MITCHELL'S TAKE MITCHELL: Big Jay and the Red Chair (Newsletter Exclusive)
Feb 15, 2013 - 12:00:14 PM
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By Bruce Mitchell, PWTorch columnist
PWTorch senior columnist Bruce Mitchell's weekly column was first published in this week's Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #1291, available for VIP members and print subscribers.
On pay-per-view nights, Big Jay took the red chair.
Well, not always. Big Jay would show up early a lot of Sunday nights and we'd watch NFL football, if it was in season, or old wrestling stuff – more on that later. He'd go over and sit in the tan chair, at least until Hitch arrived and then he'd sit in the tan chair and Jay would go back to the red chair, because Hitch thinks he's the Mayor of Greensboro (well, when it comes to pro wrestling he kind of is) and the tan chair is actually his, I think - it's been here a long time.
The red chair is one of those lounger deals and the tan one isn't, so you'd think those two would have fought over the red chair, but unless Hitch didn't show - and he mostly did - Big Jay took the red chair. This has been going on for years and years.
Big Jay played college football in the '80s for the late Joe Morrison's University of South Carolina Gamecocks. He played on Morrison's famed Fire Ants defense line. Big Jay would laugh, telling about how the coaches would yell at him to get off his fat ass and go run. The Gamecocks were the first major college football team to be embroiled in a steroid scandal, but Jay said he had nothing to do with it, and I believe him.
Jay had no ego about playing major college football. I never knew if he started or how many years he played, but he knew the sport. One time he came in just as I was putting a wrestling disc in, and the cable was tuned in to ESPN Classic and some old Pac-10 game from, like, 27 years ago. He looked at the screen, called the next play, and said who would get the ball and how far he'd run. I just stared at him, and then we watched some old wrestling.
We did that a lot. Big Jay had been a wrestling fan a long time. He told the story a few times of how he and his high school football buddies would have Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling matches in the weight room, instead of, you know, lifting weights. He'd play Blackjack Mulligan and have a match with Big John Studd, or maybe he'd be Rick Steamboat going up against that backstabber Paul Jones. One time Big Jay climbed to the top of one of those old Universal weight machines and jumped off onto his some poor fool and knocked him cold. He got in some trouble for that one.
If only those irritated coaches had known that one day, and I told him this more than once, Big Jay would go on to surpass WrestleMania Headliner and NFL Hall of Famer Lawrence Taylor to have the greatest one-match career in professional wrestling history – more on that later, too.
I couldn't tell you exactly when I met Big Jay and his buddy Carl or when they became regulars at pay-per-views. They did tell us they used to buy their tickets to NWA shows in the Greensboro Coliseum as close as they could get to Front Row Section D, in the days when we were starting the "signs and rooting for the bad guys" craze at wrestling shows. (I know, it sounds ridiculous, but then you weren't there. Ask WWE Hall of Famer Arn Anderson about it the next time you see him.) Jonny Fairplay told us the same thing, a lot of folks did.
It had to have been through the two-hour weekly wrestling shows I did on Andy Durham's old nightly "Off the Wall Sports Call" show on (mostly) WKEW-AM. Neither Big Jay and Carl were like the guys who sometimes turned up at the radio station as the show went off the air, or the two who came to my school (yikes) and who I gently talked right back out the door. (Big Jay did show up at my school one time, to the surprise of us both, to sell educator insurance. If you filled out an information card he entered you in a drawing for a free TV. I told him all the TV he watched at my house he ought to give me the damn thing.)
We probably met when the radio station sponsored ("sponsored" might be putting it strongly) five-dollar admittance for pay-per-views at the Box Seat Sports Bar. I know Big Jay and Carl were there laughing their ass off the night Chris Cruise, Hitch, and I broke up the marriage plans of the 15-year-old girl and her skeezy 19-year-old "fiancé."
Which brings me to Big Jay's wrestling career. I don't know, like 15 years ago the indy promoter in Thomasville, N.C. was thrilled by the idea of having actual former WCW announcer Chris Cruise on his shows, and former WCW announcer Chris Cruise was thrilled by the idea of playing bad guy to a bunch of hillbillies (God only knows what his friend WWE Hall of Famer Bruno Sammartino thought of it – I never got a straight answer) while having Hitch at his side to throw to them in case things got hairy. Cruise was yet another victim hypnotized by Hitch's endless tales of Front Row Section D and old Johnny Hunter outlaw shows.
One of the tricks Hitch would talk Cruise into was to use his no-account buddies (except me, I wanted nothing to do with those idiots) in whatever nonsense they had cooked up for the next local show – the idea being that the buddy would then come by Hitch's comic book store Parts Unknown (no kidding) and tell him how great his moment in the indy sunshine was and then Hitch could tell the guy all those old stories all over again.
Hitch and Cruise figured Big Jay would be perfect as a pro wrestler because he was:
(B) a former college football player,
(C) someone who had watched a lot of pro wrestling and...
