Saturday Nights Were Special

Dateline Dallas (and Mineral Wells) TX - Anybody else out there remember Saturday Night Wrestling from the Sportatorium in Dallas back in the 1970s? You do??? Cheers! Read on. If not, read on anyhow for some sweet memories you might yet make...

So, I am checking FaceBook the other day and I see the note that one of my friends had become a fan of "Superstar" Billy Graham. (No, not the Billy Graham who was arguably the greatest preacher of the 20th century, but the one who was the electrifying, muscle-bound wrestler of the 1970's.) I followed the link to Superstar's FaceBook page and this flood of memories, long forgotten, came bubbling up from the deep, dark recesses of my brain.

Superstar Billy Graham

The images are grainy and a bit blurred, like old photos from a cheap camera. But they remain somewhat intact in my mental family photo album. It has been fun to rediscover them, shake off the dust, and sift through them again after all these decades.

I suppose I should begin at the beginning. Not the very beginning. Just the beginning of this particular page in the Strother family photo album...

It was circa 1974, and Dad was about to rock our world. I was at home alone when his Chevy pickup pulled into the pea gravel circle drive in front of our pale yellow, wood-framed house. Dad was laying on the horn.

I came charging out the front door, figuring he wanted me to unload groceries or mow that dadgum acre-sized lawn of ours. He didn't want either of those things. He wanted me to help him unload our new treasure.

Now, THAT is a TV!

That treasure was a Zenith  Trinitron® console color TV! We had never owned anything more than a little black and white TV with rabbit ears. We lived three miles outside of Mineral Wells, Texas and the only channels we could pick up were the three main Dallas/Fort Worth affiliates and a couple of their local channels...and only picked up those when the wind wasn't blowing adversely.

That new television - and the big, tall, adjustable antenna dad had professionally installed on the roof of our house - changed our family life. Suddenly, this whole new world of network programming was available. Dad's favorite programs were westerns like Gunsmoke and Big Valley or detective shows like Barnaby Jones or The Rockford Files.

But the thing I was most excited about - and the main reason dad had sprung for the TV - was that now I could watch NFL football (especially the Cowboys) every Sunday afternoon and Monday night during the football season, and I could even catch NCAA games on Saturday afternoons.

You see, prior to that purchase, I had spent practically every weekend away from home. I would go to my friends' houses to watch the games on their TVs. My Dad forever claimed that the main reason he bought the beautiful new Zenith was to keep his boy home sometimes.

Dad was never a football fan. He was into cars. I liked cars well enough, but I was a football junkie. Dad forced himself to sit down and watch the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday and - at least until his 10 o'clock bedtime - he even watched Monday Night Football with me. He didn't always stop down for the games, and I didn't mind. I knew it wasn't his bag.

Hee Haw!

We did find common ground, however, on Saturday night, a historically slow night for network TV. (It can also be a slow night for kids who don't yet drive.) Saturday night was special. It was the one night of the week Dad and I both loved every single thing on our TV. It started at 6 pm with Hee Haw, the hilarious country music and humor show featuring Buck Owens, Roy Clark, and the most beautiful girls to ever pop out of a cornfield and sing out, "Heeee Haaaw."

Following Hee Haw, we watched the Saturday Night Western Movie of the Week. Then came the nightcap, the coup de grace, the perfect ending to any week – Saturday Night Wrestling (which transpired on Friday night, but was tape-delay broadcast on Saturday) from the Sportatorium in Dallas.

Man! What fun.

This was long before the wrestling explosion that would grip the youth of the nation in the '90's. In the 1970's, wrestling was big, but it was regional. Different organizations operated in the various regions of the country. There was no bigger, no hotter hotbed for wrestling than that old, sweaty, barnlike edifice near downtown Dallas called the Sportatorium.

Such colorful characters as "Superstar" Billy Graham (the Hulk Hogan or The Rock of his era), Flying Red Bastien, Andre the Giant, and a host of others patrolled the canvas, issuing threats, settling old scores, and winning world championship titles.

Some of the combatants were evil and had to wear masks. Others were good and wore white shorts to prove it. All were entertaining. There were flying drop kicks, hammerlocks, death chokes, and, of course, the most famous and deadly maneuver of them all...Fritz Von Erich's Iron Claw.

Fritz Von Erich's Iron Claw

Dad and I laughed and cheered and jeered every match and every move. It was our time together. We both knew it was a lot of nonsense. That knowledge, however, never stopped us from loving the wrestlers we loved and despising the ones we despised.

(Sigh.) Precious memories. Some linger. Others pounce on you unexpectedly when you see a photo or hear a name – a blast from your past.

I guess the next time my wife and one of our daughters are watching yet another silly reality TV show together and choosing their favorite contestant and engaging in animated discussions about the contest, I will try and remember Saturdays nights with my dad...and not make such a fuss about them finding yet another silly show to watch together.

Maybe someday they will blog - or do whatever people will be doing thirty years from now to chronicle their lives - about American Idol, Hell's Kitchen or So You Think You Can Dance and how sweet it was to just be there with their mom.