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A Great Column/Article about Shawn Michaels written by Great Columnist Scott Slimmer

······································································································································································ Date: Sunday, November 16, 2008 —— Comment: Reactions —— Discuss: Forum

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I've just finished reading this whole article/column about Shawn Michaels which is a 4 part series (which i'm looking forward for the next part) entitled Don’t Think Twice: My Back Pages written by Scott Slimmer of and believe me it's a great read and very touching. I highly recomend to read it yourselves. To read the complete 4 part series click the (READ FULL STORY) link below.

Don’t Think Twice: My Back Pages, Part I

My father and my grandfather always hated professional wrestling. I was never supposed to be a fan. And maybe that, more than anything else, is why I am a fan today…

Good and bad, I defined these terms,
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.
Oh, but I was so much older then,
I'm younger than that now.
– My Back Pages by Bob Dylan

I've long been fascinated with the question of how we become fans of professional wrestling, and once indoctrinated, why we continue to be fans of professional wrestling. And I think one of the reasons that I'm so intrigued by the concept of being a fan of professional wrestling is that I've had the chance to see just how unique it is in the broader scope of fandom. I'm Chicago born and Chicago bred, having lived there for the first eighteen years of my life, from 1979 to 1997. And when you grew up in Chicago in the 80's and 90's, being a fan was a way of life. You were a Bears fan in the 80's. You were a Bulls fan in the 90's. You were a Cubs fan each season, always waiting for the next. In fact, I'm fairly sure that it would have taken considerable work just to resist the wave of fandom that swept over the city, a high tide that could last for years at a time. Walter Payton, Mike Ditka, Michael Jordan, and Phil Jackson weren't just athletes and coaches in Chicago. They were royalty. And so I know what it's like when being a fan is easy. When being a fan is expected. When being a fan is the norm. And maybe that's the one thing that has allowed me to truly appreciate how difficult it is to be a fan of professional wrestling.

Being a fan of professional wrestling is not easy. It's not expected. It's not the norm. You can't become a fan of professional wrestling simply by letting the tide gently wash over you. You have to make a choice. You have to fight to defend that choice. And then you have to keep making that choice, week after week, month after month, year after year, every time that you're assaulted with a new reason to walk away. Sometimes the assault comes from the outside, from family and friends and media who could never understand. And sometimes the assault comes from the inside, from the very industry that we love, from grown men simulating sex with mannequins and nonsensical reverse battle royals. And so as I said, I've long been fascinated with the question of how we first make the choice to become fans of professional wrestling and why we continue to make that choice time and time again. Of course, there is no single answer to these questions. In fact, the answer is almost certainly a bit different for every fan. But I'd still like to try to explore these questions and maybe tug at some of the common threads that run through many of our answers. And I suppose that means that it's finally time to try and answer these questions for myself.

There is no way to tell the tale of my life as a fan of professional wresting without first saying a few words about my father and my grandfather. Like many of you, in many ways I'm a fan today because of my father and my grandfather. But the three of us never sat around watching the matches. We never went down to the local high school gym or VFW hall to catch a show. Things were a bit different in my family. Professional wrestling was forbidden. It was taboo. And so, as is often the case with such taboo subjects, I became fascinated with it.

My grandfather, Lou Slimmer, was an incredible athlete and coach. While in high school in Millville, New Jersey, he and his brothers led their varsity football team to an undefeated season. But the most impressive stat that year was the cumulative season score that was engraved on the back of the small football pendants that each player received at the end of the season. 301 – 0. They had held their opponents scoreless. The entire season. The Slimmer boys were a force to be reckoned with on the football field. My grandfather was then recruited to play football here at the University of Illinois, and during the 1923 and 1924 seasons he played alongside one of the greatest college football players of all time, Red Grange. Illinois went 8 – 0 in 1923 and was the co-national champion along with Michigan, which also went 8 – 0 that year. A year later, on October 18, 1924, Illinois and Michigan met in the first game ever held at Illinois' new Memorial Stadium. Seventy years before the advent of the BCS, the two teams that had been undefeated and shared the national championship a year earlier met to settle the score. The game was more or less over in the first quarter. In one of the greatest performances in college football history, Red Grange scored four touchdowns in the first twelve minutes, more than Michigan had allowed in the previous two seasons combined. Red played left half back on those teams in the early 20's, and my grandfather played left guard. He was the guy that cleared the track for the runaway train that was Red Grange. Over the years, I've often heard it said that Red Grange may be the greatest open field runner of all time. My grandfather often heard that as well. And every time, his reply would be the same. "Greatest open field runner of all time? Yeah, because it was my job to make sure the field was open for him." Eighty years later, I think it's safe to admit that most of the credit for Grange's success should go to Grange himself. But it's hard to fault my grandfather for staking his claim to some small piece of that glory.

After graduation, my grandfather became a high school physical education instructor. I truly believe that he was the gym teacher upon which every evil gym teacher cliché is based. Over the years, various members of my family have, from time to time, met a few of my grandfather's former students. They all remembered him. They all remembered him very clearly. And they all remembered him in nearly the exact same way. "Lou Slimmer? He was the meanest man I ever met in my entire life." Now to be fair, that was not the Lou Slimmer that I knew as a child. He had long been retired by the time I was born, and I remember him as a much kinder, gentler man. But the tales of his infamous days as a gym teacher have been recounted far too often and far too consistently for me to doubt their validity. I'm just glad that I was born too late for him to ever make me run laps.

My grandfather spent the majority of his career as a physical education instructor at Proviso East High School in Maywood, Illinois. Proviso East has a long and proud athletic history, having produced players such as Doc Rivers, Michael Finley, and future Illinois standout Dee Brown. My grandfather coached the football team and found sporadic success, but he did have the chance to mentor one of Proviso East's most famous graduates. My grandfather was Ray Nitschke's high school football coach. And let me tell you, as a young Bears fan in the 80's, it took me quite some time to come to terms with the fact that my grandfather played a part in unleashing upon the world one of the most fearsome Green Bay Packers of all time. But while my grandfather always took pride in having coached the young Nitschke, his greatest successes would come not on the football field, but on the wrestling mat.

Lou Slimmer was one of the first high school wrestling coaches in the state of Illinois, and he played a large role in popularizing the sport across the state. He is, in many ways, the father of high school wrestling in Illinois. His wrestling team won the very first Illinois state championship in 1937, followed by six more state championships in the next eight years. The National Wrestling Hall of Fame later presented him with the Lifetime Service to Wrestling Award. For many years, my grandfather lived and breathed high school wrestling. Amateur wrestling. "Real wrestling," as he would so often call it. Now I'm not saying that my grandfather was Dan Gable or anything like that. But he was a rather successful high school wrestling coach who gained some degree of notoriety around the state. And he was a man that truly, deeply loved wresting.

