Wahoo McDaniel

Class of 2009






Member of the Hall of Heroes Class of 2009


Accepting for his late father:

Zack McDaniel

Honoring Wahoo McDaniel:

Tully Blanchard

Photographs by Dick Bourne

 Where to begin with Wahoo McDaniel? Maybe on State Highway 9, a day before Valentine’s Day, 1959. The Choctaw-Chickasaw Indian (there was some German in there too, somewhere) was pounding the pavement on a stretch between Norman, Oklahoma, and Chickasha, 34 miles away. McDaniel was party to a group of wrestlers at the University of Oklahoma, where he played football, who laughingly suggested they could lose weight by jogging to Chickasha. In typical Wahoo fashion, McDaniel ventured that he could make the run, and took off at high noon to win a $25 bet. He finished the trek, collected the money, and gained fame in local newspapers for the stunt. That, in a nutshell, was Edward Wahoo McDaniel, a character through and through. He’d try anything once — running to Chickasha, sipping on motor oil, or eating a gallon jug of jalapeno peppers. And he’d try most things more often than that — getting married, beating an opponent to a pulp in or out of the ring, and thrilling millions of fans. “Who was Wahoo McDaniel?” Florida sportswriter Dave Hyde asked after his death at age 63 in 2002. “Who wasn’t he? An American Indian, an expansion Dolphin, a legendary wrestler, an old-time carouser, a full-time personality, an Oiler, a Bronco, a Jet, a guard, a linebacker, a kicker — he was the kind of figure we lost long ago on the sports pages: an original.”

The legend began innocently enough for the McAlester, Okla., native. Growing up in Midland, Texas, in the hardscrabble country made famous by “Friday Nights Lights,” McDaniel made his first athletic mark as a catcher on a Pony League team coached by an oil businessman named George Herbert Walker Bush. He later starred at fullback for Midland High, and nearly half-a-century later, Bush 41 recalled him fondly. “He was a good kid and a pretty fair baseball player. He has had his ups and downs, but I’ll always remember him as a wonderful kid who captured the imagination of west Texas in the 1950s. He was idolized by everyone who knew him.” From there it was on to the University of Oklahoma, where he played end, guard, and punter — his 91-yard-punt against Iowa State in 1958 still is a record. McDaniel went to training camp with the Dallas Cowboys in 1960, but couldn’t make the team. He landed in the upstart American Football League as a hard-hitting linebacker, though the knock on him during a journeyman career that lasted until 1968 was that he was slow in pass coverage. But his football career became secondary to his wrestling career after Balk Estes, a fellow Oklahoman, wooed him into wrestling after the 1961 season. Though memories and sources have differed over the years, his first pro match was in Indianapolis for Estes in January 1962. At first, wrestling was a hobby, a way to pick up some money to supplement his $15,000 football salary. But after the Miami Dolphins released him in 1968 in the wake of a fight with an off-duty policeman, he became one of the most sought-after workers in the country and the $42,000 he made his last year in football was just a memory.

During his first few years, he spent most of his time in Florida and Texas, where he and Johnny Valentine kicked off their legendary cross-country feud, battling for the state heavyweight title in 1969 and 1970. They’d reprise that in the Mid-Atlantic territory in 1974, where McDaniel ended up with the Mid-Atlantic title. As Sandy Scott once told journalist Mike Mooneyham: “All I would hear is Valentine saying ‘Harder! Harder! Harder!’ Wahoo would say, ‘My hand's about busted!’ John would say ‘Harder!’ ” Throwing tomahawk chop after chop, McDaniel held just about every title imaginable during his time in the Mid-Atlantic, but fans likely would have come out to see him, regardless of the belt around his waist. McDaniel battled Ric Flair, Sergeant Slaughter, Greg Valentine, and just about anybody that Jim Crockett Promotions could run out there. In one mid-70s match in Raleigh, he accidentally knocked NWA World Champ Jack Brisco cold with a head butt. After Brisco came to, McDaniel apologized, and then hit him in the nose again. “If Wahoo wasn’t in a class by himself, it didn’t take long to call the roll,” Brisco said.

Though he was not a classic worker or a marvel on the microphone, he was packed with charisma and a personality that made fans believe. “Wahoo didn't cheat the fans, and he earned his pay in sweat and blood. He was proud of who he was and what he stood for. At a time a room full of little boys huddled around the TV, he was a real hero, the perfect guy for his time,” said Chick Jacobs, a Wahoo fan as a youth and a North Carolina reporter as an adult. McDaniel also worked in Georgia, the Midwest, Texas, and Japan in between stops in the Carolinas, where he made his home after his active career ended in the 1990s. He battled serious health problems in later years, though he always made time for son Zac, now training for a wrestling career himself.

“How many of us have watched a football game and when a player caught a pass, said, ‘I could have caught that pass,’ or blocked a punt, or run for a touchdown, and said, ‘I could have done that,’ or, watching a wrestling match, seen the wrestler break a chair over an opponent’s head or back, or throw him out of the ring, and said to ourselves, ‘I could have done that?’ ” asked high school teammate Tommy Johnson. “Wahoo McDaniel didn’t fantasize about those things. That was his life.

”The Hall of Heroes banquet will be a fitting place to tell old Wahoo yarns and reflect on his importance to wrestling.


- Steve Johnson

Co-Author, The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams
Co-Author, The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels






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