brimsek who was also from here and he won the Vezina two times. In 1938 when the Chicago Black Hawks won the Stanley Cup, their goalie was Mike Karakas who was also from Eveleth. There is so much history here, they have had hockey here since the late 1800’s. Certainly there was great hockey in the East, and in Michigan, but Eveleth was chosen, and I think rightfully so.

There were issues later on. Some people had the notion that it would be a good idea to move the institution to a larger metropolitan area, however saner minds prevailed. We have a beautiful museum here, particularly in the summer time. We get visitors from all over the United States and Canada, and I think it is the right place. We are doing very well at the moment.”

Do you think that having it in a small town gives it a Cooperstown feel in a way?

“I think there are some things lacking in terms of Cooperstown in that we don’t have the induction ceremony here. However in terms of being a major attraction in a small rural area, yes we are very similar.”

Evolution-Tunnel-1I would like your take on this. I can argue that in the last twenty five years that no other country has improved in Hockey more than the United States; not just internationally in competition but in terms of the high talent they provide to the professional ranks. Granted, they are not on ESPN anymore, but the hockey audience in the States is a loyal one, and it has made some solid inroads in many different communities. With that said, the U.S. is one of five countries (Canada, Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic) that can legitimately look at any competition and feel that anything other than Gold is a disappointment. How strong are the Hall’s ties to the international game? I sense that is a very strong one. What is the main relationship that you have with U.S. Hockey?

“Obviously we are very close with U.S.A. Hockey. At this point they control the induction and the ceremony. They have the committee that chooses those who are going to be enshrined. They were actually instrumental in starting this facility. Of course, our goal here is to make sure that we honor those who are inducted in the best way possible. U.S.A. Hockey is of course the national governing body for the sport, and we are hand in hand with them. The International side is very important, and we are here to sell great American hockey. We have had some wonderful success over the years, and as you said we are certainly competitive on all levels of hockey. We also recognize all the great American players in the past and the corresponding accomplishments. This includes the 1960 Gold Medal and the 1980 Gold Medal Team and the 1998 Women’s Gold Medal Team.”

Womens-Hockey-Exhibit-3I would like to touch on that last point. I believe your Hall of Fame predated the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto by inducting a female by inducting Cammi Granato in 2008.

“I think that was just wonderful. She is a deserving selection for the Hall of Fame. I was very proud of the committee and U.S.A. Hockey with that decision.”

I noticed that your museum puts a lot of focus on the 1980 Olympic Team. Personally speaking, I went to Lake Placid and took my wife to the site of the “Miracle on Ice”. She is an immigrant from a non-hockey playing country and I explained to her the significance of the event, and shortly thereafter the Kurt Russell film, “Miracle” came out. It is story that still resonates thirty two years later. When you are at the museum, you see many children and young adults who were not around in 1980, but are taught the historical importance of the event. Is this something that you can see lasting for generations to come?

“It’s funny how time goes by. Yes, there are kids who come in and aren’t aware of it, but most have some idea, usually from the different movies they have seen. It’s been a long time, but I think it’s going to live on even longer. What Herb Brooks and those young players did was conquer the impossible. Twenty years earlier in Squaw Valley, the team that won there has been forgotten, and that was a great accomplishment as well.”

Gold-Medal-Video-Area-2True, but 1960 did not have Al Michaels’ signature call.

“It doesn’t get any better than that. I don’t think that call will get old to anybody who loves American Hockey.”

Well, not just American Hockey. Who doesn’t like the underdog story?

“I think there was the political climate that played into it too. You’re right, the hockey world is dialed in to that event.”

Where do you see U.S. Hockey in the future?

“I think it is very important to keep growing the game. Our game has grown substantially and many years ago it was a regional sport in Massachusetts, Michigan and Minnesota; but with the expansion of the National Hockey League and the growth of the many Minor Leagues has added a lot of growth in non-traditional hockey markets. It is become very competitive. We are getting talent from all places now. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done and new avenues that need to be explored. We have a great sport but there a lot of options for athletic youngsters in this country. We really need to find a way to make the game more affordable, and with it being such a time consuming activity, it is difficult for families where both parents work, as most households are. I think that these are the issues that have to be addressed for the numbers of young players to improve throughout our country.