Of course, all of that happened long before I was born. My grandfather retired in 1964 and, along with my grandmother, moved to northern Wisconsin, to a little cabin on a lake just outside of Hayward. And so the Lou Slimmer that I knew was somewhat removed from those glory days on the field and the mat. But he was still an impressive man, solid and powerful, even if he was a step slower and a tad grayer than he had been in the past. I have trouble properly describing him to most people, but luckily those of you reading this column are wrestling fans. And much to my surprise, last year I saw my grandfather on a professional wrestling DVD. Or at least I saw a man who reminded me so much of my grandfather that it sent chills down my spine. Lou Slimmer was a dead ringer for a later day Fritz Von Erich. As I sat watching the incredibly powerful Heroes of World Class DVD last year, I was in awe during a particular scene in which Fritz was being interviewed at his ranch, explaining how one or more of his sons would some day be World Champion. If you want a mental image of Lou Slimmer, then use Fritz Von Erich as your template.

I've taken the time to explain my grandfather's accomplishments and his impressive, nearly intimidating physical presence, so that you might glean some sense of the impact he might make upon a small boy, of the impact that he still has upon me today, more that a decade after his death. He was a man that knew wrestling. He lived it and he loved it. And when this rock, this mountain of a man, spoke of wrestling, you believed what he said. And what he said, time and time again, was that there was only one kind of wrestling. There was only one true wrestling. Amateur wrestling. "Real wrestling," as he would so often call it.

My grandfather hated professional wrestling. But maybe hate is too strong a word. He had a great disdain for professional wrestling, and he was unflinchingly intolerant of it, but saying that he hated it would suggest a level of emotion and conviction which he was unwilling to devote to something that he regarded as so totally worthless. As a child, my parents and I spent every summer up at his cabin in Wisconsin. And during those many summers in the 80's, as the family would gather in the small living room overlooking the bay, from time to time my grandfather would stumble upon a professional wrestling match as he roamed from channel to channel. I can't remember the specifics of any single match, for we seldom lingered there for more than a few seconds at a time. Only long enough for my grandfather to sneer a bit, sometimes long enough for him to explain that this was not the sport that he loved. More than anything, I think he wanted me to understand that he had never been a part of what he clearly regarded as a mockery of wrestling. He never wanted me to associate him with something so cheap and tawdry.

And yet, as much as I'm sure it would upset him to no end, while researching this column I ran across a web page that filled me with wonder and pride. There is a fascinating archive of all things Chicago at And under the topic of wrestling, there are a mere four paragraphs detailing the history of wrestling in and around Chicago. The first paragraph focuses on the legacy of George Hackenschmidt and Frank Gotch, the two men that put professional wrestling on the map in this country, and on their famous match in front of 30,000 fans at Comisky Park. And then, mere sentences later, this web page goes on to chronicle the successful coaching career of one Lou Slimmer. To see my grandfather mentioned in the same breath as Hackenschmidt and Gotch was one of the true joys of my life as a fan of professional wrestling. And I'm sure my grandfather is rolling over in his grave.

Some twenty years after those summers by the bay, with a bit more perspective and a much greater knowledge of the industry, I deeply regret that my grandfather never gave professional wrestling a chance. Because I now truly believe that my grandfather did not have such disdain and intolerance for professional wrestling, by rather for his perception of professional wrestling. He saw professional wrestling as an underhanded attempt to profit from the degradation of the sport that he loved, and as such he never allowed himself to find out what the industry was really about. He never opened himself up to the possibility that professional wrestling was not a vile imitation of amateur wrestling, but rather something of a tribute to it. An outgrowth of it. An art form that had evolved from a sport. And to be sure, if my grandfather had ever taken the time to try and understand professional wrestling, there would certainly have been aspects of the industry that he would not have enjoyed. Lou Slimmer would never have been a fan of "Superstar" Billy Graham or Hulk Hogan. But I have a feeling that given the chance, he just might have enjoyed watching Lou Thesz. Maybe he would have appreciated the skill of Jack Brisco. Maybe he would have understood Verne Gagne's vision of the industry. And maybe he would have seen a bit of himself in Fritz Von Erich.

But none of that was meant to be. Instead my grandfather, a man so closely linked to one aspect of wrestling, would never even allow himself to explore its more theatrical side. But perhaps the strangest part of this story is not that my grandfather never wanted me to watch professional wrestling, but rather that my father actually agreed with him. Because that may be the sole instance I can recall of those two men ever agreeing on anything. As is often the case with fathers and sons, my father and my grandfather never quite saw eye to eye on a great many subjects. I never truly asked why this was, nor was I ever given much in the way of an explanation. They got along well enough, and as I said, my parents and I spent every summer up at my grandparents' cabin. But there was always the underlying understanding that my father and my grandfather were very different men.

Perhaps more than anywhere else, the difference between my father and my grandfather was epitomized by their views on academics and athletics. As I've explained, my grandfather was both a lover and a supporter of athletics. As a teacher he certainly understood the value of academics, but his heart would always be with athletics. He was instrumental in the installation of a military style obstacle course in the basement of the field house at Proviso East. He ran gym class like it was basic training. And then there was my father, who always put academics before athletics. Like his father, my father became a teacher, but he chose biology instead of physical education. And while it would be unfair to say that my father disliked athletics, he always regarded the brain as the most powerful muscle in the body. I'm not sure if my father ever saw Rocky, but if he did, then he surely agreed with Apollo Creed's words of advice. "Stay in school and use your brain. Be a doctor, be a lawyer, carry a leather briefcase. Forget about sports as a profession. Sports make ya grunt and smell. See, be a thinker, not a stinker." And as such, my father forbid me to watch professional wrestling.

This was a much stronger edict than any ever handed down by my grandfather. While my grandfather truly just wanted me to understand the difference between the sport that he loved and the frivolity that he saw on television, my father actually believed that there was harm to be done by watching large, muscular, sweaty men beating on each other. In essence, my grandfather didn't want me to watch professional wrestling because it was too little like a real sport, and my father forbid me to watch professional wrestling because it was too much like a real sport. Thus, while my father and my grandfather differed even in their reasoning, they both agreed that I was not to watch professional wrestling.

