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How the Owners of All 32 NFL Teams Made Their Money

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Has the return of football season inspired you to pursue your dream of NFL franchise ownership? Here's how someone—or, in many cases, someone's parents or grandparents—becomes wealthy enough to buy a team. 

Arizona Cardinals: Bill Bidwill

Owner Since: 1972

The Numbers: Forbes estimates the Cardinals are worth $1 billion, making them the 25th most valuable team in the NFL. 

Moving Man: Bidwill moved the team from St. Louis after his demands for a new stadium weren’t met.

How He Got Rich: Bidwill inherited the Cardinals from his father, Charles. Charles was a wealthy Chicago lawyer, and according to the book From Sandlots to the Super Bowl: The National Football League, 1920-1967, he had connections to Al Capone.

Atlanta Falcons: Arthur Blank

Owner Since: 2002

The Numbers: The Falcons are estimated to be worth $1.125 billion, placing them 21st in the NFL franchise financial rankings. Blank reportedly bought the team for $545 million.

More Teams on the Way?: Blank has expressed interest in bringing an MLS team to Atlanta.

How He Got Rich: In 1978, Arthur Blank co-founded Home Depot. Story has it that during Home Depot’s early days, Blank and his business partner would stand in the parking lot handing out dollar bills to entice customers to browse the store. Blank is now worth an estimated $2.5 billion, meaning he could lure the entire population of China into a Home Depot if he wanted to.

Baltimore Ravens: Stephen Bisciotti

Owner Since: 2004

The Numbers: Bisciotti was a minority owner of the Ravens from 2000 until he bought the whole dang team through a $325 million deal with Art Modell in 2004. The Ravens are now worth $1.5 billion.

Young Gun: Bisciotti is the second youngest sole owner of an NFL franchise behind Dan Snyder. Bisciotti is the first youngest if you don’t count owners who are despised by their own fans.

How He Got Rich: Bisciotti founded Aerotek in a basement office with his cousin. This later turned into the parent company the Allegis Group, which owns both Aerotek and TEKsystems. Despite what they sound like, these companies are not fronts for a Bond villain’s plot for world domination, but rather staffing firms for engineering and technology companies.

Buffalo Bills: Terry Pegula

Owner Since: 2014

The Numbers: The Buffalo Bills are worth $935 million, according to Forbes. Ralph Wilson founded the team in the then-AFL in 1959. The league eventually merged with the NFL in 1970, where the Bills went on to define small-market success in the early '90s—before doing the exact opposite of that for the following two decades. 

How He Got Rich: After Wilson's passing in 2014, Pegula bought the Bills for a reported sum of $1.4 billion. His fortune comes from the sale of his natural gas drilling and fracking company.

Carolina Panthers: Jerry Richardson

Owner Since: 1993

The Numbers: The Panthers are worth a little over $1.2 billion.

Experience: Richardson actually played in the NFL for two seasons. He was a receiver for the Baltimore Colts in 1959 and 1960. Maybe he could throw on the pads for one more go and give Cam Newton another downfield target! (Disclaimer: Jerry Richardson is 79 years old and would likely be severely injured or even killed.)

How He Got Rich: Richardson owned Hardee’s franchises in South Carolina before going on to become the CEO of food services company Flagstar, which ran every Denny’s in the country. The company flirted with financial unrest until it was purchased by a private equity group in 1992. Richardson retired in 1995.

Chicago Bears: Virginia Halas McCaskey

Owner Since: 1983

The Numbers: Virginia McCaskey owns 80% of the Bears, who are valued at $1.7 billion. Nearly $1 billion of that money is spent reminding people the 1985 Bears won the Super Bowl.

Football Money: It’s hard to find any Halas family holdings or enterprises that don’t have to do with the T-formation, linebackers, or angry, mustachioed head coaches. The family’s fortune grew with the NFL, which is to say it grew a lot.

How She Got Rich: She inherited the team from her father, George Halas, who took a starch company’s rec-league squad and essentially turned it into the NFL. He was a founder, player, coordinator, coach, and owner of the Bears—hence his nickname, “Mr. Everything.”

Cincinnati Bengals: Mike Brown

Owner Since: 1991

The Numbers: Mike Brown took over the Bengals after his father’s death in 1991. The team is worth an estimated $990 million.