We have to improve in non-traditional areas because our growth has been stagnant in our traditional ones. We have to find a way to reach more and more kids. But there is an attitude now in the United States that when we enter a tournament, we are there to win. We are confident that we have the athletes to do that, and that is what our players feel when they put on that USA jersey.”

When someone is selected to the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame who gives the new inductee the phone call?

“That comes from U.S.A. Hockey. They are completely in charge of the process and the call. They have a committee of fourteen. Anyone can nominate someone who has made significant contributions to the game in the United States, and the committee will review them accordingly. I am glad I am not on that committee as those decisions keep getting tougher will all the great players who will be eligible soon!”

The group that will be inducted this year is a very good class. Mike Modano was a perennial All Star.

“It will get harder and harder to get into the Hall of Fame with all the talent coming up. By that token it shows how far American hockey has come. I do want to say that we recognize International individuals as well. We have the Gretzky Award, which of course he was the first recipient of it. That’s given periodically to the International individuals who have made a major contribution to the growth and advancement of hockey in the United States. This year, Murray Costello will be given that award. Certainly, Murray has an incredible influence not just in Canadian hockey but on International aspects as well. When you look at our American hockey since our inception you see that we have had great Canadian influence in our game. It is a struggle to reach Canada’s level, we don’t feel we are there yet, but we feel we are pretty darn close.”

But at the same time it is not something that you necessarily have to do. It is like the growth of soccer in both your country and mine. Twenty years ago it would seem impossible for the U.S. to win the World Cup. Twenty years from now it seems like it could happen.

“There is no question about it. Every sport wants to convince youngsters that their sport is the best.”

But everything starts at the grass root level. How many young kids in the States looked at the ’80 Olympic team and said I want to be the next Neal Broten, or Jim Craig or Mike Eruzione? And how many young girls a decade ago wanted to be Cammi Granato? Winning is that toxin that just makes everyone want to go the next level.

“Youngsters definitely emulate their role models. One thing that we have to work on is getting more minority participation in hockey. I know we have made strides in those regards, but we need to reach out to those communities with more participation in ice hockey”

Does the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame have a working relationship with the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto?

“We don’t really have a great deal of interaction with the Hall of Fame in Toronto, but we do have a wonderful relationship. Certainly we have great respect for the Hall in Toronto. It is an outstanding tribute to our sport, but we are not competitors. We are two different entities. We are supportive of them and they are supportive of us.”

DSCN0355Where do you see the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in twenty years?

“You look at different Halls of Fames; the International Ice Hockey Federation has a Hall of Fame, but not a physical structure where people and come and celebrate and remember. Next month we are going to start a new exhibit on the WHA. They (the WHA) have a Hall of Fame, but they don’t have an actual building. We feel that the WHA helped get a lot of Americans exposure to hockey and helped a lot of American players and coaches start their career. We want to do that for them.”

I would go there just to see the old jerseys!

“We have one coming in from the Minnesota Fighting Saints. We will have about four different ones coming in our display. I think also you don’t want to induct someone into the Hall and then forget about them. We want to pay forever a tribute to those who have contributed to American hockey and we want the people to enjoy the history and remember the people and celebrate the heritage that is American Hockey.
Under the persona of Kamala “The Ugandan Headhunter” James Harris entertained crowds around the world. Whether it was in large arenas in the then named World Wrestling Federation or in smaller venues for regional promotions, Kamala was a character that fans paid money to see.
Recently I had the honor of interviewing Jerry Kramer, the former Offensive Guard for the Green Bay Packers in the 1960’s. I want to put a strong emphasis on the word honor, because it was an incredible privilege to talk to a man with the accomplishments of Jerry Kramer.

Jerry Kramer 1I am not just referring to his vast accomplishments on the gridiron; among which includes five NFL Championships, two Super Bowl Rings, being named to the NFL 50th Anniversary and 1960’s All Decade team and delivering the most famous block in history in the famed “Ice Bowl” against the Dallas Cowboys. It was not just a genuine legend of the game that I spoke too, and the man that we name as the most worthy player who is not yet in the Football Hall of Fame; as that only a snapshot of who Jetty Kramer is.

