Ed McDaniel was a successful football player at the University of Oklahoma and in the AFL- not the NFL as so many stories have claimed. His crazy antics and distinctive nickname made him a local legend. He nailed a 91 yard punt in 1958, a school record.
His roots and experience in the upstart league, a media star in New York when Joe Willie Namath came on the scene, led a path to glory in the ring, to where he ranks overall as, I believe , the best all around native athlete of the second half century, and greatest Indian performer in the wrestling game possibly ever. And his ability to spot young talent and advance their careers is as deserving of recognition as his in-ring prowess.
When I tell you the Indian honoree of the first half was Olympian legend Jim Thorpe, that is lofty company.
His death in Houston was somehow fitting, as he was in the words of the late promoter Paul Boesch, the greatest draw in Houston wrestling history, the first to draw 4 consecutive sellouts to Sam Houston Colleseum.
My first memory of Wahoo McDaniel was in the 1965 Street and Smith's Pro Football Yearbook. This was the bible of football, when any other magazine was far inferior in giving accurate and detailed roster information, in depth analysis and predictions, action and posed photos- the covers are works of art in the yellow sidebar and black caption, and vivid action shots of Gayle Sayers, Bart Starr and later Walter Payton.
And there, 1 of maybe 3 Jets pictured, is Ed "Wahoo" McDaniel, a product of the great "coach Bud Wilkinson with the Sooners". His being featured like that was in the eyes of all fans of the sport of wrestling, proof of our sports legitimacy as the realm of tough real athletes. He was a real competitor, even at his hobby, as he was a scratch golfer. To native and non-native kids alike, McDaniel was a role model.
He then moved on to the expansion awful Miami Dolphins, I knew he was still wrestling but there were no cable shows, magazines, or exposure or exposing of the business. It was notable that Wahoo and Ernie Ladd were both so successful that they left football in their early 30's and made more money in wrestling than the AFL. Other AFL stars like Curley Culp and Jim Nance also wrestled in the off-season, but neither made the transition.
That time in the AFL gave Wahoo a bit of a liking to the underdog. He worked for smaller offices such as the NWF in Cleveland, and the Southwest office of Joe Blanchard that ran a world title tourney in Boesch's backyard in 1982 with Adonis, Orton, Jaggers, Terry Funk, etc. Not to mention the Amarillo office of his mentor, Dory Funk Sr.
I was already aware of his unreal feud with Johnny Valentine in Texas in 1969-70 from the rare magazines of the day. Wahoo came in to the AWA in 1971, in a period that Nick Bockwinkel has said was the greatest roster of all-time. And even there Wahoo was a standout. His bouts had takedowns, unique greco-roman exchanges, and besides his blistering chops he also used the abdonminal stretch as a finisher. He could wrestle.
The AWA used an all-time classic angle to propell Wahoo into a blood feud full of emotion against a tag-team specialist.
Wahoo and his partner, a very young Don Muraco met the Texas Outlaws. Muraco was posted in the second fall by Dick Murdoch, bloodied and KO'd, leaving Wahoo to work alone against the heels, when matchmaker Wally Karbo refused to allow Billy Robinson to substitute.
After taking a pounding for like 7 minutes, Wahoo upset Murdoch and Dusty Rhodes so viciously attacked Wahoo that fans across the midwest attended in droves to see revenge meted out.
Then it was on to a program with the charasmatic, huge and green Superstar Billy Graham. In this era, Graham was humiliating jobbers by beating them at arm wrestling, spouting poetry and then smashing them down in the match. One week Wahoo, while professing to not being an expert, said he would arm wrestle Graham. Of course when defeat loomed Graham suckered Wahoo and cracked his skull open with the stand.
In the 70's that was an outrageous act. Graham would taunt McDaniel, calling him "MAC-Daniels". The strap match blow-off set an attendance mark at the Winnipeg Arena. 11,343 squeezed into the building, many of them native fans who were so into Wahoo that a riot would have surely followed had he lost.
Wahoo teamed with Robinson, Muraco, Ramon Torres, and of course the Crusher over his AWA years. The 1974 AWA yearbook does not have a profile of Wahoo, but includes him in a section of photos of other spotshow headliners like Red Bastein, Blackjack Lanza and Dusty Rhodes, and enhancement talent like Rick Flair and a skinny Paul Perschmann (Buddy Rose).
The picture of Larry Heiniemi (Lars Anderson) shows him with a strap dangling from his left wrist as he launches a bloody Chief to the buckle.
The next page has pictures of woman's champion Vivian Vachon, Bob Bruggers, Bull Bullinski and again, a bleeding McDaniel. Not even 30 years later, and none of those 4 wrestlers are still alive...
Wahoo went on to the Mid-Atlantic wars. Wahoo brought a young Ric Flair to the Carolinas and when Johnny Valentine went down in the plane crash and Flair returned, a legend was born.
He won the Southern title in Florida from the Spoiler and lost to Dick Slater in 78, and when he returned to the AWA in the latter 70's he often fought Nick Bockwinkel for the crown. Classic battles.
I almost saw Wahoo live at the Convention Centre in 1979, when he was being brought in "from Atlanta" as a special partner for Greg Gagne against I think Bob Duncum and Stan Hansen. But as I recall he missed plan connections and was replaced by Billy Robinson in the match and Mad Dog Vachon in the angle.
He appeared in a great AWA TV angle in the old studio. With Lanza and "Mr. V" Jesse Ventura waiting, Jake Millimen's no-show partner was replaced with McDaniel. He pinned Lanza in the first fall and survived a triple-team assault replete with brass knuckles after the second fall. When Baron Von Raschke came to even the odds, the Chief got his hands on Heenan inside the ring when Heenan slipped, and beat the living daylights out of Heenan. It was frightening. Bobby took an awesome post and came up a classic crimson mask.
