Highlights from Bob Backlund’s Book: Part 1 (The Early Days)

When most people sit on the beach, they will read a book of fiction that will be escapist. But for me, I sat there and read Bob Backlund’s 2015 autobiography: “Backlund: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling’s World Champion”. As I’ve started to dive in and watch WWF footage from 1978-83, I was curious to get insight from the man who defined the era. This will be set up similarly to my series on Bret Hart’s outstanding book where I pull a quote and comment on it.

It is hard for me to have any respect for that man. I know that Erhardt ended up as a head coach with the New England Patriots and offensive coordinator with the New York Jets, but I just didn’t have any respect for the way he conducted himself, the way he treated his players at NDSU, or the way he unilaterally downplayed my NFL prospects.

I am not sure why I was surprised that Backlund wanted to play football growing up; it’s probably I’ve just never imagined him as anything but a wrestler. But this passage and story really jumped out at me because people know who Erhardt is and Backlund takes him to task. Erhardt was coach of the Patriots from 1979-81 and went 21-27, though the final 2-14 year in 1981 was plagued by bad luck and close losses. Given Backlund’s feelings, it is ironic that Erhardt was fired by Patriots owner Billy Sullivan for “being too nice of a guy.”

While a working knowledge of amateur wrestling certainly helped in professional wrestling by providing you with a catalogue of moves you could call upon to tell a story in the ring, or to protect yourself if you needed to, it was also important to remember that professional wrestling required a give and take in the ring that necessitated allowing your opponent to get the upper hand on you in a match. To me, that was one of the hardest adjustments!

One thing I liked about this book is that he would go into these brief thoughts like this, probably for anyone who hasn’t watched wrestling in a very long time. There are people out there who watched in his era and stopped when Hogan came along because of the cartoony stuff. This also struck me as odd because one critique of some Backlund matches is that he took too much of the offense, though he provides one hell of an explanation coming up for one of those matches: against Stan Hansen in 1981. Stay tuned on that.

Before our conversation was finished, Terry [Funk] gave me his phone number and told me to call him when I was ready to make a move. It was the first meaningful contact I made in the wrestling business—and, as will become clear as you read on, it turned out to be a really important one.

Terry Funk made a huge impact in Backlund’s early career because he took a liking to Bob’s style, and eventually “rescued” Backlund from the obscure Tri-States promotion and brought him to Amarillo to work for him and the rest of the Funk family.

Terry Funk made me that day. Why? Because Terry Funk was the master of crowd psychology.

When he got to Amarillo, Funk and Backlund did a TV match that ran to a time limit draw in an effort to get Backlund over because Terry was the top guy in the territory. And it worked like gangbusters. Funk knew how to make Bob an underdog that the crowd in Amarillo would get behind.

There was always a little bit of tension between Stan [Hansen] and me about that because he literally grew up in that territory, and yet I came in there and got the push. That deep-seeded animosity would eventually boil over in 1981 when Stan came to the WWF for a series of matches with me at Madison Square Garden over the WWF title.

There was more animosity between Backlund and Stan Hansen dating to that point for the reasons outlined. It’s not the reason why Backlund took too much offense in the cage match with Hansen; it was more other people who suggested it to Bob who took the idea and ran.

In the ring, [Mil] Mascaras always wanted to shine, and consequently, he sometimes forgot about the obligatory ebb and flow of action that was necessary to create an emotionally entertaining match.

Backlund is not a fan of Mascaras. This book is very honest and I like how he takes people to task, but doesn’t go overboard and make it a hit piece on those he didn’t like. Similar stuff was said by Mick Foley in his first book. The problem to me is that Mascaras isn’t even entertaining as a “spot guy” anyway. He was always overpushed in the magazines and gave nothing in the ring and definitely caused his matches to suffer. I have no desire to ever watch his stuff. This guy wouldn’t even do a clean elimination at the 1997 Royal Rumble which is just ego out of control.

In Japan, we were always on a bus, and that forced you into the community on the bus, which I didn’t necessarily want to be a part of. For some people in the wrestling business, the camaraderie in the dressing room or on the bus was the entire reason they were in the business. Not for me.

Backlund didn’t totally isolate himself from the rest of the boys. He was at minimum friendly to everyone else, and would go out and have beers on occasion. But he was definitely not into the drug scene. He was very much like his babyface character. In Japan, the language barrier was an obvious factor.

“Hooking,” in other words, is just a part of being a shooter. You can’t be a shooter without being a hooker.

No comment, I just really like that line a lot.

Next time: Bob has a run-in with Jack Brisco that pisses him off, some info on how business was conducted in his day, Backlund is forced to shoot on a guy, and Harley Race is the fucking man.

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