Two very interesting figures of the WWWF, and of my wrestling fan memories as a youth, passed away recently. As a kid near Pittsburgh, there were dominant figures in the professional wrestling world, and there were also guys who were definitely part of the show.
Dick Woehrle and Chief Jay Strongbow were definitely big parts of the show.
Strongbow was a big fan favorite of the time. He was never the main event guy – we all know who ruled the Northeast on that level – but was the main event/headliner for the secondary clubs in the region. I’m told by a creditable source that he was there more as an attraction for the kids, as an attraction to get parents to come out with their kids.
Joe Scarpa played a wrestling character than is no longer in vogue these days … to say the least. The debate about the portrayal of Native Americans is long since passed, and does not need to be rehashed. Mascots, sports team names and even the professional wrestling industry have been most scrubbed of historical and not-so-historical monikers.
As “Chief Jay Strongbow”, Scarpa was a babyface who took on the bad guys, often won, sometimes lost by nefarious ways, and had a distinctive style.
Ironically, the “Sleeper Hold” of his era is in reality the “Rear Naked Choke” of the MMA era. Ironic, since chokes in wrestling were always illegal, and chokes in MMA are mostly always legal, and here we have one of the pro wrestling world’s most remembered babyfaces putting people to sleep, and I remember several angles where the heels complained about it being a choke, and it always came out that it wasn’t.
Yeah, those were the days.
Those were the days of the War Dance, the Tomahawk chops, the criss-crossing of the ropes and base-ball slides.
Those were the days of big feathered headdresses, those funky 70’s trunks, big moccasin boots and the proud, honorable Chief taking shot after shot, gearing up, getting irate, and moving into the circular War Dance from which Strongbow would pummel his opponent, setting up the eventual submission.
The Chief was one of the guys, as a kid, that you went out of your way to root for. It was the waning era of Cowboys and Indians, and for the most part, the Cowboys (Blackjacks for example) were the bad guys, and the Indians (if you allow me to use that problematic term for Native Americans), were the good guys.
Chief Jay Strongbow was on the level of guys like The Battman, Haystacks Calhoun and others – babyfaces of the upper card of the then WWWF of the era. Much more character than wrestler, and also more oriented to the younger audience.
My memories of Strongbow are nostalgic, fond, fun.
Over the years, Joe Scarpa has had some stories and some shots to his reputation. I’m not one for dredging up such stuff at the time of his passing, and choose instead to remember him and an era when wrestling was fun.
Dick Woehrle was another prominent figure of the time.
The concept of a no-nonsense referee is almost as passé these days as dressing up an Italian as a Native American….
But is vastly more missed.
Woehrle was the guy you wanted to see in the ring if the latest, meanest, biggest bad guy was running rampage over the WWWF. He was no-nonsense, tough, strict and while he could be played like any other referees in a tag match, he was always considered on the ball, and more often than not had the proverbial ‘eyes in the back of his head’.
Strange as it may seem these days, but the fore-runner of the now WWE had a set of strong referees, and Woehrle was the leader. Not in the sense of being the guy to walk out because he’s fed up with HHH and his mismanagement, but in the sense of being the go-to guy.
Undoubtedly he was in the ring for most of the main events of the Bruno Sammartino era, and slapped the canvas more times than a vast number of guys in that role. Bruno had nothing but good things to say about Dick Woehrle, and has talked about him on several interviews over the past few weeks.
What I always liked about him as referee was the sense of control, of sticking to the rules and just that presence he had in the ring. He was a boxer, a boxing referee and then he expanded his repertoire into the vastly entertaining role as referee for professional wrestlng.
Ironically, despite the stand-up referee that he portrayed, he was also involved in the shenanigans, and especially with the midgets. Bob Shryock of the Gloucester County Times said that he “loved working with the midgets.” And while I’d rather pass by the image, he was once pinned by one.
Ok, I can admit it was funny, and just shows how a guy can be both a stand-up official and yet be colorful when it calls for it.
Shryock pointed out that Woehrle had a vanity license plate of “TV Ref”.
Can anything be more appropriate?
It’s too bad that referees over the years have been bigger and more noted as buffoons, as heels, as sideshows and as merely that guy running around in the ring, trying not to get stomped on.
Times change and roles in wrestling (tag team wrestler, lead announcer with credibility, silent owner, long time Champion) have faded into obscurity.
Maybe one day there will be another referee with the stature, the credibility and the understanding of the sport like Dick Woehrle.
Regardless, there are other longtime fans that miss that particular aspect of wrestling, and may always remember him slapping the canvas for the big win by the good guy over the villain.
That’s the seal of professional wrestling officiating that has faded away ever since Dick Woehrle stopped being an active part of the WWF way back in the 1980’s.