And so I was raised to believe that professional wrestling was taboo. And as is so often the case with childhood taboos, I gradually grew to be fascinated by it. What was it really all about? Was it real, or was it fake? And how could two such different men both agree that it was to be avoided? Had things gone differently, I might never had the chance to find the answers to those questions. But my father died when I was only eleven years old, and my grandfather followed a few years later. I did not immediately become the die-hard fanatic that I am today, but in the years that followed I slowly began watching more and more professional wrestling. I had missed the Hogan Era and the Flair Era, but I began to become acquainted with new stars who I found even more intriguing. The Undertaker. Diesel. Razor Ramon. Bret Hart. And Shawn Michaels. These would be the men that held the door for me as I took my first tentative steps into the world of professional wrestling.

But now, all these years later, I'm left to wonder what role my father and my grandfather played in shaping my life as a fan of professional wrestling. I suppose that I must at least allow for the possibility that my love of the industry is, at its deepest roots, still a form of rebellion against my forefathers. Some sons choose sex. Some choose drugs. Some choose rock and roll. Maybe I simply chose professional wrestling as my statement of defiance. But to accept that possibility would be to say that my love of professional wrestling is somehow tainted by the fact that it was born out of spite. It would be to say that I love not the industry, but rather the statement I make by seeming to love the industry. And that is a concession that I'm simply not willing to make. Because through all of the trials and tribulations, through all of the nonsense and foolishness, through all of the bad booking and screw jobs, the one thing that I've never doubted is the truth of my love of this industry. So I choose to believe that while my father and my grandfather may have inadvertently sparked my curiosity in professional wrestling, it was professional wrestling itself that made me a fan. I choose to believe that I am a fan not because of spite, not because of rebelliousness, and not because of my father and grandfather. I choose to believe that I am a fan because I love professional wrestling.

At the beginning of this column I set out to find why I'm a fan of professional wrestling, but the story that I've told thus far has really only been of all the reasons that I was never supposed to be a fan in the first place. The story of how I became a fan, the story of how my love of G. I. Joe (a boy's toy) introduced me to a wrestling marine and how a show stopper (a boy toy) captured my imagination, is a story for another time. So I'll see you back here next weekend as I continue to turn my back pages.

Don’t Think Twice: My Back Pages, Part II

In 1982, my older brother gave me a G. I. Joe motorcycle for Christmas. Could that be the reason that I am a fan of professional wrestling today?

I had a brother at Khe Sanh,
Fighting off the Viet Cong.
They're still there, he's all gone.
He had a woman he loved in Saigon,
I got a picture of him in her arms now.
– Born in the U.S.A. by Bruce Springsteen

Last week I set out on a journey to discover why I'm a fan of professional wrestling. I began by writing about my father and my grandfather, both of whom hated professional wrestling. But in the end I came to see that the disdain for professional wrestling shared by my father and my grandfather could only shed light on why I was never supposed to be a fan of professional wrestling in the first place. The story of their disgust and intolerance is not the story of my love. And so in order to truly begin my story, the story of my life as a fan of professional wrestling, I must look outside my family. I must look at the world in which I was raised. The culture in which I was raised. The unique time at which I was raised. The 1980's.

I was born in 1979, when Jimmy Carter was still President and disco was still popular. But I remember nothing of my time in the 70's or my life in Jimmy Carter's America. My memories begin in the next decade, in the 80's, in Ronald Reagan's America. And I kid you not, the following story is absolutely true. My very first memory is of Christmas Eve, 1982. My parents and I had gone over to my grandmother's house, only a few miles from our own house in suburban Chicago, for dinner and to exchange Christmas presents. My half-sister and my half-brother, my father's children from a previous marriage, had already graduated from college and gotten married by then, and that evening they were also at my grandmother's house, along with their spouses. As I said, my very first memory is of that night. But I don't remember what we had for dinner or what my parents gave me. I don't remember what I was wearing or what my grandmother gave me. I don't remember the ornaments on the tree or what my sister gave me. But I do remember one thing. I remember one small box. I remember what my brother gave me. It was the G. I. Joe RAM, the Joes' motorcycle of choice. And for better or worse, it changed my life.

G. I. Joe had been a favorite of boys across America since his debut as a 12" figure in 1964, but the popularity of the line had declined by the late 1970's. The line was in mothballs by the beginning of the 1980's, but the seeds of its return would be planted at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, New York. When the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the fabled Miracle on Ice, a new wave of patriotism swept across the country, fueled by our on-ice victory over our Cold War enemies. The men on that 1980 U.S. hockey team became more than just hockey players. They became more than just Olympians. They became heroes. Real American Heroes. And it was that image of a team of Real American Heroes that would serve as the basis of Hasbro's reimagining of G. I. Joe. Instead of a singular hero known only as G. I. Joe, the line would now be centered around a team of military specialists, each with their own name and unique, colorful personality. And the Joe's would have their own arch enemy, Cobra, a menacing threat more terrifying than even the Soviet hockey team. G. I. Joe would be shrunk down from 12" to 3¾" and reborn as G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero.

The new G. I. Joe: A Real American Hero line debuted in 1982 and quickly became a phenomenon. Maybe my brother was aware of that when he bought me my first G. I. Joe motorcycle for the Christmas of 1982. Maybe he wanted me to be part of what was to come. Or maybe he remembered his own childhood and how much he enjoyed playing with his own G. I. Joes. Maybe he wanted to pass some of that joy on to me. Or maybe was just looking for a present for the kid brother he hardly knew. Maybe it was just the first thing he saw. But whatever the reason, whatever his motivation, whatever his intentions, he had given me a gift that would change my life. He had just introduced me to my very first hero.

Of course, as my father found out seconds later when I tore into the box, some assembly was required. Oh, and the figure pictured on the front of the box, bravely riding into battle, ready to defend the good old U.S. of A.? Yeah, he was sold separately. And so in the middle of the evening's festivities, my father darted out of the house and down to the corner drug store, returning moments later with Zap, my very first G. I. Joe figure. And the rest, as they say, is history. I've been collecting G. I. Joes ever since, for more than 25 years at this point. My collection is somewhere between impressive and alarming, between astounding and disturbing, between breath-taking and mind-boggling, depending on your point of view. And I see now that what has kept me collecting G. I. Joes for a quarter of a century is the same thing that drew me to them in the first place. I'm searching for heroes. In this case, Real American Heroes.

