And now, I must write about Bruno Sammartino.
I once wrote that “Mickey Mantle … was … well … Mickey Mantle.”
Bruno Sammartino was … well … Bruno Sammartino.
To me, like so many of you, when you hear the name “Bruno,” there is only one man’s image who comes to mind.
Many times, I’ve been to Madison Square Garden, “The World’s Most Famous Arena,” and marveled at the large poster-displays of legends like Elvis Presley, Walt Frazier … and, Bruno Sammartino.
If you are a baseball fan, you “just remember,” just know, Mickey Mantle’s lifetime batting average, how many home runs he had, what number he wore, etc.:
Please keep in mind that in these “I Remember” posts, I never research … I just write from memory, so here goes:
I’m thinking that, in much the same way, you remember Bruno Sammartino:
Headlined at Madison Square Garden … and sold out Madison Square Garden … 188 times.
No one has even come close.
No one has even come close to coming close.
Set the World’s Bench Mark Record, “benching” 565 pounds. He held the weights for 2 seconds on his chest, before raising the weight. He did this without wrapping his wrists or elbows.
Known as “The World’s Strongest Man.”
Superman … “The Italian Superman.”
The Living Legend.
Wrestling 18 minutes with a broken neck.
A true gentleman.
Just last Summer, I was in Pittsburgh, in Bruno’s “hometown,” and spent time in Bruno’s old neighborhood, the “Oakland” section of Pittsburgh. A neighborhood where both Dan Marino and Andy Warhol were raised.
Yes … I know it was Professional Wrestling … but … Bruno held the World Championship longer than any man in history. He beat Buddy Rogers in 48 seconds (I still know that!) at Madison Square Garden, to win his first World Championship. That was in 1963.
Bruno would hold the World Championship (this first time) until January 18th, 1971. Think about how long a time that was. You guessed it: No one has even come close. No one has even come close to coming close. I have to look this up to make sure: seven years, eight months, and one day (2,803 days). I think of those who grew up during the Great Depression. The only President of the United States they knew was Franklin Roosevelt. In much the same way, kids growing up during this time only knew Bruno Sammartino as Champion.
Bruno lost the title to Ivan Koloff, at Madison Square Garden, on January 18, 1971.
I mention that date to bring back the memory.
A couple of days ago, I watched that match on YouTube. At the end of the match, the announcer said, “You can hear a pin drop at Madison Square Garden.”
Grown men were seen weeping in the crowd.
Later, Bruno would say that he thought he had suffered ear damage, because he could not hear the crowd. His ears were fine. The sold-out crowd was just that stunned.
Interestingly, one of our favorite shared videos, and most popular, features Ivan Koloff, sharing his testimony of how Jesus saved him, and brought him into the ministry.
Here’s a quick link to that story and video:
Yes, Bruno would re-gain the World Championship in 2 years, defeating Stan Stasiak. Remember that?
As I’ve gotten older, do you know what I remember most, think about most, when I think of Bruno Sammartino?
And … how it inspires me.
How much his family went through.
This is what I remember:
What a thrill it is to see those old videos of Bruno, and, in the introduction, “From Abruzzo, Italy” … I have a special connection to Italy … Yes, Bruno’s family would move to Pittsburgh, but, the way his story began …
There were seven children, and Bruno was the youngest. Four (yes, 4) of the children would die during Bruno’s childhood. Bruno’s father would go on ahead to Pittsburgh, but, before his children could follow … World War II broke out, and Germany invaded Italy … Bruno’s mother took her children, including a young, sickly Bruno, and hid out in the nearby mountains. They would hide all day in the mountains, and then, at night, Bruno’s mother, Amelia, would sneak into town, under cover of darkness, gather whatever food and supplies she could find, and bring them back to her children …
It was a miracle, but, Bruno, underweight, and sick, somehow survived. I’ve heard Bruno speak of this … how sick and weak he was … how he wished his mother “could see her little Bruno now … “
When Bruno arrived in Pittsburgh with his remaining family, he was little, weak, and sickly. He could speak no English. Want to imagine what a target he became to local bullies?
Accidents happen. Even in a well-planned event.
On April 26, 1976 (I did have to check the exact date), at Madison Square Garden, Bruno wrestled Stan Hansen (yes, we remember “the Lariat” and Borger, Texas). Something went wrong. Bruno suffered a “neck fracture.” Yes, a broken neck. Bruno literally, and I mean literally, for real, had his neck fractured during the match. A broken neck. In the middle of the match. I’ll never forget it … because of what happened next … and, next … and, next …
Bruno Sammartino wrestled for another 18 minutes … another 18 minutes … with a broken neck … a broken neck …
He wrestled for 18 minutes with a broken neck. Bruno would later say that his doctors advised him that he came within a millimeter of being paralyzed from the neck down. I remember the cover of the Wrestling magazines, with Bruno on a stretcher … with the neck brace on, and everything …
Keep in mind that I, like many of you, lived “way out in the boonies,” so we only got a couple of local TV channels, so we only got to “see” our heroes in magazines … which made them, somehow, even more of a hero …
Was this real? Yes, it was. I’ve written how, because of how honest my Father was, I never doubted the story of Abraham Lincoln walking 5 miles to return a book. In the same way, I never doubted how tough Bruno was. My dad was that tough, so I never doubted how tough Bruno was.
By the way … remember? … the rematch with Stan Hansen had to be held at Shea Stadium … Madison Square Garden would have been too small to hold the crowd … Yes … Shea Stadium … I’ve seen that match, too …
I’ll probably watch that one again tonight …
Today, Saturday, as I do laundry, the grocery shopping, the bills, and, instead of going outside to enjoy the first “almost warm” sunny day in recent memory, I write … I remember … What a privilege it is, to be able to share my thoughts on the great Bruno Sammartino.
Not the wrestler.
This week, once again, grown men, including myself, were “seen weeping” over a Bruno Sammartino loss … The Great Bruno Sammartino …
Here is a video announcement of Bruno’s death, from KDKA Television in Pittsburgh … where we hear Bruno speak of his Mother … Note the look in his eyes … the sound of his voice … as he says, “My Mom showed the courage of a lion … I don’t know if I’d been man enough to do what she did …”