Gregg Zaun

In the mid 80’s it was the Blue Jays and not the Maple Leafs that dominated the Toronto sports scene. The Leafs were a pitiful franchise that decade and the fans North of the Border were more intrigued with an improving baseball team that was assembling the pieces for multiple playoff appearances.

Gregg Zaun 1They had an outfield that the Canadian media dubbed the “Best Outfield in Baseball, consisting of 1987 MVP George Bell, Jesse Barfield and Lloyd Moseby. They had one of the top aces of the American League in Dave Stieb and a slick hitting Shortstop in Tony Fernandez. It was a collection of All Stars that gave a city a sporting pride that the national sport of hockey wasn’t able to provide. Despite this collection of talent, for many Jays fan it was a platooning Catcher who was their favorite.
As the co-owner of Notinhalloffame.com, I can legitimately say that Halls of Fame have crossed my mind on a daily basis for the past two years. It is not just the running debate as to who should be in each one, as our site’s name would suggest, but its complete story. This goes much further than just a list of who is inducted and who is left out; rather it is a composite look at the institution’s history, facility, interactive nature and commitment to the future.

NASCAR 1Assumptions would be that Halls of Fame would naturally seek to strive in all of those categories, but alas this is not always the case, and certainly not the standard of all of the institutions we discuss on a regular basis. For example, the Hockey Hall of Fame, while striving to be as interactive with visitors as possible, struggles with the limitations of their physical Hall.   The Baseball Hall of Fame, while considered to be the most respected Hall of all the sports, has an impressive view of its past, yet lacks focus on its future. The Football Hall of Fame has no interactive component and the WWE Hall of Fame does not even have a physical structure to call its own.
In the fall of 1983 there were no monthly Pay Per Views in Professional Wrestling. The matches that were shown on regular television were predominantly top stars against enhancement talent. This was by design, as promoters believed that if fans wanted to see top wrestlers compete against each other it would have to be at the arena. This was actually a logical business model for 1983, as it was the live ticket gate that dictated the bulk of the revenue at the time.
Like many wrestling fans, the first time I saw Marty Jannetty was in the American Wrestling Association, where he was one half of the Midnight Rockers with Shawn Michaels.  At this stage of his career, Jannetty had already been wrestling for a few years in smaller regional promotions and had a successful amateur wrestling background in High School, but I was oblivious to those facts.  What I saw was a tag team that I viewed as a rip off of an existing duo called the Rock and Roll Express, who was a very successful tandem in the National Wrestling Alliance.
Visually, it was easy to make that initial comparison.  Both teams came out to Rock and Roll Music (not common in the late 80’s), both were relatively undersized, both had similar ring attire and both featured one wrestler who had blond hair and a teammate with brown.  As a fourteen year old teenage boy who was in a stage in life where success with the opposite sex was sadly a mystery, identifying with a pair of good looking twenty-somethings who drew the screams of every girl in the audience (seemingly regardless of age) was difficult.

Interviewing professional wrestlers is an enjoyable benefit of running this website.  Normally, the excitement would center on questions on their in ring careers and backstage stories.  This was not the case when we spoke with former ECW and WWE Diva, Dawn Marie; for although she worked with some of the iconic stars of Extreme Championship Wrestling and performed for two and a half years for Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment it was her post wrestling career that we were anxious to discuss with her.

On August 25, 2011, the New York Yankees made baseball history by becoming the first team to ever hit three grand slam home runs in one game.  Many people that day would have heard that future Trivial Pursuit question on the radio or maybe by watching Sportscenter.  On that day, I got that information from the person sitting next to me who received the news over his I-Phone.  The person who shared the news of the Yankees accomplishment with the exuberance of a ten year old boy who had just gone to the see his first Major League Game.  That person was the man who has more hits than anyone else in Baseball history, Pete Rose.

