The guideline for the series produced this week by Star Tribune sports staff stated “favorite event covered.’’ Thus, you had to be there as a working reporter, not watching live on television or through replays.
That means I’m fudging with the second of three events that I feared would not receive proper attention from our august panel of contributors. I wasn’t in attendance on this notorious night in the St. Paul; instead, our friend Dark Star (RIP, 6-01-2012) was the eyewitness who rated this as the evening hosting his all-time favorite sporting event:
Aug. 17, 1980, St. Paul Civic Center
The official card for the matches that night could not have been more clear. Greg Gagne of Mound, Minn. would be taking on Bobby ‘’The Brain’’ Heenan of Beverly Hills, Calif.
And above the listing of contestants, there it was: Special Main Event – Loser Must Wear Weasel Suit.
How it came to this showdown was much like how it came that the 1987 Twins were Minnesota’s first World Series winners: It was complicated.
The Crusher had made the transition from an initial force of evil to an all-time crowd favorite for several reasons … mostly, because you couldn’t help but get a laugh from the man during his TV interviews with Marty O’Neill.
As did all heroes working in the AWA, Crusher was required to become a bitter rival of the Heenan Family, manager Bobby Heenan’s assemblage of cut throats, hornswogglers, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers and -- Methodists! -- put together in an attempt to overthrow Verne Gagne’s kingdom.
Crusher took to bringing a Jack in the Box to those interviews with Marty, and would wind it up to the tune of “Pop Goes the Weasel,’’ and claim that said weasel was Heenan.
Soon, fans were bringing signage to the TV studio and the arena declaring Heenan to be “Bobby the Weasel,’’ rather than “Bobby the Brain.’’ This infuriated Heenan to the point that he was forced to make a few bucks off the taunting.
As George Schire, the can’t-be-stumped author and historian of the AWA, told me at the time of Heenan’s death in September 2017:
“Bobby would be sure to say in his interviews, ‘And I don’t want to see any of those (weasel) posters in the arena on Saturday night.’ Of course, the man selling the posters and making the money from them was Bobby.’’
Yes. Heenan-employed hawkers outside the arena, telling the arriving fans, “Get your weasel posters here.’’
Greg Gagne was Verne’s son and Jimmy Brunzell’s partner with the High Flyers. The hope of Greg and Brunzell entering tag team matches was to compete by the rules and produce a fair result.
Sadly, Heenan was perpetually interfering if a family tag team was in trouble vs. the High Flyers, and Greg couldn’t take it any longer. Heenan, mostly a manager but occasionally a wrestler (“Bobby was a good athlete,’’ Schire said), was called out by Greg for a solo match.
And then brains were put together and promoter Wally Karbo was asked to come up with a weasel suit. It could not have been better designed; oversized, fluffy pink, looking more a rabbit than a weasel.
The main event on that summer Saturday was actually a “Lights Out Match’’ between The Crusher and Jerry Blackwell. According to James Melby’s preview of the card, the two previous contests between The Crusher and Blackwell were “wild, bloody matches’’ ending in disqualification.
Thus, with little hope this one would be different and fair play rules would be followed, Stanley Blackburn – the mysterious AWA ruler – refused to sanction the match … meaning, it would have no place in the official records of the AWA (except Schire’s).
Note: Crusher won – by disqualification.
That had to be anti-climactic, after Heenan’s performance in the weasel suit.
You wanted a spoiler alert? Come on, what was the percentage chance Verne Gagne’s son was going to be put in an oversized, pink bunny suit in the Twin Cities?
Greg won the rules-bending match. The weasel suit was presented for Heenan to wear. Bobby the Weasel refused to climb into it, despite it being right there in black-and-white:
“Loser MUST Wear Weasel Suit.
Greg was left with no choice. He put Heenan in the sleeper hold, which was to the Gagne wrestling family what base knocks were to the Alou baseball family.
Out cold, Heenan was placed with some effort into the weasel suit, then slapped awake by Greg. Bobby raised up in a fog, noticed his paws, noticed his floppy feet and, feeling both shame and outrage, stumbled around the ring as a full house in the Civic Center celebrated with thunderous “Weasel’’ chants.
“Kirby’s home run in Game 6, pretty good; Jack’s 10 innings in Game 7, amazing,’’ Dark Star would say. “But nothing in Minnesota sports can top Heenan in the Weasel suit.’’