Backed By The Jack

by Dick Bourne




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Let me tell you something, you gutless little wonder. I stood behind you so many times, we've been in so many places. And the bad were there, and they said 'Let's get Flair'. And somebody said, 'No. He's backed by the Jack. Let it be.'


- Blackjack Mulligan to Ric Flair, April 1978

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 I had been hoping for an opportunity to go to Florida and visit Blackjack Mulligan for well over a year. We had become friends following David Chappell’s interview two years ago with Blackjack on the Gateway, and that had progressed after I launched Blackjack’s Bar-B-Que, the web home of Blackjack Mulligan. What a thrill it was to become friends with one of my childhood heroes. It was a dream come true. We had numerous phone calls over the last year, almost daily e-mails, but I never had the opportunity to meet him in person.

George South and I came close to making the trip last summer, but it fell through at the last minute. Then out of nowhere, during a series of e-mails two weeks ago, Blackjack said come on.

He didn’t have to ask us twice.

We cleared about a 30 hour block of time where we could make the 22 hour round trip and have time for a good visit.

Leaving around 9 PM on Tuesday evening, we drove through the night, down I-77 to Columbia, I-26 to Charleston and then I-95 to Orlando and then west to Blackjack’s hometown, a small town between Orlando and Tampa. We talked about Blackjack the whole way, listening to old audio tapes from David Chappell’s vast audio archives. These included the Hat and Robe angle, and the long drawn out classic segments where NWA President Eddie Graham took the US belt back from Paul Jones and gave it to Blackjack, but then later declined to do so when Bobo Brazil had won the title. Great moments in Mid-Atlantic Wrestling history.

We got there about 6:30 AM, grabbed a bite of breakfast and then snoozed in our rented Ford F-150 pick-up until time to go to Blackjack’s car lot. We walked in and there sat Mike Rotundo, who manages the day to day operations at Main Street Auto Sales. This guy doesn’t look a day older than he did when he was in the Varsity Club! He looked terrific. We were a little nervous, because we didn’t have a firm time to see Blackjack and had even avoided confirming with him because we were afraid we’d wake up and it wouldn’t be true. But then in walked Blackjack’s lovely wife Julia, who smiled and hugged George and said “he’s expecting you, jump in your truck and follow me!”

My heart skipped a beat when I realized we were getting ready to go to the Headlock Ranch (or at least the central Florida equivalent.)

We followed Julia about three miles out into beautiful rural Florida, past the gators in the small ponds and lakes, and then pulled down a dirt and sand driveway to the home of Blackjack Mulligan. We couldn’t believe it.

Julia got the dogs up so we wouldn’t get eaten alive, and then welcomed us in. We waited only a few moments in the living room, and then suddenly there he was. This giant of a man, like a big grizzly bear, straight out of Mid-Atlantic Wrestling mythology, came over and hugged us, welcomed us to his home.

He looked great and seemed to be feeling great following a year of not feeling so well. He was in high spirits this day and we considered ourselves so fortunate.

We sat and talked. He laughed and shook his head; he couldn’t believe we had driven all night. I think Blackjack thought we were a little nuts, and he’d be right about that. I had some gifts for him, some Gateway stuff, and a big wind-breaker jacket with the Mid-Atlantic logo and “Mid-Atlantic Gateway” embroidered on the chest. He seemed very appreciative of all of it, but the thing he loved the most was a replica poster I had made of a Mid-Atlantic Wrestling Magazine cover that featured an artist’s rendition of he and his best friend Dick Murdoch from 1978. He looked at it for a long time, and we heard a few stories about the legendary Murdoch. Les Thatcher had designed those covers back in the day, and Blackjack thought a lot of Les, and we heard a few Thatcher stories, too.


Blackjack holds the replica poster of the cover of Mid-Atlantic Magazine from 1978

But then it was Blackjack’s turn to hand out gifts.

Months ago, Blackjack learned George had added the claw hold into his in-ring routine, and had told him he was going to dig out one of his original old claw gloves to give George to use in the ring. George was never really sure Blackjack was serious about that, but about 20 minutes into our visit, he said “okay boys, let’s find that glove.”

He took us into his bed room and ushered George into a big walk-in closet. “Start bringing those boxes out here, kid” he said, in that gregarious voice of his. “There’s stuff in there I haven’t looked through in 20 years.”