Total Control: Mike Brown works as the general manager of the Bengals, and is one of only two owners in the NFL to do so. The Cowboys’ Jerry Jones is the other, which doesn’t help Brown in deflecting any criticism that he’s a control freak.

How He Got Rich: Mike Brown’s father, Paul Brown, was the namesake and first coach of Ohio’s other team, the Browns. He went on to co-found and own the Bengals before leaving the team to his son. Like the Halas family, the Browns’ money comes from football. Should football one day cease to exist, the Browns would be penniless and confused, wandering through the Midwest wondering where their publicly-funded stadiums and fortune went. Luckily for them, football has continued to exist and looks relatively stable.

Cleveland Browns: Jimmy Haslam

Owner Since: 2012

The Numbers: In 2012, Jimmy Haslam bought the Cleveland Browns from Randy Lerner for a reported $1 billion.

Serial Buyer: Haslam had to sell a minority interest in the Pittsburgh Steelers that he held since 2008 in order to buy the Browns. NFL rules state that owners aren’t allowed to have ownership stakes in multiple teams. In fact, that’s pretty much the only rule the NFL has for its owners.

How He Got Rich: Jimmy Haslam is the CEO of the Pilot Flying J truck stop company, a nationwide chain founded by his father. Pilot Flying J is the largest such company in the country and sells more over-the-road diesel fuel than anyone else. Haslam and Pilot Flying J are currently under federal investigation for allegedly scheming customers and shortchanging them on fuel rebates.

Dallas Cowboys: Jerry Jones

Owner Since: 1989

The Numbers: The Cowboys are worth an estimated $3.2 billion, making them the number one team on Forbes’ list of the most valuable NFL franchises. Jerry Jones bought them in 1989 for $140 million and has been one of the most visible owners in all of pro sports. In 2009, Jones opened the new $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium, now named AT&T Stadium. Remember to call it that—AT&T paid an estimated $500 million and would appreciate it.

How He Got Rich: Jones is an oilman, naturally. In the ‘70s and ‘80s, Jones made his fortune wildcatting with Jones Oil and Land Lease, drilling all the way to the Cowboys’ owners box. Jones’ estimated net worth now sits at $4.2 billion, or roughly 35 debatable Tony Romo contract extensions.

Denver Broncos: Pat Bowlen

Owner Since: 1984

The Numbers: Pat Bowlen became the majority owner of the Denver Broncos in 1984 after his family purchased the team from Edgar Kaiser. The Broncos are now worth $1.45 billion which, adjusted for altitude, is still $1.45 billion. Bowlen also owns the Denver Outlaws of Major League Lacrosse.

How He Got Rich: Pat Bowlen achieved success as a lawyer in Edmonton before becoming an executive for his family’s oil drilling and exploration company, Regent Resources. The lesson here seems to be that if you can strike oil and buy a sports team before the league’s popularity explodes, you might be able to make a buck or two.

Detroit Lions: Martha Ford

Owner Since: 2014 (Inherited team from late husband William Clay Ford, Sr.)

The Numbers: William Clay Ford, Sr. bought the Detroit Lions in 1963 for $4.5 million. The team is now worth $960 million. Since buying the team, Ford’s Lions have won exactly one playoff game. 

How He Got Rich: Bill was Henry Ford grandchild and the Ford Motor Company’s single largest stockholder. According to a 2011 calculation, Ford’s shares in the motor company were estimated to be worth about $500 million.

Green Bay Packers: Green Bay Packers, Inc.

This One's Different: The Packers are a very special case. They are a publicly traded non-profit company owned by their 360,760 shareholders. If they ever need to raise money for a stadium or something else expensive, they just sell more shares. To prevent anything even resembling a majority owner from coming into existence, there’s a limit on how many shares you can buy.

It’s a remarkably effective and successful model that goes directly against the NFL’s runaway capitalist ideal. Naturally, it’s long been banned by the league—the Packers have been grandfathered in.

Houston Texans: Robert C. McNair

Owner Since: 2002

The Numbers: McNair and his partners bought the expansion Houston Texans for $700 million. In little over a decade, the team’s value ballooned to an estimated $1.85 billion, making them the 5th most valuable NFL franchise according to Forbes, and proving that people from Texas really took to rooting against the Cowboys.