I remember as a kid pouring through the statistics on the back of hockey cards.  They were fairly simple back then as there were no numbers beyond Games Played, Goals, Assists, Point and Penalty Minutes to look at.  They say that numbers never lie, but numbers never tell the whole story.  It was natural to look at those with the high points tallies from the year before, or the twenty year veteran whose annual stats were printed so small that even eight year old eyes had to squint to see them.  Each one of those players I studied for hours on that 1980-81 O-Pee Chee set took different paths to the National Hockey League and each athlete took on different roles to excel there.  A generation later, a new era of statistical analysis has emerged.  Constant exposure to media has pulled back the curtain of traditional numbers and appreciation of players who could do the little things that could help win games emerged.  We here had notinhalloffame had the pleasure of speaking with Tyson Nash; one of those unsung heroes whose career cannot be judged by a quick look at a hockey card.

Every day at our website we debate those who we feel should be considered for potential Hall of Fame induction in their respective fields.  With the vast majority of names we list, cases could be made against those enshrinements.  With Jerry Kramer, the number one selection on our second annual football list, we feel strongly that there is no argument against his place in Canton.

It is virtually impossible to watch WWE programming without seeing a second (or even third) generation performer.  As of this writing, thirteen members of the current roster have a parent who competed as a professional wrestler, and there is a lot of indication that this number will grow.  Florida Championship Wrestling (the training ground for the WWE) has many more second generation sports entertainers waiting to continue the legacies put forth by their parents.

Nash the Slash

Regular followers of our website know that one of our regular themes is challenging just what the actual definition of Rock and Roll is.  It is one thing for us to discuss this topic, but quite the other to actually do it.  Recently, we had the pleasure of interviewing Nash the Slash, who despite eschewing conventional Rock wisdom managed to become an International star.

Recently I had the pleasure of having a brief chat with Mick Foley, a man who is held in high regard among wrestling fans worldwide.    Foley achieved his greatest success in the ring for World Wrestling Entertainment as “Mankind” where he would hold their World Heavyweight Championship on three occasions and was one of the top draws during the “Monday Night Wars”.  This was a period in which the wrestling business was booming and routinely generated television ratings that were the envy of other cable programming.  Although this was the period of his greatest television exposure, Mick Foley was a star to many wrestling fans long before that.

Rick Martel

Like so many, I started watching Professional Wrestling in 1984.  At that time Vince McMahon was deep in the process of taking his company National, and turning both the World Wrestling Federation and his biggest star, Hulk Hogan into household names.  As I fell in love with the pageantry and spectacle of the industry I wanted to learn as much of it as I could.","Like so many, I started watching Professional Wrestling in 1984.  At that time Vince McMahon was deep in the process of taking his company National, and turning both the World Wrestling Federation and his biggest star, Hulk Hogan into household names.  As I fell in love with the pageantry and spectacle of the industry I wanted to learn as much of it as I could.  Back then, the easiest way to do that was by magazines, specifically the Pro Wrestling Illustrated series.  It was there I learned about the competition to the WWF, specifically the National Wrestling Alliance and the American Wrestling Association.  This allowed me to learn of names like Harley Race, Ric Flair, The Road Warriors and the man who was the AWA World Champion at that time, Rick Martel.  Little did I know that over twenty five years later I would have the chance to interview the man who would become the man who transformed himself into “The Model”, one of the top villains of the late 80’s and early 90’s for the WWF.

It isn’t every day that you get to speak to a legend.  Recently, we here at notinhalloffame.com had the opportunity to chat with Charles Connor, the original drummer for Little Richard.  Our conversation with Charles allowed us to speak to a man who was not only a witness to the birth of Rock and Roll, but also the man who created its engine.

Charles Connor

Charles Connor was born in the cradle of American Music, New Orleans, Louisiana, to a Creole mother and a Merchant Marine father from Santo Domingo.  Connor jokes that when his mother would walk by a funeral procession, he would “be kicking in the womb along with the music.”  Recognizing his talent at a young age (Connor earned money as a toddler tap dancing for white tourists), his parents bought him his first drum set.  Even when he was not at his set, Connor would literally bang out beats on whatever was in front of him.  This included school desks that drove teachers crazy, but Charles couldn’t resist the temptation as he “just loved the sound those hollow desks would make.”