The question of why I search for heroes, why I believe in heroes, maybe even why I need heroes, is a question for another day and another column. But now at least I know where and when that search began. It began in my grandmother's house on Christmas Eve, 1982. It began when my brother introduced me to my first hero, a hero that had just been reintroduced to America. It began with my very first memory. And as such, I can't remember a time when I wasn't searching for heroes. As much as anything else, and maybe more so, that search has been the story of my life. The members of the G. I. Joe team were my first heroes. They fought for freedom wherever there was trouble. They never gave up. They stayed till the fight was won. They were all that you could ever hope for in a hero if you were a young boy growing up in the 80's, in Ronald Reagan's America. Well, except for one small detail. You see, the brave men and women of the G. I. Joe team were many things. They were strong and fast. They were honest and truthful. They were noble and courageous. And unfortunately, they were fictitious. The members of the 1980 U.S. Hockey team were Real American Heroes. But the members of the G. I. Joe team? At the end of the day, they were just stars and stripes and o-rings.

Sure, the reimagined G. I. Joe mythology was steeped in the politics and emotions of the real world. Duke, Stalker, Snake-Eyes, and Storm Shadow had all served in "Southeast Asia," which of course was the politically correct, kid-friendly way of saying that they'd seen action in Vietnam. The distrust of the military that transformed a used car salesman into Cobra Commander was a very real emotion voiced by countless protesters and radicals during the 60's and 70's. The uniforms and weapons and vehicles looked perfectly realistic, at least for the first few years. But as much as the storylines and mythologies tried to embed G. I. Joe in the real world, the fact remained that these brave heroes were ultimately nothing more than fictional characters. And the problem with fictional heroes is that you always have to wonder, somewhere in the back of your mind, if real people could ever actually be so heroic. At the end of the day, fictional heroes are nothing more than words and pictures and hopes and dreams. Their ability to inspire us is finite, because their victories are always tempered by the cold hard fact that those victories never really occurred. Fiction can only go so far to inspire reality.

Of course, as a young boy I certainly hadn't given this much thought to the notion of heroes. But on some level or another I did understand that fictional heroes had their limits. Sure, at that age I was probably just upset that I'd never be able to shake hands with Hawk or get Flint's autograph. The members of the G. I. Joe team were action figures and cartoon characters and soldiers and heroes. But I knew that they would never be real. I made my peace with it and moved on, tucking away those lingering questions about the limitations of fictional heroes. Hey, the 80's were a simpler time, maybe because childhood was a simpler time. It was alright to bury your questions and doubts. But all of that changed some time in the mid 80's when I learned something shocking. Something perplexing. Something both wonderful and confusing all at the same time. I learned that one of my G. I. Joe heroes was a bit less fictional than I had originally been led to believe. In fact, he was real. A flesh and blood Real American Hero. And his name was Sgt. Slaughter.

I hope you can appreciate what a radical paradigm shift this was for me. Sgt. Slaughter was one of my favorite G. I. Joe characters, a man with the constitution of a vending machine, the only man tough enough to train the Renegades and maybe even make them into real soldiers. In 1987's G. I. Joe: The Movie, Slaughter barked one of my favorite lines of all time. "It's time you learned we're a team, Red Dog. We all go home, or nobody goes home." I still use that line today. Granted, I usually use it at a bar when one of my friends starts bitching and whining, trying to sneak out and go home half an hour before last call, but the point is that it's still an integral part of my vernacular. But as much as I liked Sgt. Slaughter, and as much as his most classic lines would resonate with me for years to come, to me he was still just another member of the G. I. Joe team. He was no more or less real to me than Gung-Ho or Roadblock or Shipwreck. Until, of course, I found out that he was much more real than those other Joes. Until I found out that he was as real as you or me.

Now you may be asking why it took me so long to find out that Sgt. Slaughter was a real man. I mean, he was a world famous professional wrestler. How could I not have heard of him outside of the context of G. I. Joe? The answer, of course, goes back to the fact that professional wrestling was forbidden in my household. I barely knew who Hulk Hogan was in the 80's, and I'd never heard of Randy Savage or Jake Roberts or even Ric Flair. I lived in a world devoid of professional wrestling, and thus devoid of Sgt. Slaughter the wrestler. I knew him only as an action figure, as a cartoon character, as a Real American Hero. And so even when I found out that he was a real person, even when I found out that he was a world famous professional wrestler, I had quite a bit of difficulty finding out more about him. I had missed his Alley Fight with Pat Patterson and his Boot Camp Match with the Iron Sheik, and it would be years before I had the chance to see those matches on DVD. Without the aid of the internet or the courage to sneak an issue of PWI into the house, I had to rely on word of mouth to stay informed of Slaughter's in-ring activities. I was thrilled when I heard that he had become WWF Champion, but my informants failed to mention that he had also become an Iraqi sympathizer. When I learned that he was feuding with Hulk Hogan, I only naturally assumed that Hogan must have lost his mind and turned evil. Having never been given the chance to be a Hulkamaniac, and in the absence of more detailed information, it was only natural for my loyalties to remain with my real-life Real American Hero.

And that was essentially what Sgt. Slaughter was to me at the time. He was a real-life Real American Hero. An action figure and a cartoon character come to life. And what fascinated me most about this real-life Real American Hero was that he was not a soldier or a policeman or a fireman. He was a professional wrestler. For years I had been told that no good could come from watching professional wrestling, that it was a cheap and tawdry form of entertainment. And yet now I was confronted with the notion that one of my heroes was, in fact, a rather successful part of what I had been lead to believe was a very un-heroic industry. And so I had to ask myself the following questions. Was Sgt. Slaughter less of a hero than I had come to believe? Was he really just another dirty, disgusting professional wrestler and not a man to be respected? Or, if that was not the case, then had I possibly been misled as to the true nature of professional wrestling? Could it ever be something more than the basest form of entertainment, a filthy racket pandering to the lowest common denominator? And then came the million dollar question. Could professional wrestlers be heroes?

It would be years before I was able to have enough access to professional wrestling to begin to answer any of those questions. But in the interim my questions persisted and my curiosity grew. Because while I knew very little of Sgt. Slaughter as a professional wrestler, I still knew that he was a G. I. Joe. I still knew that he was a Real American Hero. And maybe, just maybe, that meant that the man who was one of my heroes when I knew him only as a fictional soldier could also be one of my heroes as I became reacquainted with him as a real-life professional wrestler. I see now that when my brother introduced me to G. I. Joe in 1982, when my brother introduced me to my very first hero, he had also inadvertently set me on the path to discovering a whole new set of heroes. Despite the wishes of my father and my grandfather, my brother had accidentally started me down the road to becoming a fan of professional wrestling.