How He Got Rich: Robert C. McNair owned a cogeneration power plant company and sold it to Enron in 1999. After that, it was nothing but smooooooth sailing for Enron.

Indianapolis Colts: Jim Irsay

Owner Since: 1997

The Numbers: The Colts are worth an estimated $1.4 billion, much of which is tied to a sweet stadium deal hashed out with Indianapolis.

How He Got Rich: Jim Irsay’s father, Robert Irsay, built a fortune estimated to be over $150 million through successful heating and air-conditioning companies. In 1972 he bought the Los Angeles Rams for $19 million before trading franchises with Carroll Rosenbloom for the Baltimore Colts. The franchise trade wasn’t the last oddball ownership trick he pulled: Irsay infamously moved the Colts out of Baltimore in the middle of the night in 1984 via a fleet of moving trucks. No one ever gives the movers enough credit. Moving an entire pro football team in one night must’ve been really hard.

Jacksonville Jaguars: Shahid Khan

Owner Since: 2012

The Numbers: The Jaguars are worth an estimated $965 million, which must come as a surprise to the citizens of Jacksonville. Khan also purchased English soccer team Fulham FC for a price estimated to be over $200 million.

How He Got Rich: Bumpers.

Khan arrived in America from Pakistan when he was 16 to study engineering at the University of Illinois. After graduating, Khan found work as an engineering manager at Flex-N-Gate, a nearby autoparts company. Flex-N-Gate made bumpers, and they made them inefficiently. Khan streamlined the process and started his own company, Bumper Works. Soon after, Khan bought Flex-N-Gate and began supplying lightweight bumpers to General Motors. After GM decided to use his methods on their own, Khan shifted his focus to Japanese automakers in the ‘80s, just as the Japanese auto invasion began to storm U.S. shores. Flex-N-Gate is now the sole bumper manufacturer for Toyota, and made $4.5 billion in 2014 alone.

Kansas City Chiefs: Clark Hunt

Owner Since: 2006

The Numbers: The Chiefs are worth a little over $1 billion, and have been in the Hunt family since the team’s inception in the AFL. Clark Hunt is the Chairman of Hunt Sports Group, which operates the Columbus Crew.

How He Got Rich: Clark Hunt is the grandchild of extravagant oil tycoon H.L. Hunt, who was the Platonic ideal for a Texas billionaire (he may have been the inspiration for J.R. Ewing on Dallas). H.L’s son (and Clark’s father) Lamar was a co-founder of the American Football League. He’s also the person who coined the term “Super Bowl,” and had investments in various soccer, tennis, hockey, and basketball ventures (including the Chicago Bulls). When Lamar died in 2006, Clark inherited the Chiefs and has served as chairman and CEO ever since.

Miami Dolphins: Stephen M. Ross

Owner Since: 2009

The Numbers: The Dolphins are worth an estimated $1.3 billion. Not bad for a team whose logo is a porpoise wearing a helmet. Ross increased his share of the franchise from 50% to 95% in 2009.

How He Got Rich: Stephen Ross started his career as a tax attorney before getting into real estate. He started by investing in affordable housing and syndicating and selling these projects as tax shelters to wealthy investors. His real estate ventures eventually grew to include mammoth projects like the Time Warner Center and the sprawling Hudson Yards development site in Manhattan. His estimated net worth is now $6.5 billion. Ross donates a lot to his alma mater, the University of Michigan. A lot: he's given over $300 million so far. For his troubles they went ahead and named the business school after him.

Minnesota Vikings: Zygi Wilf

Owner Since: 2005

The Numbers: Wilf and his partners bought the Vikings in 2005 for a reported $600 million. The team is now worth over $1.1 billion.

How He Got Rich: Wilf’s family, German immigrants and Holocaust survivors, launched their wealth by building and selling single family homes in the ‘50s. The company grew with Wilf and his brothers at the helm, and their business now develops town homes in 39 states. They also have a commercial arm that specializes in shopping malls and owns over 20 million square feet of retail space in the U.S.

New England Patriots: Robert Kraft

Owner since: 1995

The Numbers: Robert Kraft bought the Patriots for $172 million in 1995, and their estimated net worth is now $2.6 billion. In an alternate universe, this number swelled to over $3 billion due to merchandise sales celebrating the Pats’ undefeated season in 2007. But in this universe, there was the helmet catch.

