From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling's World Champion
Bob Backlund and Bob Miller
Synopsis: The autobiography of WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund.
I had no idea what was going on, and I assumed they had decided to move on and hope the fans would forget all about Bob Backlund.
As it turned out, I think they just wanted to give Hogan a month out on the road to establish himself with the people as the champion, as the territory's new number-one babyface. That is a lot easier to do when the former champion isn't in the same buildings competing for the same role.
I was invited to return at the March 6 Allentown television taping - and I did so. Although I didn't wrestle, I held an amateur wrestling demonstration with a couple of winners from the Bob Backlund Youth Wrestling Tournament up in Connecticut. I also did a ringside interview with Gene Okerlund, where I announced that I was healthy again, and ready to get back into wrestling full time. It was at that television taping that Vince McMahon Jr. pulled me aside and asked me if I would be willing to participate in an angle where I became jealous of the fact that the fans had adopted Hogan as their new hero and "forgotten" about me, turn heel, and work against Hogan.
I told Vince in no uncertain terms that I didn't want to do it. I pointed to the fact that my daughter was six years old and wouldn't understand why suddenly everyone hated her father. I was also working with kids and sponsoring youth wrestling tournaments all over the territory, and I was worried about how I could continue to do those things that were so important to me, personally, while playing the heel role. I didn't think that that people, and especially those kids, would understand how their hero could just throw over everything that he stood for just to make a few bucks. Vince Jr. told me to think about it - and shortly thereafter, gave me a very lucrative contract for a lot of money to become a heel and chase Hogan.
I still have that contract.
Because of when I began watching wrestling (literally days after the first WrestleMania), Bob Backlund was not a character I was overly familiar with. Instead of feuding with Hogan as described above, the amateur standout dropped off the face of the wrestling earth for years, gaining prominence a decade later as the crazed Mr. Backlund persona. So my subject matter knowledge isn't extensive.
Still, as a longtime wrestling fan, it's hard to discount the tremendous contributions Backlund had on the industry. He was the second-longest reigning World Champion in WWWF/WWF/WWE history, trailing only Bruno Sammartino, and was very much the face of the promotion in the late 1970s and early 1980s, back when the McMahon's territory was still a Northeast-based territory. Add to that that Backlund hasn't told his story extensively, and this felt like a good excuse to look back in wrestling history.
As it turns out... I really couldn't get into Backlund: From All-American Boy to Professional Wrestling's World Champion. I legitimately had to put the book down and pick it up again over a period of several months. And this is coming from someone who has read dozens and dozens of wrestling biographies! There was just something there that didn't hold my interest.
Having said that, Backlund's life story is somewhat unique. Unlike the clean-cut character he's known for (in and out of the ring), Backlund was a below-average student in high school, rough around the edges and dealing with a violent father. It wasn't until he discovered amateur wrestling that he was able to make priorities in his life and turn things around.
Much of the book is dedicated to his climb to the top, going through territories such as Missouri and making his way to the good graces of Vince McMahon Sr., who gave him a run on top of the WWWF for nearly six years. While his accounts of matches with the likes of Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes, Greg Valentine, Don Muraco, Masked Superstar, Harley Race, Buddy Rose, Bobby Duncum and numerous others are somewhat interesting, authors Backlund and Rob Miller tend to drag the narrative out for too long more often than not.
After Hulk Hogan arrives in the territory (and Vince McMahon Jr. takes over the book), Backlund makes an exit from wrestling until he turned heel nearly a decade after McMahon first suggested he did so. Even then, the narrative around creating Mr. Backlund isn't as compelling as an author such as Mick Foley or Chris Jericho might have been able to create with the same material.
What is encouraging throughout the book is Backlund's dedication to his family and to the physical discipline he's maintained his entire life. The last chapter of the book contains his 18 principles of healthy-living, and while that may not be everyone's cup of tea, it shows how he achieved the success he did.
Overall Rating: Transitional Champion. Bob Backlund's book is much like Bob Backlund the wrestler - mildly interesting at times, but not larger-than-life, which is the way we perceive most wrestling stars in this genre. And a warning you may not get through this book in a single sitting....