I'll be on vacation next week, so Michael O will be filling in for me and telling us the story of how and why he became a fan of professional wrestling. When I return, I'll start to explore how my curiosity that began with Sgt. Slaughter gradually morphed into fanatical fandom and how, at almost every step of that journey, my life as a fan of professional wrestling seemed to be guided by an Icon, a Main Eventer, a Show Stopper on a journey of his own. So I'll see you back here in two weeks as I continue to turn my back pages.

Don’t Think Twice: My Back Pages, Part III

As I look back on how and why I became a fan of professional wrestling, I realize that in many ways it was all because of one man. And after two months of trying to avoid writing about him, I realize now that it’s finally time to try.

Well I guess everything dies,
Baby, that's a fact.
But maybe everything that dies,
Someday comes back.
– Atlantic City by Bruce Springsteen

Ten weeks ago I set out on a journey to discover how and why I became a fan of professional wrestling. I first wrote about my father and my grandfather, two very different men who shared a common hatred of professional wrestling, and how because of them I was forbidden to watch professional wrestling as a child. It was my father and my grandfather that made professional wrestling taboo for me and thus inadvertently sparked my initial curiosity in the industry. But they are not the reason that I love professional wrestling today. I then wrote about my childhood love of G.I. Joe and the discovery that Sgt. Slaughter, a man that had been one of my heroes when I knew him only as a cartoon soldier, was also real-life professional wrestler. It was Sgt. Slaughter that first allowed me to question all of the derisive and derogatory notions that I had ever been taught about professional wrestling and begin to wonder if professional wresters could really be heroes. But he is not the reason that I love professional wrestling today. There is only one man that I can honestly identify as the reason that I love professional wrestling. And when it finally came time to write about him… I ran like hell.

I've always been intrigued when I hear people talk about their fears. Some fear heights, some fear enclosed spaces, some fear snakes, and some fear planes. Some fear deadlines, some fear public speaking, some fear mice, and some fear cheese (no, seriously, I lived with a guy junior year that I was freaking terrified of cheese). But I've always thought that those were rather superficial fears, mere symbols used to hide the real fears that are too frightening to admit. And I've come to believe that there are ultimately only two real fears in this world, namely failure and rejection, and that in many ways those two fears may ultimately just be two sides of the same coin. It is those fears that can do the most damage, that can paralyze us, that can keep us from being who and what and where we want to be. It is those fears that prevent us from trying out for the team and writing the paper and applying for the job and telling her how much you love her, even if you hope she's always known. And it is often by overcoming those fears that we find our greatest success and our greatest happiness in life.

But as I said, when it finally came time for me to write about the one man that made me into a fan of professional wrestling, I ran like hell. I succumbed to the fear of failure, because I honestly didn't know if I could find the words to do justice to this man. I wasn't sure that I could live up to the standard that he has always set. And so I took a few detours and wrote about Brock Lesnar, and then the Olympics, and then Mick Foley, because with them I wasn't afraid of failure. Don't get me wrong, I'm definitely a big fan or Brock Lesnar. I respect Mick Foley as much as just about anyone in the world. And I firmly believe that watching Kerri Walsh and Misty May-Treanor glisten in the sun is one of the great joys of being an American. It's just that I wasn't afraid to write about them, because none of them mean to me what that one man does. None of them have changed my life the way that he has. None of them are the reason that I'm a fan of professional wrestling.

And yet I knew, somewhere in the back of my mind, that I could only run for so long. Sometimes you just have to turn and face your fears, because sometimes that's the only way to really move forward. And yes, sometimes you'll fail. And yes, sometimes you'll get rejected. Sometimes you'll get cut from the team, and sometimes you'll fail the paper, and sometimes you won't get the job. But sometimes none of that matters, because at least you took your shot. And so now it's time for me to take my shot and try to put into words all that one man has meant to me. Others have written about him on many occasions, some far more eloquently than I ever could. He's been described in many ways and given a veritable litany of evocative nicknames. Mr. WrestleMania. The Main Eventer. The Show Stopper. The Heart Break Kid. But to me, he'll always be the man that made me into a fan of professional wrestling.

The first wrestling match I ever remember watching in its entirety was Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel for the WWE Championship from WrestleMania XI. Of course, given that professional wrestling was still forbidden in my household, I didn't see the match live on pay-per-view. It was actually about half a year later when I stumbled upon the match being shown on Fox one night. I knew very little about professional wrestling at the time, but I knew enough to know that getting the chance to see the WWE Championship Match from WrestleMania on broadcast television was a big deal. And so despite my mother's best wishes, I stayed glued to the set for the duration of the match. And for better or worse, it changed my life.

Now as I said, I knew very little about professional wrestling at the time. I didn't know that Michaels and Diesel were former tag team partners or that Michaels had won the Royal Rumble in order to earn the right to challenge Diesel at WrestleMania. I didn't know what a face or a heel was, let alone that in this case Diesel was the face and Michaels was the heel. I didn't know what it meant to be a good worker, to carry a match, or to get a push. I didn't know that WWE was in a transition period, stuck for the moment between the Hogan Era that I had missed and the Austin Era that I couldn't see coming, desperately trying to find a star capable of keeping the ship afloat in the interim. I was essentially watching that match in a vacuum, devoid of any knowledge of the build or insight into the industry. And so all I knew was what I saw that night.

And the first thing I saw were the boobs. Hey, I was a sixteen year old boy at the time. Boobs were a big deal in my world. I mean, they're still a big deal in my world today as I teeter precariously on the edge of thirty, but they were an even bigger deal back then. So while I had never heard of Shawn Michaels or Diesel, I was already quite familiar with the lovely ladies that accompanied them to the ring that night, namely Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson. Now you have to understand, I was a Jenny McCarthy fan through and through. Some people like baseball, some people like football. Some people like vanilla, some people like chocolate. Some people like Jenny, some people like Pamela. It's really just a matter of personal preference. And I certainly knew my preference. But given that I knew virtually nothing of the actual wrestlers in that match, I was forced to pick my side based on their choice of arm candy. Shawn Michaels was flaunting Jenny McCarthy, and that made him an excellent judge of character in my book. And so, based purely on my personal preference in cleavage, I chose to root for Shawn Michaels that night.