Other Notable Holdings: Kraft is the founder of one of the first MLS teams, the New England Revolution.

How He Got Rich: Robert Kraft got his start working at his father-in-law’s packaging material company. He eventually bought the business and merged it with International Forest Products, a separate packaging and recycling company he started. All his ventures are currently under the umbrella of The Kraft Group, a holding company that also controls various real estate and entertainment ventures. His estimated net worth is $4.3 billion.

New Orleans Saints: Tom Benson

Owner Since: 1985

The Numbers: The New Orleans Saints are worth around $1.1 billion. Benson bought the team in 1985 when he found out they were in talks to be moved to Jacksonville, a city with far inferior zydeco music and gumbo. Benson also recently bought the NBA’s New Orleans Pelicans.

How He Got Rich: Benson owned (and still owns) multiple car dealerships in the New Orleans and San Antonio areas. He began to invest in and purchase local banks and formed Benson Financial, which was a successful enough enterprise to fund his purchase of the Saints. In 1996 he sold Benson Financial to Norwest Banks for $440 million.

New York Giants: John Mara and Steve Tisch

Owners Since: 2005

The Numbers: The Giants, one of the NFL’s first teams, are estimated to be worth around $2.1 billion. But they have to share a stadium with the Jets, which really must bring their property values down.

Familiar Names: That’s Mara as in Rooney and Kate Mara; the actresses are the great-granddaughters of Tim Mara. And the Tisch family might ring a bell because they’re the Tisches of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.

How They Got Rich: The Maras' fortune started with the Giants’ original owner, Tim Mara. Tim was a bookkeeper in the horse racing circuit and bought the Giants for $500 in 1925. Story has it that Mara’s buddy, a boxing promoter, was offered the team but passed it along to him. Mara didn’t know much about football, but he ponied up the five hundred bucks anyway.

Steve Tisch is a film producer and inherited his part-ownership of the Giants from his father, Bob Tisch, a former postmaster general and co-owner of the Loews Corporation.

New York Jets: Robert Wood Johnson IV

Owner Since: 2000

The Numbers: Robert “Woody” Johnson IV bought the Jets in 2000 for a reported $635 million. They are now worth an estimated $1.8 billion, but if you ask the New York tabloids, they’d list the team as “priceless.”

How He Got Rich: Woody Johnson is an heir to the Johnson & Johnson company, which was co-founded by his great-grandfather.

Oakland Raiders: Mark and Carol Davis

Owners Since: 2011

The Numbers: The Raiders are worth $970 million, so they should be able to afford a football field that doesn’t have a baseball diamond sitting in the middle of it. This isn’t Pop Warner, folks.

Warring With The NFL: He could be a clueless blowhard at times, but former owner Al Davis loved to stick it to the powers-that-be, something that’s always enjoyable. Davis quit as the AFL commissioner because he was so against the move to the NFL. As owner, he went on to annoy every NFL commissioner who stood in his way.

How They Got Rich: Mark Davis and his mother, Carol, inherited a controlling interest in the Raiders from Mark’s father, Al. The elder Davis began as a coach and general manager of the Raiders before becoming the team’s owner by shouldering out Wayne Valley, the man who'd originally hired Davis, when Valley was out of the country. The moral of the story: Don’t go on vacation when Al Davis is around.

Philadelphia Eagles: Jeffrey Lurie

Owner Since: 1994

The Numbers: Jeffrey Lurie bought the Eagles in 1994 for $195 million. The team is now worth around $1.75 billion.

Eagles Are Green: In 2010, Lurie and the Eagles announced a plan to make Lincoln Financial Field the first major sports stadium to generate its own renewable energy. Though, that’s pretty easy when the fans are throwing batteries on the field. (Lay off, Eagles fans; at least we didn’t go the Santa-booing route.)

How He Got Rich: The Lurie family fortune started with a chain of movie theaters founded and built by Jeffrey Lurie’s grandfather. The family wealth blossomed after acquiring other ventures like bottling companies and clothing retailers. In 1985, Jeffrey founded Chestnut Hill Productions, which produced a slew of pretty forgettable films including Blind Side. No, not the movie about football, but rather the steamy 1993 thriller starring Ron Silver.