We were like kids in a candy shop, like it was Christmas morning. Blackjack was Santa Claus and we had hopped in his lap. Except it was better than that! We were in a place we couldn’t imagine anyone had been before, digging through Blackjack Mulligan's old wrestling gear. George and I kept looking at each other, not really believing what was happening.


Boots, belt buckles, gloves, spurs, cowboy hats, blood stained Texas t-shirts. And yes, that claw glove he had worn in the 70s and 80s; it had been on his hand when he had applied the hold to Flair, Jones, McDaniel, Duncum, Studd, Ladd, and countless others. One after another we opened box after box with wild eyed wonderment.

“You want those boots for your museum, George?” Blackjack said. “Are you serious?” George replied. “They’re yours.” He replied. I had to pick George up off the floor.

And then one item after another, he gave us. And the stuff he didn’t give us, he would say “When I die, come back down here, and Julia will give it to you.” There was a belt buckle Ric Flair had made for him back in in 1977 that was special to him that he especially didn't want to part with.


Blackjack treasured this belt buckle made especially for him and given to him by Ric Flair in 1977. It is inscribed "Blackjack Mulligan: United States Heavyweight Champion 76-77."


All this time he had a big smile on his face, as he told us stories about each item. We also went through files full of old photos and newspapers clippings. Front page newspaper stories when he defeated Jan Wilkens for the World Super Heavyweight Championship in South Africa. Personal journals. Old wrestling licenses. Reports he had written while working for WCW in an advisory capacity. It seemed it would never end. And we didn’t want it to.

And then there were the family photos. A very young Kendall Windham sitting on a fence with his Dad during one of the photo shoots at Nelson Royal’s ranch for Mid-Atlantic Magazine. He and Barry working together as Blackjack Mulligan Sr. and Jr. in the Mid-Atlantic and Knoxville territories. Wedding photos and family photos. Photos of a young Robert Windham playing high school and college football. Photos playing basketball while in the Marines. Photos from his military post in Guam. Just amazing stuff, moments from one of the most amazing life stories you’ll ever hear.

Later, Julia brought us all lunch. What a sweet lady. She seemed to realize that Blackjack was having a ball, too. And he was. I think he had a great time going back down memory lane, reliving stories about days on the road with Virgil Runnels and Hoyt "Dicky" Murdoch, brutal matches with Bill Eadie and Wahoo McDaniel, drawing huge gates with Ric Flair and Rufus R. Jones. Traveling with Andre the Giant in Japan. Wrestling literally all over the world, from Kuwait, to South Africa, to Japan, Mexico and criss-crossing North America.

He allowed us to take a few photos; he even cut a video promo for us for the website. He had been wearing a NY Yankees ball cap, and when he took that off and put on the black cowboy hat he had earlier given George, we were thrown back in time. It was 1976 again! He was wonderful.


Blackjack Mulligan and Dick Bourne

Before we realized it, the day had passed. It was time for us to get out of Blackjack’s way. He chuckled as George quickly loaded the truck, afraid Blackjack would declare it one of his best ribs ever and tell us to put that stuff back in that closet.

The back seat of the rented F-150 was full of memorabilia from one of the greatest careers in wrestling.

But it was real. It had happened. This kind, generous man, who had developed a trust with us that began with David Chappell’s interview on the Gateway and continued growing over the years, had given us one of the greatest days in our lives.


As we fought Orlando rush hour traffic, winding our way over to I-95 to head back north, we giggled like little school boys who had stumbled on a king’s ransom. But it wasn’t just the gifts Blackjack had given us. In fact, as special as all of that was to us, it didn’t compare to the genuine warmth he shared with us that day, the fellowship, the laughs, the stories. And we were moved by the character of a man who had had it all, lost it all, and had found redemption, now more comfortable than ever in his own skin surrounded by his family and sustained by his faith.

We got back to George’s home near Charlotte around 1 AM Thursday morning, and then another two hours for me back to Mount Airy.  I was exhausted, but exhilarated, and floating on cloud nine. I still am.

What in the world could we have possibly have done to deserve such a wonderful moment in our lives? It was a day we would never forget.


- Dick Bourne

July 2005, Mid-Atlantic Gateway



George South, wearing the cowboy hat Blackjack gave him, on the way home from Florida.

Visit the Mulligan Wing of George South's Online Museum