I'm still quite grateful to Jenny McCarthy's boobs for leading me in the right direction. I would have become a fan of anyone who had walked the isle next to that glorious cleavage, and in 1995 an impressionable, indiscriminant young fan-to-be could have been led down a number of disastrous paths in WWF. Lured by that sweet, succulent cleavage, I could have become a fan of Adam Bomb or Duke Droese or Aldo Montoya. And one match with any of those guys might have been enough to persuade me never to watch another. But the fates smiled upon me that night in the fall of 1995, for Jenny McCarthy's boobs led me to Shawn Michaels, one of the brightest rising stars in the WWF, a man who would go on to become arguably the greatest professional wrestler in history (and yes, Flair fans, I did say arguably).

And so as I began to watch the match, I began to see that Shawn Michaels had more to offer than simply fine taste in cleavage. I had no idea how to tell a good match from a bad match or how to tell a star from a jobber, but I knew that Shawn Michaels put on an exciting performance that night. He seemed to me to be the resilient underdog, valiantly fighting an uphill battle against the obviously larger champion. Of course, I had no idea that Michaels was theoretically booked as the heel in that match but had taken it upon himself to upstage the champion and steal the show nonetheless. That was kind of a dick move, and it was only through the magic of ignorance and naïveté that I was blissfully unaware of it that night. How unfortunate it would have been if my first impression of Shawn Michaels had been that he was a dick.

But all I knew on that night in the fall of 1995 was that I was intrigued by Shawn Michaels. He may have lost the first match that I ever saw, but he won over at least one new fan. I began to make whatever attempts I could to follow his career. I was too busy on Mondays to ever really watch Raw, but I tried to catch whatever syndicated WWF programming that I could on the weekends. It was right around that time, in November 1995, that Shawn Michaels was forced to retire, at least in kayfabe, due to post concussion syndrome. I didn't watch Raw the night that Michaels collapsed in the ring during a match with Owen Hart, but I clearly remember seeing the Tell Me a Lie video at some point. And I clearly remember being heartbroken. I was still a complete mark at the time, and I couldn't believe how unfair it was that the dynamic young star that I had only just discovered had been forced to retire before ever reaching his true potential. Shawn Michaels had entered my life by chance and then left it just as quickly.

I probably considered calling it quits right there, probably contemplated ending my ever so brief stint as a fan of professional wrestling alongside the ending of Shawn Michaels' career. But my interest must have been piqued just enough to continue to compel me to catch bits and pieces of WWF programming from time to time. I was a casual fan to be sure, and at that point I probably could have wandered away from the industry without ever really noticing. But a few months later, in January 1996, Shawn Michaels returned to the WWF, and that was enough to keep me interested. I had been told that he was gone, gone for good, and being a total mark I believed every word of it. But now here he was, back in the WWF, winning the Royal Rumble for the second straight year, and readying himself for a shot at the WWE Championship. I was still far from what you would call a hardcore fan, but I was certainly hooked.

I followed Michaels' career as he won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania XII and defended it for the better part of 1996. Michaels talent and ability and charisma would have been enough to keep me enthralled on their own, but the real reason that I was so enamored with his title run was that less that a year ago it seemed like he was gone forever. Shawn Michaels had gotten a second chance, and to see him make the most of it was nothing short of inspirational. I'm so glad I was still a mark. I hope that those of you who were smarts at the time were able to enjoy Michaels' time as WWE Champion as much as I did, but I'm not sure if you could. I often wonder what it would be like watching today's WWE storylines as a mark, but I suppose that I'll never know. All I can do is remember my time in 1996 as a total mark and a total Shawn Michaels fan and be glad that I had the chance to tag along for the ride.

But all of that changed the next year, in February 1997, when Michaels lost his smile and walked away from the industry for a second time. This time I wasn't as heartbroken as before, but I was definitely more confused. By that time I had gradually begun to become a bit smarter to the business, but I was still far from having any real understanding of how things worked. I couldn't figure out if Michaels was legitimately injured or if this was just another work, and the fact that many true smarts couldn't figure out the answer either probably didn't help my cause. I was in the second semester of my senior year in high school at the time, and I was perpetually overbooked with speech team tournaments and advanced placement exams and college applications, so it took no small degree of effort for me to keep up to date on the events in the WWF. Professional wrestling was a fun diversion at the time, but it seemed more like just another burden once Shawn Michaels walked away. And so I parted ways with the WWF in February 1997. I didn't know that Michaels had returned to do commentary at WrestleMania 13. I didn't know that he partnered with Steve Austin to win the World Tag Team Championships in May or that he refereed the WWE Championship Match at SummerSlam. I was busy graduating from high school and moving down to Champaign to start my freshmen year at the University of Illinois. And as far as I knew, I was starting it without Shawn Michaels.

In retrospect, my first tenure as a fan of Shawn Michaels and a fan of the WWF had been remarkably brief. It began some time in the fall of 1995 when the WWE Championship Match from WrestleMania XI was shown on Fox and lasted until Michaels lost his smile in February 1997. But during that time, I had the chance to see a talented young star rise to the top of his chosen profession, and more important than that, I had the chance to see a man get a second chance to do what he loved. But that man, that Shawn Michaels, was really just a fictional character. It was Shawn Michaels' career, not Michael Hickenbottom's career, that was in jeopardy in late 1995. It was Shawn Michaels, not Michael Hickenbottom, who got a second chance in early 1996. And thus it was Shawn Michaels, the fictional character, that made me into a fan of professional wrestling all those years ago.

But when I got to college, I found that many of my new friends were far more knowledgeable about professional wrestling that I had ever thought possible, and I found that Shawn Michaels had once again returned to the WWF. In the years to come I would once again become not only a fan of Shawn Michaels, the fictional character, but also a fan of Michael Hickenbottom, the real man, and it was that dual fandom that made me into the die-hard fan of professional wrestling that I am today. But that's a story for another time, so I'll pick things up here in two weeks when I once again continue to turn my back pages.

Don’t Think Twice: My Back Pages, Part IV

I usually say that Shawn Michaels is the reason I’m a fan of professional wrestling, but that isn’t really true. The credit actually goes to another man – Michael Hickenbottom.

Get back.
Get back.
Get back to where you once belonged.
Get back.
Get back.
Get back to where you once belonged.
– Get Back by The Beatles

In January 1969, Paul McCartney set out on a rather ambitious project – to prevent the imminent destruction of the greatest band in the world. The Beatles had gone down many a long and winding road over the course of the last seven years, but the animosity and strife unearthed during the recording of The Beatles (a.k.a. The White Album) a year earlier had brought the foursome precariously close to the brink of collapse. In many ways, the resulting album was not the work of a cohesive band but rather of four increasingly disparate solo artists. The Beatles could easily have ceased to exist right then and there.