Pittsburgh Steelers: Dan Rooney

Owner Since: 1988

The Numbers: The Steelers are worth $1.35 billion, making them the richest towel manufacturer in the world. They also run a football team on the side.

Steeler Nation Envoy: In 2009, President Obama named Rooney the U.S.’s ambassador to Ireland. He resigned in 2012.

How He Got Rich: Lore has it that Art Rooney, Dan’s father, got the $2500 needed to purchase Pittsburgh an NFL franchise in 1933 after he won a parlay at the horse track. There is some dispute over the validity of this story, but no matter how he earned the money, Art managed to turn the Steelers into one of the NFL’s wealthiest franchises. Gambling never left the family’s blood, either: Dan Rooney’s brothers own various horse and greyhound tracks across the country.

San Diego Chargers: Alex Spanos

Owner Since: 1984

The Numbers: The Chargers are worth an estimated $995 million, which is one dollar for every day of sunshine San Diego gets a year.

How He Got Rich: Spanos’ business career began in 1951 when he started a catering company with an $800 loan. He threw his catering profits into real estate and rolled those investments into the A.G. Spanos Companies, a construction business specializing in apartment and commercial buildings.

San Francisco 49ers: Jed York

Owner Since: 2009

The Numbers: Forbes estimates the 49ers to be worth about $1.6 billion.

How He Got Rich: Jed York is the nephew of Edward DeBartolo Jr., who was the 49ers’ remarkably successful owner for 23 years. The DeBartolo fortune came from construction and real estate: they built some of the first suburban shopping malls in the country.

Seattle Seahawks: Paul Allen

Owner Since: 1997

The Numbers: The Seahawks are worth an estimated $1.33 billion [cut to footage of people throwing sturgeon in the Pike Place Fish Market].

Other Notable Holdings: Allen also owns the NBA’s Portland Trail Blazers and the Seattle Sounders of the MLS. If you live in the Pacific Northwest and play sports recreationally, chances are Paul Allen owns your after-work softball team.

How He Got Rich: In 1975, Paul Allen founded Microsoft with Bill Gates. He is now worth $17.4 billion, making him the NFL’s richest team owner (by far). And in the 1999 made-for-TV movie Pirates of Silicon Valley, Allen was portrayed by Josh Hopkins, who played Courteney Cox's love interest on Cougar Town.

St. Louis Rams: Stan Kroenke

Owner Since: 2010

The Numbers: The St. Louis Rams are worth an estimated $930 million, making them the "poorest" team in the NFL.

Other Notable Holdings: Kroenke heads Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which owns or holds considerable shares of the Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, and Colorado Rapids. He had to turn over operational control of these teams upon becoming the owner of the Rams, as per the NFL’s rules on owning teams in multiple markets.

How He Got Rich: Stan Kroenke is a real estate magnate who owns developments around the country, many of which are anchored by Wal-Mart locations. His wife, Anna Walton Kroenke, is the daughter of Bud Walton, co-founder with his brother Sam of Wal-Mart. What a coincidence!

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Glazer Family

Owners Since: 1995

The Numbers: Malcolm Glazer bought the Bucs for $192 million in 1995, which was a record at the time. He died in 2014.

Other Notable Holdings: The Glazer family bought Manchester United in 2005. The soccer club is the third-richest in the world.

How They Got Rich: When he was 15, Glazer inherited his father’s watch business. In the ‘70s, Glazer began buying trailer parks and soon developed that real estate venture into First Allied Corporation, a holding company that owns and rents shopping centers across the country. The company took a huge hit during the recession, and his current wealth is mainly due to his sports franchise ownerships.

Tennessee Titans: KSA Industries (A Holding Company Established by Former Owner Bud Adams)

Owner Since: 2013

The Numbers: The Titans are estimated to be worth $1.161 billion.

How He Got Rich: Bud Adams was a wildcatter in the ‘50s and ’60s and made his money in oil. Hence the Titans original identity: The Houston Oilers. Adams died in 2013.

Washington Redskins: Dan Snyder

Owner Since: 1999

The Numbers: The Redskins are worth $2.4 billion.

