Sure, it's en vogue to cheer for the Rays these days. But who was rooting for them back in the era of Wilson Alvarez and Vince Naimoli?
Knobbs and the Hulkster, that's who.
Hulk Hogan and wrestling buddy Brian "Nasty Boy" Knobbs have been fixtures at Rays games for years, popping up in customized jerseys to pump up players in the clubhouse and fans via the video scoreboard.
During the Rays' raucous win to clinch a playoff spot on Sept. 20, tbt* sneaked up to the Jim Bunning suite at the Trop for a word with the wrestling legends about Knobbs' blond Mohawk, Joe Maddon's wine collection and the Rays' mind-boggling 2008 season.
You guys have been wearing Rays colors since before it was cool, back when they were green and purple. Have either of you seen a crowd like this?
Hulk: Yeah, a bunch of times. You see this crowd all the time in wrestling. Nice to see it here, brother.
Knobbs: Winning brings a lot of good stuff to the community, and just to see that the people are embracing the Tampa Bay Rays, it's been a long, hard road for us. Eleven years. And now we're here, doing our thing, and everybody's gathering around, and look at the stadium today — I mean, it's awesome. Sold out, can't ask for anything better. The fans — that's what it's all about.
You guys are really the face of the franchise, in terms of famous fans who come to Rays games. What's that been like this season?
Hulk: Pretty cool, brother. The weird part is how nice everybody is, how nice the Tampa Bay fans are. They were even nice to the Boston fans the other day. I was surprised. It was cool.
Knobbs: Me and Hulkster are loving it, because we've got a bunch of fighters here. We don't have no major stars. One of our major stars goes down, like Carl Crawford, and there's somebody in that dugout to pick them up and go kick some butt, man. It's a real good team spirit. Me and Hulkster have been down to the clubhouse to rile all the guys up. They were all asking Hulk and me, are we coming today? And what'd we say, Hulk?
Hulk: Oh, yeah.
Knobbs: We wouldn't miss it for the world, man.
Obviously, they're rocking your Mohawk, too. What's it like having the team copy the Brian Knobbs special?
Knobbs: (laughs) It's an honor. Everybody goes, "They're copying your hairstyle!" But I've had mine for the last 22 years. I've been keeping mine this way. But I think it's great. It just shows you how much team spirit there is.
Hulk: The players' wives should do it, too.
Uh, yeah, see how many of them take you up on that.
Knobbs: (laughs) I read that one of them — was it Kazmir? — was saying it's like a high school atmosphere. Everybody's into it. That's what's great. And also, don't forget about the No. 1 guy, our nutty professor, the skip, Joe Maddon. That wine, late at night after games — I think it's doing some good.
Hulk: I couldn't believe how many bottles of wine he had in his office last night! We broke in when he wasn't there. He had wine racks and wine bottles everywhere — in between his trophies and baseball gloves and pictures.
Knobbs: I hope he don't find out that me and Hulk snuck one of those bottles out of there. (laughs)
This team's got almost a wrestling atmosphere around it. You've got the Mohawks, you've got the cowbells — it seems like there's something really electric about them.
Hulk: There's no attitudes. You don't see players come in with a whole entourage. I was around a lot of basketball players back in the day, and baseball players, like the Yankees. They'd come rolling in with a whole entourage, the jewelry and the cars. Here, they're just like normal people, which is cool.
Are you guys planning to come to as many playoff games as you can?
Knobbs: Yes sir, yes we are. We are stoked up. I've been saying since April, if we start winning, you'll see our fans come out. When we start winning, the community gathers around the team to support them, and says, "Let's go kick some butt!"
Hulk: Yeah. This team is destined to be a champion. It shows through the fans.