Saturday, July 16, 2011

Guess Who I Used To Lift Weights With?

I read with enormous....well, ambivalence...the series of articles over at All Green Bay Packers by the esteemed Adam Czech on the Packers and Professional Wrestling.  Not, of course, because I find Adam's material normally disinteresting--on the contrary.  I just don't particularly follow professional rasslin' like I did back in the glory years of the early 1980's.

But, I must chime in with an anecdote of my own, and the reason why when Adam does bring up the old school wrestlers on Twitter that my ears perk up.

I had just moved to Green Bay in seventh grade, and that was when my obsessive passion for the Green Bay Packers took off.  Each day after school, I'd walk over to my Green Bay Press-Gazette paper route drop off point and spend 15 minutes meticulously going over the sports section before actually getting my peeps their papers.  I bought a guy's single season ticket off of him in 1983 and attended every home game by myself.

But, as I approached high school, I began to dream of my high school football career.  Now, going to a very small parochial school in Green Bay, the most contact sport we offered during my middle school years was soccer, and I had never even put on pads before my freshman year.

 During the 1982 season, I had stopped at the downtown YMCA on my way back from the Gold Mine at Port Plaza mall and saw the answer to all of my prayers:  a "Lift Weights with the Packers" brochure.  I was in heaven.  Not only could I rub shoulders with Lynn Dickey and James Lofton, but I could get myself in playing shape under their expert tutelage.

I paid my own fee with my paper route money, and walked myself down from my old house on Monroe Street to the YMCA, all ready to get ripped.  I walked in, waiting to see which superstar would be in charge of my complete physical transformation.  Mark Murphy? Johnnie Grey? Larry McCarren?

There before me sat two extremely large guys, and in later years, the irony of the television show "Newhart" would only have made me stifle a laugh at the fact that they were both named Larry.  Where's Daryl?

Yes, Larry Rubens, a backup center behind McCarren, and Larry Phohl, a former CFL offensive lineman on injured reserve, were the two lucky guys who would be guiding my journey into muscles.

Rubens was a an understated guy, who did seem to come into the program with a serious attitude about working with the youngsters.  I didn't know then (as I know now) that each player has a requisite number of hours they must do for community service, but if Rubens had drawn the short straw, he didn't seem to mind.  He saw that I was far from the gym rat he was probably hoping to work with, and while the other teens in the program seemed to already know what they were doing, Rubens started me off from scratch and often took me aside to go through the basics.

Pfohl, on the other hand, was a jovial guy whose voice always seemed just a little louder than it needed to be.  He always had a smile on and didn't mind razzing the kids, something that took mickey out of the 120-pound weakling that was me.  He certainly wasn't a bad guy, but I always looked back and thought Rubens sensed that I was pretty self-conscious and Pfohl's playful banter set me back a bit.

Out of the ten sessions, I went to about six.  I remember a day where Pfohl had made an off-cuff remark to the guys about how they needed to work harder or they'd end up like me, and I chose to take a few sessions off after that.  When I came back a few weeks, later, both Larrys called me by name and welcomed me back.  I finished the session and got my little certificate.  I never got an autograph from them, but that was a personal choice.

Fast forward about six years.  I had moved from Green Bay and finished high school in a small town in southwestern Wisconsin, and my football career was something far from stellar, despite my six weightlifting sessions with real-live Packers.  I had started my undergrad degree at UW-Platteville, which at the time proudly hosted the Chicago Bears training camp.

In the summer of 1988, having worked with the university housing department as an RA, I got a call in July that they needed a shuttle bus driver for the players to go from their dorm to the practice field.  At that point, I didn't have a summer job, so I was thrilled get out of my parents' house and live in the dorm for the rest of the summer.  I drove a little mini-coach bus back and forth each day and transported players that today we still remember by name:  Singletary, Tomczak, and well as any number of little-known to unknown players trying to make the roster.

One day, I perused the training camp roster and was astounded to see a very familiar name:  Larry Rubens.  He got on the bus, looked a little older but still the same face.  One day, I initiated conversation (which was a no-no for us anyway) and asked him if he remembered doing a weight lifting program back in Green Bay in 1982.  He looked it me with a puzzled look, nodded "sure" and went to sit down.  Pwned.

The next day, though, he got on the bus with a big smile and said, "Hey...I do remember you!" (that was cool).  We shook hands and I thanked him for putting up with a scrawny kid in the weight room and being patient with him.

He then said, "Hey!  Do you remember that other guy that did the program with us?"  I nodded, remembering the loud, somewhat obnoxious Larry Pfohl.

"Do you know what happened to him?" asked Rubens.

"Actually, I did try and follow you guys for a while," I responded, trying my best to not sound like a stalker.  "You guys were both playing for Memphis in the USFL last I had checked."  This was true, and why I was surprised to see Rubens on the roster for the Bears.

"Yup," replied Rubens, "But do you know what he does now?"

I shook my head.

"He's a professional wrestler."  Visions of small-time wrestlers in Georgia or Minnesota came to mind.  In this corner, the Crusher, Larry Pfohl.

Rubens went on, "Do you know what name he goes by now?"  I shook my head.

"Lex Luger."

I was astounded.  Even at that point I had stopped watching professional wrestling, but Luger was a name everyone knew.  Here was Rubens, the nice-guy who helped a dorky kid learn to lift 25-pound weights without killing himself still fighting for roster spots in the NFL, while Pfohl, the cocky guy who never played a down for the Packers, was now world-renowned.

I followed Luger's career as closely as I could without actually getting back into watching wrestling as a whole, amazed that he eventually squared off against the guys I once loved to watch, like Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage;  and with even more intense jealousy, watched him have an on-stage AND real-life relationship with Miss Elizabeth.

To this day, I can honestly state that I used to lift weights with Lex Luger.  The statement itself sounds a lot more impressive than the actual story, but now, you have both.


Adam Czech said...

Great read, CD. It's funny that Pfohl was kind of a jerk even before entering wrestling. Most wrestlers say he was a jerk as well and acted like wrestling was beneath him even though he made a whole lot of money from it.

Big Sky Packer Backer said...

Great story!