Who's your favorite player?
For traditional sports, the answer to that question for most people is pretty easy. You know who your favorite football, baseball or basketball player is, and you know the reasons why. His career is a collective body of work that defines him, and your love for that athlete is usually for the totality of his work.
Professional wrestling is just different. It's sports entertainment where the "players" are actors as much as they are athletes, so to answer the question "Who's your favorite wrestler?" is a little more complex.
At least, it is for me.
The answer to the "Who is your favorite wrestler?" question probably has two answers, one the equivalent of naming your favorite actor, and a second that would be more like answering "Who's your favorite television character of all time?" Think of it this way -- my favorite actor of all time is probably Robert De Niro, and my favorite television character is probably Tony Soprano.
Along those lines, my favorite "wrestler" in the "actor" sense is probably Mick Foley, who played about a half dozen different characters magnificently for WWE and other wrestling companies. My favorite "wrestler" in the "character" sense was probably "Rowdy" Roddy Piper's heel-and-then-brash-babyface character between the years of 1984 and 1987.
(I hope to God the last five paragraphs made sense to you, and frankly, if they didn't, you probably didn't click on this post anyway, so there.)
When it came to riling up a crowd, stirring up shit, and just being a generally entertaining, caustic and at times evil nuisance, nobody did it better than Piper at his best, and he never did it on a bigger stage than when he first arrived in the then-WWF in early 1984, during Vince McMahon's initial foray into expanding his brand nationally.
People seem to remember the first Wrestlemania card for Hulk Hogan and Mr. T, but without the perfect villain off whom to play, that card doesn't sell nearly as prolifically as it did, and given what McMahon had riding on it (pretty much all his financial chips were in the middle of the table), who knows how or even if WWE exists today. Certainly, history is rewritten differently.
So Roddy Piper was important. Important to wrestling history, important to the business at the time, important to my childhood.
Well, Roddy Piper turned 60 late last week. This makes me feel old. It also gives me a reason to post old YouTube videos of Piper's Pits, the short live interview segments that ran on WWF weekly television back in the day and served as the launching point for some of the most important angles in company history.
If you're putting together a list of the most memorable moments in WWE history, you don't get out of the Top 10 without at least two or three old "Pits." So, to honor one of the truly great television characters of all time, here are the five most important Piper's Pits of all time:
(DISCLAIMER: Since this is totally my opinion, I'm allowed to do these sorts of things, but in putting this list together, I immediately eliminated any "special" editions of Piper's Pit when they would bring Piper back on a "one night only" basis. Those don't count. The same way the Brady Christmas specials and Brady wedding specials don't count as real episodes of The Brady Bunch. Also, I didn't include any Pits that occurred in the middle of the ring in, say, Madison Square Garden. To me, the only Pits eligible for discussion are the ones that ran on the makeshift set at 35 minutes past the hour every Saturday morning from February 1984 through March 1987. I will not debate this with you, so save it.)
FRANKIE WILLIAMS, March 1984 Since most of us in the Northeast in early 1984 only knew Piper through the wrestling magazines, Piper was still in the process of familiarizing the traditional WWF audience with his character. So what better way to get him over as a monster villain than to invite one of the Saturday morning jobbers (wrestling parlance for "guys who lose all the time in order to make the stars look like stars") into Piper's Pit and beat the living shit out of him, right? And as the WWF roster in 1984 went, nobody was a bigger jobber than Frankie Williams. At that time, the only person less equipped to defend himself from Piper's onslaught was probably 80-something ring announcer Joe McHugh. So you know how this went...
When my brothers and I are mad at each other, to this day, we still say we "have no room for nobody." Thank you, Frankie! (Also, if this angle ever went down in 2014, WWE would have a hard time running one of those anti-bullying ads in the same show. Just saying.)
JIMMY SNUKA, Summer 1984 This was perhaps the most seminal wrestling moment for anyone born between the years 1967 and 1975. When Jimmy Snuka made his first appearance on Piper's Pit, Piper spent the entire five minutes making fun of him and not allowing him to speak. Actually, anyone who heard Snuka speak back in those days would probably argue Piper did Snuka a favor. Snuka complaining about not being allowed to speak is like Dwight Howard complaining about not being sent to the foul line enough.
Anyway, Piper invited Snuka back for a chance to speak his mind a second time, but before doing so, he wanted to make Snuka feel welcome, which he did in typical Piper fashion -- by making racist jokes about bananas, palm trees and Polynesian women. Piper capped it off by cracking Snuka's head with a real coconut and burying him in the lumber that composed the makeshift set for the Pit. Hospitality!!
CYNDI LAUPER, Late 1984 To launch the run toward the first Wrestlemania, Vince McMahon needed mainstream help. Certainly, he got that from Mr. T and his involvement in the main event, but really the road to Wrestlemania started the fall before that with Cyndi Lauper's involvement establishing the "Rock and Wrestling Connection" and giving the WWF a platform on MTV (Hogan versus Piper popped a huge number on their network). The angle with Cyndi Lauper started with this Piper's Pit....
BATTLE AGAINST THE FLOWER SHOP, Fall 1986 Piper had taken a leave of absence in the summer of 1986, and while he was gone, the Saturday morning interview segment had been taken over by Adrian Adonis, whose character was now openly gay and loved flowers. Hence, The Flower Shop. Well, Piper returned (to thunderous applause, by the way -- the turn from villain to hero was well under way), expressed his disgust with Adonis (honestly, it was borderline gay bashing, but hey, 1986!) and took back his show. But not without getting the living shit kicked out of him by Adonis, Bob Orton, Don Muraco and Jimmy Hart...
This particular Pit launched a lot of stuff -- the next six months worth of angles between Piper and Adonis, which culminated at Wrestlemania 3 with Piper's retirement match, a match which was the launching point for Brutus Beefcake's face turn (go back and watch, too much to explain here), and a tag team partnership between Muraco and Orton. A LOT of shit going here.
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ANDRE HEEL TURN, January 1987 Speaking of Wrestlemania 3, on any list of "Most Important WWE Matches of All Time," you can't get past the top five without having Andre the Giant versus Hulk Hogan in the Silverdome. That angle, too, was launched on Piper's Pit....
Happy Birthday, Hot Rod! The bagpipes toll for thee!