The studio crowd was steaming and chanting and whipped into a frenzy.
The interview after with Lanza staring wildly at the soaked white shirt that had been torn off Heenan, and Bockwinkel intoning " You do NOT take liberties with the manager of the heavyweight champion", put Wahoo in the spotlight again. So over and believable that despite his weight gain and slowing down, he was again positioned as the top contender, to the re-crowned Bockwinkel. (Wahoo was off a hot run as US champ for Jim Crockett promotions, beating Roddy Piper in '81 and Sgt. Slaughter in '82 before losing the belt to Greg Valentine.)
In a 6 man tag against Jesse Ventura, Ken Patera and Bockwinkel, Greg Gagne took a major beating until the hot tag, not to Jim Brunzell but to Wahoo. The film of the main event from the Winnipeg Arena was incredible. The heat was insane and Wahoo proceeded to clean house with an arsenal of chops. 11 of them. Nailing the heels as they interfered, with Ventura doing that awful pitter-pat ass bump, he whipped Bockwinkel into the ropes, chopped him, dropped a tomahawk on Nick's skull, and pinned the champ. Eleven chops and the roof came off.
That, wrestling fans, is a guy who is over. I showed that to more than a few aspiring wrestlers who didn't believe me about the simple finish. 11 chops. And the fans believed.
In an interview at the time, he spoke openly of the amphetimines that were common in football in his day, of his love of steak and potatoes and of the outdoors. He also spoke of the personal cost to his marriages and familty from being on the road.
Wahoo returned to Mid-Atlantic Crockett territory and shocked everyone when he turned heel and joined Tully Blanchard. His heel heat was genuine. So much so that the cage match on March 23/85 where he lost the US Title to an emerging Magnum TA elevated the youngster to superstardom.
I have that tape and it was so odd, seeing McDaniel as a heel. Oh they hated him.
Back in Florida in May '85, Wahoo had won the tag belts with Billy Jack Haynes when the team died after BJ walked out. Then Wahoo was allegedly involved in a locker room fight that resulted in Hercules Henrnadez being fired while holding the Florida title. McDaniel took the belt from Rick Rude and then on Nov. 19 put over a very huge and very green Lex Lugar for Lex's first big push.
After a 1986 strap match run against Jimmy Garvin on the Great American Bash Tour for Crockett, Wahoo was again used to elevate a young star.
On Sept. 28/86 in a rare Los Angeles appearance, he defeated old nemesis Blanchard for the Georgia-based NWA National title, and then one month later dropped the belt into oblivion in a unification match loss with US champ Nikita Koloff.
Nikita had beaten TA in a legendary cross-country best of seven series on the Bash tour, but TA wrecked his Porsche and his career just weeks before. But the lineage- Nikita beat TA and Wahoo, TA beat Wahoo who beat Tully who beat Dusty- that was all the top talent around and in his mid-40's McDaniel still rated with them, in the most physical matches imaginable. I haven't even mentioned his feud with Nature Boy Ric Flair. Or Ivan Koloff.
Then he hopped onto the AWA train for it's dying days. Again showing his guts and selflessness, a series of great TV bouts had the aging vet narrowly lose to the man who beat Bockwinkel, culminating in a ferocious ESPN strap match for Cool Curt Hennig's AWA belt.
The fans in Las Vegas in fall of '87 were screaming for blood, and a gusher or 2 was hit. Hennig was at the peak of his athletic powers and he sold for Wahoo's chops like- well, maybe he wasn't selling, cause they were blasts. Hennig bumped like a madman. The finish, when Adrian Adonis rushed to ringside and cut the strap just as Wahoo was touching the fourth corner, pissed off the crowd.
As the ESPN era continued, Wahoo teamed with DJ Peterson and had one more blood feud, when Manny Fernandez attacked him during an interview and tore up the ceremonial feathered headdress. On TV the angle fell flat but the houses that came out saw the now 49 year old vet battle with the Raging Bull like a warrior. On Dec. 26, 1988, Wahoo made what I believe was his final appearance in Winnipeg, beating Fernandez in a cage match.
After teaming with Greg Gagne for awhile, McDaniel gave up the book and left the AWA for the last time. His final bouts were a series of retirement matches in his Carolinas home base on small indy cards in the early 90's. I can only imagine the awe felt by the young men entering the sport to sit in a room with Wahoo, and see the physical scars and marks he endured for the sport he loved.
He made a WWF appearance on Raw in the mid-90's with Chief Jay Strongbow in an angle designed to elevate his protege Tatanka. He looked dignified and tough.
Look at the guys he elevated. Graham. Flair. Lugar. TA. Koloff. Hennig. Feuds with Rhodes, Johnny and Greg Valentine, Bockwinkel, all the Andersons, Piper, Blanchard. Angelo Mosca. Abdullah the Butcher. Paul Jones. Don Kernodle. Gino Hernandez. Steamboat and Youngblood learned from him. So did hundreds of others.
What a total pro, and a credit to the sport. Not a perfect human being, no one is. But he was the genuine article.
Ed McDaniel was profiled last year in Sports Illustrated, a tender look at an old warrior fighting deteriorating health while raising his 12 year old son Zack, and praying to see him to adulthood. Wahoo left us, at age 63 much too soon, without pain, and millions across the world mourn his loss, pray for his son and family, and cherish the memory of a great competitor who always gave his fans 100%.
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from the boys:
Moondog Manson says "The key to success in the wrestling business is by being humble, respectful, and paying your dues. With out these you will fail.".