But in January 1969, the band came together once again to begin rehearsals for what was to be their first live concert in more than two years, and McCartney seized the opportunity to try and save the band. He believed that the group needed to move away from the groundbreaking experimental studio work that had defined them for the last two years and get back to what had made them great in the first place, the simple joy of playing rock ‘n' roll music. He knew that all The Beatles had to do was get back to where they once belonged.

In the end, McCartney's efforts were only enough to stave off the inevitable for one more year. But during that time The Beatles were still able to record the material that would later be compiled in Let It Be before producing one last studio masterpiece, Abbey Road. And then, as they seemed fated to do, The Beatles broke up, never to truly reunite. But besides the music that they were miraculously still able to produce during their dying days as a band, what has always stuck with me is the vision proposed by McCartney. When you're lost, when you're lonely, when you're broken and beaten and unsure of who you really are, maybe all you need is just to get back. Get back to where you once belonged. But sometimes just getting back is the hardest thing you could ever do.

Three decades later, in the fall of 1997, I moved from suburban Chicago to Champaign and began my freshman year at the University of Illinois. It certainly wasn't a long move in any sort of global sense, just less than one hundred and fifty miles. You can drive it in less than three hours, which is great for holidays but just long enough to prohibit weekly laundry runs. And it really wasn't a drastic change in culture, the rural campus being literally inundated with thousands of new suburban transplants each fall. The University is sort of like a suburban embassy here in the midst of the sprawling corn fields.

But the real significance of the start of my freshman year was that it marked a decisive turning point, a departure from all that I had ever blindly accepted as true. I suspect that in this regard, my experience was none too different from that of college freshman all across the country and all across the world. The moment that we begin to question all that we have ever been told, all that we have ever been taught, and all that we have ever believed is, in fact, the most quintessential demarcation between childhood and adulthood, the most important milestone in the process of maturation and evolution that we all undergo at some point in our lives. It is a tale that has been told time and time again, the classic coming of age story lived by Holden Caulfield and Kevin Arnold and Peter Parker. The questions we ask and the answers we find define who and what we will be from that point forward. But that long and winding road is a difficult one for many. I know it was for me.

Of course, I knew little of the journey to come when I started my freshman year in the fall of 1997. Hell, I didn't even know there was a journey to be made, let alone that I was already on the road. And so I tried to live my new life according to my old rules, to impose the rigor of high school on the chaos of college. I may not have known that the times they were a-changin', but I fought against that change nonetheless. I went to class diligently, just like I was back in high school. I studied meticulously, just like I was back in high school. And I took a break from time to time to enjoy the things that I had enjoyed back in high school. Like watching professional wrestling. Like watching Shawn Michaels.

1997 was an incredible time to be in college and be a fan of professional wrestling. As if somehow in sync with my own life, the industry was changing into something new and different as I was doing the same. I still maintain that the Attitude Era did not officially begin until "Stone Cold" Steve Austin won the WWF Championship at WrestleMania XIV, but the company was certainly on the path to that momentous occasion by the fall of 1997. Austin was challenging authority, Bret Hart was challenging our notions of national pride, and D-Generation X was challenging good taste, decency, and the television censors. Shawn Michaels, the man that had captured my imagination two years earlier when I saw his match against Diesel from WrestleMania XI, had joined forces with Triple H to infuse the WWF with the kind of sophomoric humor that seemed perfectly designed to lure a college freshman back into the fold.

As I've said, at the time I had no idea just how much my life had already begun to change. But even then, even as I clung to all that I had once known, it seemed as though Shawn Michaels had already begun to serve as my guide on the journey, the Virgil to my Dante. Shawn had won the WWF Championship and found the greatest success of his career as a plucky babyface, the charismatic star living out his boyhood dream. It would have been easy for him to remain in that role, to play the part that his millions of screaming fans wanted him to play, to be the sun around which the Kliq would revolve. But it was time for Shawn to change, to grow, to evolve, and that, more than anything else, was what he was doing through the antics of D-Generation X. Never has juvenile humor been employed so effectively to the purpose of maturation.

And as I watched Shawn embrace change, I began to embrace change myself. If he could do it, then maybe I could, too. If he could choose the road less traveled, then maybe I could, too. If he could grow and change and evolve, then maybe I could, too. And so without even consciously realizing it, I began to draw some measure of strength from Shawn Michaels, from his ability to question that which he had been, from his courage to find that which he would be. My father died when I was only eleven, and some day some overpaid psychiatrist is probably going to tell me that I was just searching for a male role model. Just my luck that I should pick a guy with a propensity for dropping his pants on national television. Shawn and I were changing, and as strange as it may seem, I took comfort in the fact that we were on similar journeys. And then, like so many times in the past, Shawn Michaels disappeared from my life once again.

But this time was different. Yes, Shawn Michaels was gone again. But it wasn't Shawn Michaels that had limped away. It was Michael Hickenbottom. During that first year at college, I had met a number of wrestling smarts, and they had opened my markish eyes to the true nature of the business. I learned that it was a work when Shawn Michaels' career was in jeopardy due to post concussion syndrome in late 1995. Shawn's retirement in 1995 was no more or less real than Edge's banishment to Hell is today, and Michael Hickenbottom's career was just as safe as Adam Copeland's. But when Shawn Michaels retired after losing the WWF Championship to Steve Austin at WrestleMania XIV, it was because Michael Hickenbottom's body was unable to continue. By the spring of 1998 I was able to draw the line between Shawn Michaels the character and Michael Hickenbottom the man, and losing them both at once was enough to make me walk away once more.

I lost interest in professional wrestling after WrestleMania XIV, but it was impossible to be completely oblivious to it while living in a dorm full of wrestling fans. There was usually a crowd in my room watching Raw as I tried to study polymer chemistry, so I remember seeing the beer truck and the Zamboni and Mankind winning the title. I was at a friend's apartment when the Kat showed us her puppies on pay-per-view… and again a month later when Mae Young did the same. But even during that time, my relationship with professional wrestling still seemed to mirror that of Shawn Michaels'. We both kept in touch with the business and showed up from time to time, but it never really lasted or amounted to much. Our hearts just weren't in it.