(D) a guy who once jumped off one of those old Universal weight machines.
Big Jay was up for it, well not up for enough to get some gear or anything, but he did invite his brother and his two nephews to the armory for his long-dreamed-about pro wrestling debut. The moment comes, Big Jay gets his cue to slide in under the bottom rope to attack Hitch and Cruise's next victim - rookie Steve Greene - and he's right there sliding, in perfect position...
only his sweat pants don't slide in with the rest of him. Here's Big Jay sheepish, red-faced, pantless, grabbing a headlock on the dumbfounded Greene, fans going crazy, his brother is laughing and pointing, Carl and I are a-cooking and a-smoking, I mean, high-fiving, and his nephews are hollerin', "Uncle Jay! His pants fell off! Uncle Jay! Pants! Uncle Jay!"
Like I said, greatest one-match career in pro wrestling history and Big Jay laughed about it as much as anybody.
And, about that old wrestling stuff - you can't be a long-time wrestling fan around here without knowing some Rufus R. "Freight Train" Jones stories. The Freight Train Rufus R. Jones – The "R" stands for Guts. Anyway, Big Jay used to talk about this one deal toward the end of the Freight Train's career, and I finally, okay, accidentally found the footage:
Jones coaches young upstart Brickhouse Brown to victory against the evil tandem of "Playboy" Gary Hart and WWE Hall of Famer "The Big Cat" Ernie Ladd, only the two cheaters jump him after the match, knock him flat, and tear his shirt.
Jones wants revenge, REVENGE, and tells announcer David Crockett he'll give $1,000 to Ladd and Hart to "get Ladd back in the ring." The Big Cat and the Playboy confer, and then everyone heads to the ring.
"Where's the money?"
The Freight Train gives it to Hart.
"It's all there."
Ladd and Hart leave the ring.
"Hey, where's he going with the $1,000!?!"
Big Cat with a big grin...
It got where watching pay-per-views were secondary to hanging out, gossiping, and laughing (except not for me, this is my job). After the boom years of the Monday Night Wars, when you never knew what nutjob might cross the door, the Sunday crowd narrowed down to Hitch, Big Jay, Carl, and Josh. Josh's girlfriend, Vanessa, was there for years, but then they got married. (Josh even showed up for a pay-per-view two days after the wedding and yet they're still together, with two kids.) Vanessa retired from Sunday nights to stay with the baby, but Josh remains a regular.
Vanessa is still around though - in her way. Some years ago Josh and Vanessa worked catering at the Coliseum for a WWE Raw taping and, well, WWE veteran ***** took a liking to Vanessa and made some suggestions. She told Josh and maybe she shouldn't have, because Josh is an instigator and he told me.
Perfect for text and Facebook – "Hey Vanessa, your boyfriend ***** is back in town, asking about you. Want me to give him your number? Again?"
Meanwhile, Josh is on the couch, laughing and shaking his head.
Josh was good for instigating trouble between Hitch and I, too. "Hey Hitch, isn't true you once broke the Irion Sheik's Camel Clutch at one of those shows with Cruise?" Ugh.
Big Jay was more of a sports instigator. He would bring up whatever was going on between Duke and Carolina or, the last couple of years, whatever cheating was going on in Chapel Hill, just to give me an opening to see if I could make Hitch's face turn red.
I could always tell if a pay-per-view was any good by Big Jay. If the main event was working he was right there. If it was another of those nights, you know what I mean, he'd be out cold in that red chair, at least until the right moment came.
Thump! "HEY, BIG JAY!"
Carl gave up on pro wrestling a couple of years ago, it's the nature of the beast, leaving Hitch, Big Jay, and I as regulars. These last few months Big Jay wasn't making all the shows, either. His father wasn't well, and he couldn't leave him at night unless he could find someone to watch him. I'd call him on Sunday nights to remind him about the show and see if he could come over.
If Big Jay didn't make it later that week, he'd go hang out at Hitch's store and get the run-down. He'd also call me if something was up on Raw.
Sunday night, about the time I would have called him if there had been a pay-per-view, the phone rang.
It was Carl.
Wednesday night, "Big Jay" Jasper Thompson Jr., was watching his father when he had a seizure. His brother found him and called an ambulance. The doctors said he had a major stroke. His brother told Carl Thursday they said there was no hope for recovery.
Big Jay never woke up from that stroke. Saturday, his family decided to take him off life support. Carl told me he lost his best friend.
I'm thinking Sunday night during the pay-per-view, I'm throwing that red chair right out the window.
(Bruce Mitchell has been a PWTorch columnist since 1990. He hosts the PWTorch Livecast every Monday night in the hour before Raw with Travis Bryant. The weekly two-hour Bruce Mitchell Audio Show with host Wade Keller is a VIP audio staple for years. His column archives dating back to 1990 are available in the Bruce Mitchell Library at the PWTorch VIP website.)
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