Just in case you think I’m either: a) losing my mind or b) trying to fool you into thinking it’s 1997 again, rest assured that I’m innocent on both counts. I know it’s been a long time since WCW (and before that, the NWA) staged it’s year-ending event, but I always find myself thinking about it at this time of year.
Part of the reason is that the WWE’s December pay-per-views have been among their worst for the last few years. I know because I covered several of them. But mostly, I think back on one Starrcade from seven years ago that has a special place in my heart.
If you were a wrestling fan back in 1998, you don’t need me to tell you that it was probably the peak of the industry’s most recent cycle of popularity. The WWE was soaring thanks to Steve Austin, The Rock and Mick Foley, who literally soared from the top of a steel cage at King of the Ring in one of the year’s most memorable moments. WCW had yet to start its death spiral, enjoying a surge of excitement and merchandising dollars thanks to a guy by the name of Bill Goldberg. After a long time away, I got back into wrestling in a big way, eventually convincing Greg Oliver and John Powell to let me start writing Nitro reports for SLAM! Wrestling that fall.
My parents’ divorce and remarriages gave me a total of five brothers ranging in age from three to 13 years younger than me, and it was fun to see them get into wrestling as well. Not too many things can bridge a chronological gap that wide, so it was pretty cool to have something to fall back on, something I knew could start up a conversation with any of my siblings. We had different tastes in music and clothes, different friends and hobbies, but everyone watched Raw or Nitro just about every week. Even my dad, a judge in the Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas, followed it enough to know most of the storylines at the time, though he probably wouldn’t admit that today.
As the holidays approached, my thoughts naturally turned towards what to get all of my brothers for Christmas. I usually exchanged gifts with both of my brothers who lived with my mom and did a name exchange with the three who lived with my dad. I’m not sure what gave me the idea — especially since I had never attended a wrestling pay-per-view in person at that point — but it dawned on me that Starrcade was held in Washington, D.C. It would be a long drive from our homes in central Pennsylvania, but a manageable one, and my dad had a van big enough to transport everyone. With all of the pieces coming together, I gave a call to the MCI Center and managed to get seven tickets. For Christmas ’98, everyone was going to Starrcade on me.
When December 28 rolled around, it only took about five minutes to question the wisdom of my gift idea. I stopped by my mom’s house to pick up brothers Nate, the closest in age to myself, and Max, who was still a pudgy middle schooler at the time. Nate’s comment to Max that he would “probably trade his Goldberg shirt for some nachos” almost led to a fistfight, but cooler heads prevailed and we linked up with my dad and remaining brothers and piled into the van for the three-hour drive. Enthusiasm was pretty high, with Max carrying a pro-Bret Hart/anti-Kevin Nash sign and my youngest brother Timmy sporting a now infamous sign that read “Kevin Nash should have the world heavyweight belt,” only with the word “belt” about fifteen times larger than the rest so from a distance it looked like the only thing on the sign. Good stuff.
Turns out we could have left the signs at home, because our seats were almost literally at the top of the MCI Center. There was just a single row behind us before you got to the back wall and the ceiling, plenty high enough to activate my fear of heights. Yes, back then WCW could fill up a 20,000-seat arena. Still, all seven of us seemed excited to be there, and as I would reaffirm later watching WrestleMania X-7 from the rafters of the Astrodome, sometimes the most loyal and vocal wrestling fans are up there in the cheap seats. We definitely weren’t all on the same page as far as who to root for, but all of us could find like-minded spectators up there in the 400 level, screaming as if the guys down in the ring could really hear us from that distance.
What happened in the ring that night? I definitely remember that Goldberg’s winning streak came to an end, thanks to some help from Scott Hall and a stun stick. I also recall Diamond Dallas Page pinning The Giant — who would soon depart for WWE to become The Big Show — with a Diamond Cutter off the top rope. As for the rest of the card, I actually had to go back in the SLAM! Wrestling archives and pull up John Powell’s PPV recap to jog my memory. It sure doesn’t look like a barnburner through the magic of 20-20 hindsight, what with Prince Iaukea, Norman Smiley and Jerry Flynn all participating. In the end though, that really didn’t matter. The important thing was that my Christmas present brought together brothers, fathers and sons for one night in a way that nothing else could have, and as corny as it may sound, that makes Starrcade ’98 my favorite pay-per-view of all time.
Lots of stories have an epilogue, and mine is no different. I’d love to say that our experience seven years ago made us all closer, but life is what it is, and people change, grow and move on. Max and John are sophomores in college now and I don’t see them or talk to them as often as I feel like I should. Our tastes in hobbies and entertainment change too, and only Nate — now living in Philadelphia and preparing to start law school — even checks in on wrestling to see what’s going on every once in a while. So in a way, it’s appropriate in a melancholy sort of way that there’s no longer a Starrcade this December, a very real reminder that there won’t be a repeat of that family bonding any time soon.
It’s okay though, because even though I’ll probably go on watching Armageddon every year, I’ll always have my memories of that other pay-per-view. Here’s to you Starrcade.