The passing of George Steele got me thinking … back to 1965 in fact. I was ten years old and it was a typical Saturday afternoon — we had finished with Kids League Bowling at Rose Bowl Lanes, and were all having a great time in the coffee shop.
My Mom was the Bowling League Secretary, so she was kind of in charge of a lot of kids, but that’s another story. Anyway, I looked up from my hamburger and French fries to notice a huge group flooding the entrance. I figured it was one of the local football teams because I always saw kids wearing varsity jackets in that area. It turned out to be the Madison Heights wrestling team, taking a break from a tournament at nearby Roseville High School.
By coincidence my Mom was a teacher at that time at Roseville, and she recognized the wrestling coach — a big burly guy named Jim Myers. My Mom of course had to say hello to Coach Jim and he told her to bring me over to meet “the team.” I was instantly enamored with the “tough wrestlers” and stared clowning around with one of the bigger guys. I got him in a sleeper hold and started yelling, “Look at me, I’m Mark Lewin!” Everybody laughed at my antics, especially the Coach. Eventually I left them alone to finish my meal, and let the adults have their coffee.
Little did I know, but Jim Myers was one of my Cobo Arena wrestling idols, albeit under a mask as the mysterious masked man “The Student.” My Mother was explaining to Jim how much I loved Big Time Wrestling. Not only did I collect all the magazines, but I never missed it on TV, and was always begging them to take me downtown to Cobo to see live wrestling. She also mentioned that I was scheduled to head to the hospital that summer for another ear operation that might just end my life.
Coach Jim was a very, very good-hearted man. He told my Mom, “I’m going to tell you a secret, but I have to ask you not to tell Brad just yet.” My Mom agreed. And he said, “I’m one of the Cobo wrestlers, only Brad knows me as The Student!” The two of them exchanged phone numbers and my mother promised to call him that summer once I was out of surgery.
That day came faster than I could ever want it. I recall being propped up in the hospital bed, my head slathered in bandages like some sort of horror movie mummy. My Dad was with me, and he was saying, “Your Mom is coming up with a surprise for you.” I remember praying that it would be a Big Boys hamburger and fries because by then I was sick of the hospital food.
My Mom entered the room empty handed, but with a huge smile on her face, She announced, “Bradford, I bring to you straight from Cobo Hall, THE STUDENT!” And in came Jim Myers wearing his mask.
I howled in surprise because this was a huge villain, and I was a true believer. But The Student sat down on the side of my bed, smiled, and stuck out his hand and we shook. I was grinning from, well, ear to ear. Then he held up a finger to his lips in the universal sign of “be quiet!” And he unmasked!
Of course, it was Coach Jim Myers from Madison Heights and now he was just plain old Coach Jim. He gave me a hug. The next 30 minutes he patiently answered all my questions. He never broke kayfabe but that was cool because he didn’t have to.
Having a masked man in the hospital got a little attention, and the public relations person wanted to send up a photographer. The Student wouldn’t allow that though, and had a whispered “conference” with my Dad to explain the situation. (Boy, do I wish I had a picture of the visit though!)
Before he left, Coach Jim promised to keep in touch, and for a long time we did send letters (snail mail!) back and forth. He almost never forgot my birthday.
Of course, through the years we grew apart, but I always enjoyed watching him on TV. I’m not sure that he realized that the young kid he visited in the Roseville hospital — Mrs. McFarlin’s little boy — would grow up and become both a wrestling manager, as “Handsome” Johnny Bradford, but also get the chance to photographer many, many wrestling shows and become friends with countless others from the wrestling business.
Looking back over 50 years ago, I’m pretty pleased to recall that Jim Myers — not The Student, not The Animal — was my first friend in the professional wrestling business.