Other Notable Holdings: Snyder owns three sports radio stations in the DC area, as well as a production company with Tom Cruise. He also purchased Dick Clark Productions, hoping it would provide rockin’ returns.

How He Got Rich: Snyder started a marketing and advertising company with his sister. They specialized in doctors' offices and hospitals. According to a report in the Washingtonian, “When new mothers were sent home from the maternity ward, they were given goodie bags of creams and diapers—through Dan Snyder’s company.” This direct marketing proved successful and the business took off and started to branch out to include telemarketing and other methods. That call you got during dinner last night? Probably Dan Snyder.

All photos courtesy of Getty Images. An earlier version of this post appeared in 2013.

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Pop Culture
The Time a Wrestling Fan Tried to Shoot Bobby Heenan in the Ring
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For a man who didn't wrestle much, Bobby “The Brain” Heenan wound up becoming more famous than a lot of the men flexing in the squared circle. The onscreen manager of several notable grapplers, including André the Giant and “Ravishing” Rick Rude, Heenan died on Sunday at the age of 73. His passing has led to several tributes recalling his memorable moments, from dressing up in a weasel suit to hosting a short-lived talk show on TNT.

While Heenan’s “heel” persona was considered great entertainment, there was a night back in 1975 when he did his job a little too well. As a result, an irate fan tried to assassinate him in the ring.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Heenan was appearing at the International Amphitheater in Chicago as part of the now-defunct AWA wrestling promotion when his performance began to grate on the nerves of an unnamed attendee seated on the floor. Eyewitnesses described the man as friendly up until wrestlers Verne Gagne and Nick Bockwinkel started their bout with Heenan at ringside in Bockwinkel’s corner.

“Get Heenan out of there,” the fan screamed, possibly concerned his character would interfere in a fair contest. Heenan, known as “Pretty Boy” at the time, began to distract the referee, awarding an advantage to his wrestler. When the official began waving his arms to signal Heenan to stop interrupting, the fan apparently took it as the match being over and awarded in Bockwinkel’s favor. He drew a gun and began firing.

The man got off two shots, hitting three bystanders with one bullet and two more with the other before running out of the arena. (No fatalities were reported.) Security swarmed the scene, getting medical attention for the injured and escorting both Heenan and the wrestlers to the back.

According to Heenan, the shooter was never identified by anyone, and he was brazen enough to continue attending wrestling cards at the arena. ("Chicago really took that 'no snitching' thing to heart back then," according to Uproxx.)

Heenan went on to spend another 30 years in the business getting yelled at and hit with chairs, but was never again forced to dodge a bullet.

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History
Hans Schmidt, the "Nazi" Wrestler Who Incited Riots
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Waiting inside the locker room of the Pioneer Memorial Stadium, The Des Moines Register reporter Walter Shotwell thought he had found a clever way to discredit a visiting professional wrestler named Hans Schmidt. Just a few days prior, on August 1, 1953, Schmidt had been seen on national television barking into a microphone using a thick German accent. He dismissed the concept of sportsmanship and vowed to “win ze title and take it back to Germany vere it belongs.”

In the years following World War II, a German nationalist was not likely to be cheered on anywhere in the United States, but the vitriol Schmidt encouraged was unlike anything pro wrestling had ever seen. Schmidt had fans practically frothing at the mouth, stabbing him with hairpins, waving cigarette lighters in his face, and vandalizing his car. Fearing for his safety, police would often have to escort him through angry mobs. It didn’t really seem to matter whether Schmidt was truly anti-American or just playing a role. Either one seemed egregious.

Shotwell suspected the latter. During his interview with Schmidt, he handed him a newspaper clipping and asked him to read it out loud in German. Schmidt refused, saying that Shotwell wouldn’t understand him. Looking at it closely, Schmidt could see it quoted residents of Munich, where he claimed to hail from, who said they had never heard of any Hans Schmidt.

Shotwell pushed it a little further, until Schmidt made it clear he wasn’t going to continue to play along. Had he admitted the truth—that he was not an actual Nazi, but a French-Canadian named Guy Larose—then he likely would have missed out on a career that would eventually make him one of the highest-paid and most reviled athletes in the world.

