17 March 2010
For most Americans, Super Bowl Sunday is the biggest weekend event of the year. In this instance, I’m not most of America. While I love Super Bowl Sunday (due in no small part to the fact my mother annually makes at least a week’s worth of lasagna) there is another one-Sunday-a-year tradition that has defined my entire life.
After all, me and the event, we’re the same age. On May, 14, 1985, I turned one full-year old. I don’t remember it, obviously, but about six weeks before this an entire billion-dollar industry was about to explode into popular culture. The days of bingo halls and smoky basements weren’t gone, not for a couple years, but things were changing and looking back, it really is remarkable how far we’ve come.
It’s been called a lot of things. “The grandaddy of them all” is one of my personal favorites. When it (and I) turned three and I had formed the ability to assemble sentences it set the record for the largest attendance to an indoor sporting. Ever.
I’m talking about Wrestlemania – an event that created an industry. An event that used to cost $30 on pay per view and now costs more than $60 in HD. An event that pulls in celebrities and celebrates the magnificent spectacle that is pro wrestling.
A lot of people, they have this stereotype of wrestling fans. Guys in their 40s, living in their parents’ basements, collecting action figures (they’re not dolls) and of course, living a painfully solitary life. But like most stereotypes, there are a million exceptions to this rule. Like me, I’m a college educated guy who spends his days serving The Fourth Estate and reading Melville. I stopped collecting action figures when I was 12, but I still get excited when someone takes a good, clean chair shot to the face. I get even more excited when it’s a barb-wire bat but ECW as we used to know it is gone.
I always did too. Which is why, when I found myself inside Seekonk Lechmere (yeah, Lechmere. It was that long ago) two days before Christmas 1990, I instantly spotted the new Wrestlemania Challenge video game on display.
I ran to my mother, I ran to my father, I don’t remember what I said but I made it clear I needed, not wanted, this game. My mom, I remember what she said. It was two days before Christmas. Way too late to get my message to Santa Claus. Sleigh was packed, reindeer gassed-up. Try again next year.
So, I did what most six-year-old kids would do. I asked my mother to buy it. It’s 20 years later and I still remember her response.
“We can’t buy that for you,” my mother said. “It’s thirty dollars.”
To a kid my age, 30 dollars was the equivalent of entire United States Treasury. Making matters worse, I had also spotted a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II the Arcade Game. The price? You guessed it. Thirty Washingtons.
I was crushed, quite simply. There’s not a lot going on in the world of a six-year-old and learning the one thing you want has come to your attention after Santa has gathered up all your free toys for the year...my God. Give me the Flinstone shaped, chewable anti-depressants.
There was just one, minor thing. For my entire life, I been blessed the two best parents I could ever ask for. In 1989, they bought the house I still live in today. At the time, it was something like $100,000 but my mom, she was the manager of a local Mom and Pop video store and my dad, he was still making his way up the ranks at a local costume jewelry manufacturer. When minimum wage was about five bucks an hour, $30 bought a week’s worth of food. On the type of money my parents were making, a $100,000 house was everything they could afford but everything we needed. It wasn’t much, but it was absolutely perfect for the growing Morse family and my parents, they worked day-in and day-out to make me and my sister as happy and comfortable as possible.
And leaving their son, their first born child, the family namesake without Wrestlemania Challenge on Christmas morning, well, my parents weren’t about to let that happen.
So after I had torn through all my gifts from Santa, which in retrospect probably totalled about a month-and-a-half of my parents combined salaries, my mother brought me one last box.
My hands, they trembled. This one, it didn’t say Santa on it. This one, it didn’t come with some “you better leave me milk-and-cookies” provision. Nah, this one said “Love: Mom and Dad.”
I knew what was in it before I tore a millimeter of wrapping paper and sure enough, there they were – both TMNT II and Wrestlemania Challenge.
And you know how I reacted? I threw both arms up in the air, a game in each hand and I exclaimed “Two thirty dollar video games!!!”
To be honest, there wasn’t a lot memorable about the game itself. It was hard like most NES games and eventually it got replaced with newer, fancier looking wrestling titles on newer, fancier looking systems.
But that Christmas, that moment of my life, I’ll never forget it. Ever. One of my only hopes in life is that sometime in the not-too-distant future, I can get my kid to throw up his arms like an Emmy statue, a film of total happiness on his face.
In the meantime, however, I’ll going to keep getting Wrestlemania every year on pay-per-view. This year, it’s on March 28. HBK versus Undetaker II.
Yeah baby. Maybe I can get my mom to make some lasagna.
By George Morse