Before professional wrestling appeared regularly on cable television, its main avenue into homes was nationally syndicated programming on weekend mornings. On these taped shows, it was rare to see stars go head-to-head. Instead, you saw "squash" matches in which an established wrestler would dominate some no-name who looked as though he had just been pulled from the local Gold's Gym.
This Sunday's Packers-Buccaneers game is the NFL's equivalent. In one corner, there's the 10-4 Green Bay Packers, who have made the playoffs five straight seasons and are led by one of the league's elite quarterbacks in Aaron Rodgers. In the other, there's the 2-12 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who have missed the playoffs seven straight seasons and have lost their best player — defensive tackle Gerald McCoy — to injury.
While Rodgers is coming off a stinker (185 yards, two interceptions) against the Buffalo Bills, Hans and Franz will ensure that he is plenty pumped up for the Buccaneers. With the Austrian bodybuilders at his side, the odds seem insurmountable.
But what if the Buccaneers had some help? Sometimes brains can overcome brawn, so I turned to former wrestler and current Largo resident Lanny "The Genius" Poffo, 59. Poffo, the poet laureate of the World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) during the 1980s, didn't have Hulk Hogan's 6-foot-8 frame or 24-inch pythons, but between the ears, he was over 10 feet tall and used his wit to frustrate opponents. Likewise, the Buccaneers don't have the weapons that the Packers do, so on Sunday they'll have to find some creative ways to level the playing field.
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Wrestling history is filled with football players who have successfully transitioned from the gridiron to the squared circle. Ernie Ladd, Wahoo McDaniel, Paul Orndorff (University of Tampa, 1969-1972), Sylvester "Junkyard Dog" Ritter, Hacksaw Jim Duggan, Tito Santana, Brian Pillman, Bill Goldberg, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson — all of them played professionally or were on the cusp.
"All the football players have done well (in wrestling)," Poffo says, "because the same discipline that it took to become great at one thing would carry over."
Less often, wrestlers trade their singlets for helmets, as Falcons receiver "Rowdy" Roddy White (a high school champion) did and as current WWE champion Brock Lesnar tried to do in 2004 when he played for the Minnesota Vikings during the preseason.
Whether it's scoring points, pressuring the quarterback or limiting penalty flags, the Buccaneers could use a few tag team partners, and Poffo has some for them to consider.
Technician: Cowboy Bob Orton Jr.
In 1985, Orton suffered a legitimate broken forearm and, like Gerald McCoy earlier this season, continued to compete while wearing a cast. Orton, though, wore the cast for an extended period and used it to bludgeon opponents when the referee wasn't looking. While underhanded, Orton was also an excellent in-ring technician, one of the best Poffo says he's even seen.
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The two squared off at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto in April 1986, when Poffo was wrestling as good guy Leaping Lanny.
"We tore the house down with just scientific wrestling," Poffo says. "When I got back to the locker room, everybody's congratulating me. And I'm thinking to myself, 'All I did was listen to the maestro.' He was so good that he made me look good."
Disciplinarian: Sgt. Slaughter
After committing 13 penalties against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 30, the Buccaneers have committed just nine penalties over their past two games. Still, only the Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills have been flagged more often this season.
How are those teams able to overcome the penalties? 1.) They have more talent and depth. 2.) Each rank in the top 10 in turnover differential (Bills, +10; Seahawks, +8; Broncos, +6). The Buccaneers, meanwhile, have turned the ball over more (31 times) than anyone except the Philadelphia Eagles (34) and own the third-worst turnover differential (-10). The Packers, by the way, have the league's best turnover differential (+15).
Discipline is one of the hallmarks of a successful football team, and Sgt. Slaughter, with his championship pedigree and convincing authoritarian appearance, is the man to instill it.
Big man: Andre the Giant
The Buccaneers placed McCoy on injured reserve this week and tackle Clinton McDonald was limited in practice Wednesday, so it's possible three-fourths of the defensive line that started the season will be on the sideline Sunday. The only lineman left standing is Michael Johnson, who has been one of the least productive 4-3 ends this season, according to Pro Football Focus statistics. His 24 pressures (quarterback sacks, hits and hurries combined) are tied for second-fewest among 4-3 ends who have played at least 275 passing snaps (The Bengals' Robert Geathers has 19).
If only the Eighth Wonder of the World were available. His 40 time might not impress, but there's not an offensive lineman in the game who could punch the 7-foot-4, 520-pound Andre and drive him off the ball.
As feared as he was in the ring, he was just as beloved backstage.
Poffo on his breakthrough with Andre: "It was December 28, 1985. We're in the locker room in Buffalo (during a snowstorm). They don't close Buffalo. They're used to it. That's all they get. Andre's in the locker room, and Pat Patterson (a backstage manager and referee at the time) says, 'Look at Andre. Poor guy. He's going to be in this locker room for several hours, and he doesn't have a deck of cards.' That's all he liked to do, was play cards in the dressing room. That's how he passed the time. Now he's just bored. So I go upstairs to where the groupies are. I found a girl and I gave her $10, and I asked her to go get Andre a deck of cards and said 'I can't leave.' So she came back, snow all over her, she got the deck of cards for him. I went downstairs, and Andre's sitting there. I said Andre, 'Voila!' And he goes, with a little tear, 'Merci beaucoup, monsieur!' And he kisses my face, both sides. And from that day forward I was 'bossman' — that's what he called you if he liked you."
One wrestler you wouldn't want lining up next to you: the 6-foot-4, 390-pound Bam Bam Bigelow. He never washed his tights, Poffo says. "He smelled like ammonia."
All-around competitor: Randy "Macho Man" Savage
A 2-12 season would have the two-time WWE and four-time World Championship Wrestling champion wild-eyed and foaming at the mouth. One of the most intense competitors of his time, Savage was relentless, Poffo says.
"There's nothing he couldn't do," he says of his late brother. "Best interview, best appearance, best costume, most bang for your buck. Nobody wanted a refund. He gave and he gave and he gave. And he was never satisfied with his performance. When I said, 'I don't think the fans want a refund,' he said, 'That's not good enough. It could always be better.' "
Despite his reputation as one of the best to ever lace up a pair of wrestling boots, one honor has eluded Savage: the WWE Hall of Fame. Savage's wish was to be inducted with his father, Angelo, and his brother, but Poffo says he's not going to win a staring contest with WWE chairman Vince McMahon, so if that's the obstacle, "I'm not holding it up."
"The Hall of Fame belongs to the fans, and they deserve to have the Macho Man in the Hall of Fame," he says.
Motivational speaker: The Genius (of course)
As this forgettable season comes to a merciful close, Poffo offers Robert Service's inspirational prose:
"The man who can fight to heaven's own height is the man who can fight when he's losing."
Contact Thomas Bassinger at email@example.com. Follow @tbassfootball.