We were watching afternoon TV. In 1980 we didn’t have 800 channels or dvr devices to enhance our entertainment. We barely had remote controls. So I’m at my grandfather’s house laying on an oval throw rug watching Games People Play with my young uncles. They were only three to five years older than me so they were almost like cousins. The three of them controlled what we watched. I was the remote control and antenna adjuster if the screen got fuzzy reception.
My uncles lived in the country and I was a city boy. Big for eleven years old but a soft city boy. I lived in the suburbs of Louisville but to them it was the “city”. They had thick necks and forearms from baling hay and cutting tobacco. They were also the town’s high school football stars destined for college athletics. I worshipped them. So instead of whining about not getting to watch Godzilla or Kung-Fu Theater, I watched whatever they wanted.
Baseball, basketball and football were the usual programs but this was a dead period plus the 1980 actors strike and NBC filled it with Games People Play. It was a program similar to Battle of the Network Stars or Challenge of the Sexes. It was Paleozoic reality programming. Games People Play was hosted by Bryant Gumbel before he got all classy. The show consisted of events like belly flop competitions, foosball tournaments, taxi cab demolition derby and mechanical bull rodeos.
I laughed along with my uncles at the human train wrecks. Probably laughed a little extra loud to get on their good side. Bryant Gumbel then announced the next event that electrified the room. World’s Toughest Bouncer. My brawny uncles placed their elbows on their knees and gave the cathode ray tube box their maximum attention. I got ready just in case of bad reception and the uncles needed my quick antenna adjusting fingers.
Mean-mugging bouncers punched a heavy bag and introduced themselves. My uncles each picked their favorites. I didn’t know who to choose. They all looked formidable. The competition consisted of different events but all I can remember is a timed obstacle type course with a bar motif. They jumped over tables, threw an unruly customer as far as they could (judged like a track and field long jump) and broke through a door then rang a bell to stop the clock.
These rumbling Brahma bulls weaved their way through the ridiculous course. This went over big with my uncles. Discussion of building an obstacle course half in the back yard and half in the basement began. Then He stepped up to the heavy bag, BOOM! A black man with a bandanna on his head and feather ear rings? Menace emanated from this man. Whoa was the man or beast that crossed his path. My uncles said he was too short and feather ear rings?
This man sprung through the bars and table, a mongoose searching for a cobra to kill. And he didn’t just have speed. This human wrecking ball’s power shone as he smashed through the door and RIPPED the bell off the wall to stop the clock. My uncles howled in delight. I was wide-eyed and quiet pondering that this bouncer could throw all my uncles out of a bar by himself.
This mohawked mystery man was Mr. T. Soon to be Clubber Lang in Rocky III. And then B. A. Baracus on The A Team. This clumsy show brought us one of pop culture’s truly original characters.
My uncles never did build that obstacle course but they were tough guys of their own accord. I never got tough enough to get a Mohawk or start wearing feather ear rings. I did find another bigger than life character to admire. Almost as big as Godzilla. Definitely as loud.