Courtesy of Dave Drason Burzynski

If pretending to be an enemy of the state was his destiny, then Larose was born at the right time. He was 24 in 1949, the year he decided to become a pro wrestler; his dream of joining the Royal Canadian Mounted Police had ended while he was still in training after the police and several RCMP students tried to enforce an alcohol ban on a nearby Native community and had their vehicles pummeled with baseball bats.

Eager to exploit his six-foot-four, 240-pound frame, Larose turned to wrestling. In Michigan and across Canada, he was able to book contests but found that neither his persona nor his real name was drawing a crowd.

Arriving in Boston in 1951, Larose met wrestling promoter Paul Bowser, who took one look at the stern-faced wrestler and declared that he should adopt a Nazi persona. Larose wouldn’t be the first—Kurt Von Poppenheim had already devised a similar gimmick—but he’d have an opportunity to do it on television.

At the time, ring sports like boxing and wrestling were ideal for the burgeoning medium. Cheap to produce, they could easily fill programming schedules on networks like the DuMont Television Network, a onetime rival to CBS, NBC, and a burgeoning ABC that aired grappling contests from Chicago. Although Larose—now Schmidt—had been stirring up attention prior, it was his August 1953 appearance and interview with Chicago Cubs announcer Jack Brickhouse that drew more disdain than usual.

After declaring “Germany has been good to me” and claiming that he believed there was no place for sportsmanship in wrestling, Schmidt was cut off by Brickhouse. With the emotional wounds of World War II still fresh, his appearance had struck a nerve. DuMont, Brickhouse would later recall, received more than 5000 angry letters from viewers who were disgusted by Schmidt. At least one viewer recommended he be deported.

Larose, however, exercised some restraint. The word “Nazi” was rarely tossed around, and he never goosestepped or carried a swastika with him. The implication of his allegiance seemed to be more than enough to stir the crowd into a frenzy, especially when he would remain seated during the National Anthem or turn his back at the sight of the American flag. He had been a motorcycle dispatcher during the war, he told journalists, and was once shot down while in a plane.

Although those details weren’t true, on many nights Larose may have felt as though he was in a war zone. Walking to the ring, he’d often be jabbed by women using their hairpins, or by men trying to singe him with their cigarettes. During matches, his “cheating”—using chairs to brain opponents, or kicking them in the groin—would draw crowds toward the ring in an effort to start a riot. At one engagement in Milwaukee, the ensuing chaos led to a brief ban on pro wrestling in the arena.

When the journalist Shotwell asked him what kind of car he drove, he hesitated. “A Lincoln,” he said. “I don’t want to describe it any more than that. I don’t want it wrecked.” He often came out of arenas to find ice picks in his tires.

Whatever argument existed about the good taste of Larose’s performance, there was no question it was lucrative. People who wished to see him get beaten in programs against the likes of Verne Gagne or Lou Thesz filled arenas. Once, special guest referee Joe Louis decked him in a staged climax. There was some kind of catharsis in watching Larose get pummeled.

Photo (C) by Brian Bukantis, www.wrestleprints.com

According to pro wrestling journalist Dave Meltzer, who inducted the Schmidt character into the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame in 2012, Larose made roughly $1 million in his 20-year career, which wound to a close in the mid-1970s. Other “foreign menaces” like Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik were coming in, diversifying wrestling’s villain culture.

The kind of loathing he had drawn from the crowd remained rare in wrestling, which hates its heels but usually doesn’t attempt to stab them or burn them with fire. It wasn’t until Sergeant Slaughter turned away from his patriotism and became an Iraqi sympathizer in the early '90s that emotions got a bit too heated for entertainment’s sake. The WWE (then WWF) was forced to assign security to Slaughter’s family until the act was dropped.

By that point, Larose had long been out of the spotlight, having returned home to Quebec. He died in 2012 at the age of 87, his status as one of the most infamous performers of the 20th century having been largely forgotten. Never once did he admit during his prime that he was from Canada.

“Of course I’m from Germany,” he told Shotwell. “Do you think I’d go on television and say things that weren’t true?”

Additional Sources: Mad Dogs, Midgets, and Screw Jobs: The Untold Story of How Montreal Shaped Wrestling; The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels.

Unless otherwise credited, all photos (C) Dave Drason Burzynski from the book This Saturday Night: Return to the Cobo, available at Wrestleprints.com. Used with permission.

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