I graduated from college in the spring of 2001, by that time oblivious to the fact that the industry had just become a monopoly. My senior year had been rough. I'd had my heart broken for the first time, I drank more than I care to remember (which is convenient, given the fact that I can't remember much of it), and I took at least two physiology exams that I swear to this day weren't written in English. I'd asked more questions about life and love and the meaning of it all than I ever imagined I could, but I'd found few answers. I was scared and confused and convinced only that I wanted none of this whole horrible business of personal growth and maturation. I'd changed, but I couldn't say with any sort of conviction that I'd changed for the better. What I didn't know at the time, what many wrestling fans didn't know at the time, was that Michael Hickenbottom's life wasn't going so well, either. He broke his body, burned his bridges, and lost himself in the drugs. He was, in many ways, a shell of the man that he had once been. I guess we both were.

I stuck around in Champaign and entered graduate school in the fall of 2001. I had a pretty sweet fellowship for the first few years, and so I had the chance to enjoy a small disposable income for the first time in my life. I still didn't have cable or even a DVD player, but I began to pick up a few wrestling videos. Yes, I was still buying VHS in 2001. I'm not proud of that. I picked up WrestleMania 17, and after reading the back of the box I honestly thought that there was going to be a performance by the hip-hop group TLC in the middle of the show. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised to find otherwise. I bought InVasion and SummerSlam, but that more or less rounded out my wrestling purchases in 2001.

My interest in the industry continued to be rekindled bit by bit, and by early 2002 I had begun to discover the IWC. The first story I ever remember reading was that there was a possibility that the n.W.o. might reunite in the WWF, and I was intrigued. I had missed most of WCW, but I knew that the n.W.o. was a big part of their greatest successes. I anxiously waited for the results of WrestleMania X8 to be posted online, and I bought the video of that show to see the epic confrontation between Hulk Hogan and The Rock. And soon after that, I read the story that would send me down the rabbit hole for good. Shawn Michaels was considering a return. No one seemed to know what that return would or would not entail, but there was a chance that he might be ready to step back into the ring. There were, of course, many skeptics. I clearly remember one report saying that Michaels was thin in the body and fat in the face. I'm not even totally sure what that meant, but it certainly wasn't complimentary.

I wasn't watching Raw or Smackdown at the time, and the only wrestling matches that I actually saw were on the one or two videos that I bought every year. My only real-time access to the stories and angles in WWE was through the IWC, and so I experienced professional wrestling in a strange, abstract sort of way, reading about it online but seeing the action only in my mind. Hell, I read about the beast known as Brock Lesnar for half a year before I ever saw him in a match. Needless to say, the image in my mind wasn't nearly as impressive as the man himself. But when I read that Shawn Michaels stepped into the ring one last time and had a fantastic match with Triple H at SummerSlam 2002, I knew that I had to see that match. At the time, that was to be Shawn Michaels' final match, his way of saying goodbye to the fans on his own terms. All that I had read told me that this match had been something special, something that deserved better that VHS, and so the first DVD I ever bought was WWE SummerSlam 2002. Two hours later I bought a PS2 after getting home and realizing that I had no way to play the DVD. But that evening I was finally able to watch the match, and I saw Shawn Michaels steal the show one more time, and I said goodbye to him as he said goodbye to us. Over the years, I'd gotten very good at saying goodbye to Shawn Michaels.

I didn't pay much attention to Unforgiven or No Mercy that year, but soon I found out that Shawn Michaels wasn't quite as finished as we had been led to believe. In fact, he would be challenging for the World Heavyweight Championship at Survivor Series. Shawn won the title that night in the very first Elimination Chamber Match, and he held it for a month before dropping it back to Triple H at Armageddon. I bought both of those shows on DVD, the second and third DVDs that I ever bought. And the rest, as they say, is history. Shawn Michaels became a full-time wrestler in 2003, and I became a full-time fan that year as well. I still wasn't ordering the pay-per-views, but I bought every one of them on DVD. Shawn was back, and as had happened so many times over the course of the last decade, he had brought me along for the ride.

But it was some time in 2003 that I began to realize that something was different this time around. Yes, I was still a huge Shawn Michaels fan. He was still incredibly entertaining, and more often than not his matches would still steal the show. But what really inspired me was the fact that he could return to the ring and still be the best after being away for more than four years. And that's when I realized just exactly what had happened when Shawn Michaels retired in 1998. That's when I realized that Shawn Michaels as we know him on camera is just an abstract concept, a fictional character ultimately no more or less real than Andy Sipowicz or Tony Soprano. He had disappeared in 1998 and returned four years later, but in the interim he was neither here nor there nor anywhere. Shawn Michaels had been lost in the ether for four years, and it was Michael Hickenbottom who was left to live his life in the real world.

That life had not been easy, and he had made more than his fair share of mistakes. He fell fast and he fell hard, and there were those that thought he might never get back on his feet. Michael Hickenbottom was, at one point, one of the most talented athletes and entertainers on the planet, one of the few lucky men who could honestly say that he was the absolute best there is at what he does, but for several years that all seemed like a distant memory. And yet unbelievably, almost miraculously, through the love of his family and the strength of his faith, Michael Hickenbottom found a way to stand up and begin to rebuild his life. He found himself, and he found his way back to the one thing that he had once done better than any man on the face of the Earth. He got back to where he once belonged.

And as I thought about all that Michael Hickenbottom had accomplished in order for Shawn Michaels to return, I finally realized that I wasn't really cheering for Shawn Michaels anymore. I was cheering for Michael Hickenbottom. I was cheering for the real man behind the fictional character, for the real man that had fallen and risen and got back to where he once belonged while the fictional character was safely tucked away waiting for his chance to shine once more. As I've written in the past, the problem with fictional characters as heroes is that their ability to inspire us is finite, because their victories are always tempered by the cold hard fact that those victories never really occurred. Fiction can only go so far to inspire reality. And so while Shawn Michaels had always entertained me, it was ultimately Michael Hickenbottom who was able to inspire me.

Michael Hickenbottom and I had both seen success, and we'd both seen failure. His highs had been far greater than mine, but so had his lows. And so if he could find a way to get back to where he once belonged, then maybe I could, too. And that's ultimately the bottom line. That's why I watch. Because while the Superstars and Divas who step into that ring are some of the greatest entertainers on the planet, it is the real men and women behind those Superstars that inspire me, that shine a light through the darkness when I need one, that continually give me hope that one day I might find a way to get back to where I once belonged.

By Scott Slimmer of

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