The scene: my kitchen table on an inconspicuous summer afternoon, August 1991. Actually, if you were a wrestling fan, it was anything but inconspicuous: it was the night of the fourth annual SummerSlam, emanating from the Garden. You know wrestling’s innegotiably taken over your life when you’re looking forward to a show that has a wedding.
However, in the Henry household, there was a catch: pay-per-view technology wasn’t in the arsenal, so my older brother Josh and I would do the next best thing: turn to the PPV channel, with the scrambled screen, and listen to the audio. You know, like an old-timey radio program. This heightened our love of WWE, actually. We listened to Survivor Series 1990, and couldn’t ‘see’ the fearsome Undertaker. Not knowing until what “The Phenom” looked like only added to the intrigue of this spectre of death that Gorilla Monsoon and Roddy Piper were in awe of.
[adinserter block=”1″]So there I was, sitting down for dinner at five o’clock, a somewhat-antsy seven-year-old that wanted to see the Legion of Doom beat the Nasty Boys to become WWE World Tag Team Champions. Josh was pulling for Bret Hart to upend Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Title. We hoped the audio would confirm our wants.
Then Dad comes home from work, just as Mom puts the finishing touches on dinner. To know my Dad is to know a hybrid of John Wayne and MacGyver: the laid-back confidence of the former, and the ability to fix things up like the latter, while altogether easing about with an everyman swagger. He settles in with his gentle greeting, dealing with the kinks of another long workday. Dad takes his place at the table, indicating nothing out of the ordinary.
Then he turns to Josh, telling his favorite farm-league baseball player, “Hey, I left something on the seat of the car. Go get it.”
I’m already chowing down on chicken and Rice-a-Roni, so I barely take in Dad’s command to my brother. Josh does as he’s told, and thirty seconds later, I hear the sound of triumph at the back kitchen door.
There’s my gangly brother, standing with the door wide open (oblivious to the fact that our cat liked to escape whenever he saw the door open for more than two seconds), holding a black box with wires coming out of it, resembling a metal octopus.
I stared blankly. My seven-year-old brain knew little, outside of basic phonics, and which Ninja Turtle was which.
“It’s a pay-per-view box!”
You know those heart-warming videos with the soldiers that secretly come home from abroad, and surprise their families at a sporting event or at home, and they film the reactions? I was one of those kids, greeting Lance Corporal Sammons Communication Pay-Per-View Box in full freakout mode.
Yes, I’m spoiled. You couldn’t tell?
Dad’s between forkfuls of oven-baked chicken when he casually tells us we can set up sleeping bags in the living room and enjoy SummerSlam. Major points for Dad! We didn’t even ask for PPV, but he could read our minds. For some reason, he was all too happy to help else indulge in a fake-sport that he thought was ridiculous. The story of him telling us that wrestling was fake was spurred by his disgust at the Red Rooster, but that’s for another day.
But yes, happy day in the Henry estate. The cat would’ve been thrilled if we knew where he was.
SummerSlam 1991 was merely the first of many pay-per-views Josh and I, and our close friends, would take in together for next two decades-plus. SummerSlam, for some reason, was an annual ‘get’, moreso than WrestleMania. I’d chalk this up to SummerSlam being the last hit of happiness before school started the following week. Kind of like the last meal before execution.
My Mom was on the fence about my brother and I getting Survivor Series 1993, mostly because we had to be up early Thanksgiving day. What did I do? Told two friends we were getting it and invited them over. That forced Mom’s hand, so now we had to get it. Whatever, I was getting straight A’s around that time. No biggie.
Some PPVs are simply unforgettable, like WrestleMania X7, which prompted about three or four back-and-forth “DID YOU SEE THAT?!” phone calls with our friend Rob. SummerSlam 2001 later that year had the opposite effect; a cable glitch prevented us from getting it. So there we were, Josh, myself, and Camel Clutch Blog friend Brett Clendaniel playing rummy at the kitchen table, cursing science.
[adinserter block=”2″]Pay-per-view has brought us joy, like our collective marking out over Randy Orton beating John Cena and Triple H at WrestleMania 24 (in 2008, Orton was the least of three evils). That mark-out was measured by four men sarcastically doing the Orton outstretched-arms pose in my brother’s living room. It was the stuff viral videos are made of.
Pay-per-view has also provided sadness, like the time I purchased ECW December to Dismember 2006. $40 and Bobby Lashley’s victory later, I swore off all non-WrestleMania/SummerSlam/Royal Rumble WWE purchases until Money in the Bank 2011. Why has Lashley never made one of those Time/Newsweek ‘most influential’ lists?
Perhaps the model of pay-per-view has lost its luster, especially now with the WWE Network lumping traditional pay-per-views in with its packaging. For a couple generations of wrestling fans, however, it was a ‘shower early on Sunday, call your friends, order some pizza, and see where the stories go’ way to end the weekend, especially if you were in a diehard phase of viewership. Allowance, tip money, and weekly pay have gone toward the now-monthly serials, not just from me. Pay-per-view was the holy grail.
The 2014 Elimination Chamber ended a long-standing phase of pay-per-viewership, one that encompassed thirty years of wrestling programming for dozens of organizations, none more prominent than World Wrestling Entertainment. Fans like me have yearned for characters of the past, storylines of the past, and all else that fills our memory banks.
We may never yearn for pay-per-view ‘as it used to be’, thanks to the Network saving us money, but there are many fond memories of special Sundays forever in those recesses.
Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.
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