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Indiana’s Most Famous Wrestler-The Bruiser

My parents exposed their child to often unusual and atypical experiences-or at least looking back, it seems so. We went to the racetrack and church, the bowling alley and Bible school. We saw Jerry Lee Lewis and the Lennon Sisters in concert. We learned how to play poker and we mastered the game of hopscotch. These were the most opposite of events and entertainments and some of them perhaps not necessarily considered appropriate for children.

In thinking back to those times, I have to remember that today life is governed by different rules and everything we say and do must be politically correct.  In the fifties, lives were simpler and in some ways-not in all ways-people were less judgmental and more caring. In looking at life through those eyes, I consider one of the most unusual sporting adventures we witnessed as children was wrestling. And, since our parents chose to expose us to the sport, it made perfect sense that we were introduced to one of the most famous wrestlers of all times-none other than the one and only, Richard “Dick the Bruiser” Afflis.

“The Bruiser” was an Indiana native having been born in Delphi, Indiana-I had to Google Delphi to find out exactly where it was located-and grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, where he first played high school football. He continued playing football as a college student for the Boilermakers of Purdue University and then played lineman for the Green Bay Packers in the early fifties, before becoming a professional wrestler.

The interest in wrestling exploded after WWII so it must have been a natural choice for our parents to take us to the Armory to see the famous “Bruiser” when he came to town. Forget the fact that wrestling was and still is one of the most aggressive and brutal sports of all, if not in actuality, violent on some levels. “The Bruiser” became a legend in the world of wrestling and somewhat of a hero in Indiana and particularly in Indianapolis where he lived.

I have only a vague memory of “The Bruiser”, but Sissy reminded me of our excursion to the Armory and helped trigger the memory of this unusual nugget of my childhood. She easily recalled the event and described “The Bruiser” as being barrel-chested with bleached blond hair. His favorite opponent carried an equally frightening moniker of “The Crusher” and sported bleached blond hair as well. It must have been the fashion for wrestlers at the time, which eventually carried over to Hulk Hogan, a more modern-day wrestler.

For me, I remember the shoes-high top lace-ups in bright red. Apparently, I was a shoe aficionado even then. On the other hand, perhaps I just preferred to concentrate on the shoes he was wearing rather than the jeering and heckling of the crowd-strangely gruesome behavior from seemingly normal people, which I have never been able to understand.  The wrestling experience apparently left a much greater impression on Sissy, as she loves her boxing and football contests of today. I consider them two equally aggressive sports, which often make me cringe with the crushing of body against body.

For me, I prefer petticoats and the more gentile sports of tennis and golf. Sorry Bruiser-I do not think I liked watching you wrestle in person, and I certainly do not watch it on TV today. Mickey Rourke gave me enough of a flavor for the sport in the movie “The Wrestler”-barrel-chested, with bleached blond hair, wearing the shoes. Red shoes? Now those are worth thinking about.