You know the
1988-89: We've Only Just Begun
Well…by now you’ve seen the ‘in-roleplay’ story of the CSWA’s humble beginnings. The whole spiel about the decrepit warehouse and four wrestlers….the champion, the legacy, the jobber, and the rookie. Right?
And now you want the real story…. I wish I could make it a bit more glamorous for you… and it’s a little difficult to know exactly where to start. To be honest, it’s a humble beginning of its own. We were bored.
Yup, that’s what I said. We were bored. It was March of 1988, and if I remember correctly, we were on Spring Break. It was still cold out…and there wasn’t much to do. Stephen was 14; I was 13, and we had exhausted the ‘fun’ opportunities at my house.
We were reading through our small collection of wrestling magazines. You have to know that in the eighties…Greensboro was the ‘second home’ of wrestling…at least for the NWA. While the WWF’s popularity was soaring with its latest batch of cartoon characters, Crockett’s NWA was the last real bastion of non-WWF wrestling out there. See…we had grown up on the stuff… wrestling came to the Greensboro Coliseum at least once every three weeks…and while we didn’t go to every live event, we certainly made sure that part of our Saturday mornings and afternoons were taken up by the story of the Four Horsemen and the Garvins, the Rock ‘N Roll Express and Cornette’s Midnight Express, etc., etc, ad infinitum. It wasn’t flashy, but it wasn’t cartoonish. We watched Voltron for our cartoon fix, not wrestling.
Back in the back room of the Merritt household…it was an ugly day. Cold and rainy, and you could feel it seeping through the walls of my used-to-be-a-covered-porch bedroom. As we read, once again we come across one of those ‘games’ in the wrestling magazines. You know the ones if you’re old enough. Fill out this form, make a name and stats, and then choose from this list of moves….send it in, pay some money, and you’re in this play-by-mail thing. Didn’t seem too exciting….where’s the fun in sending in a form…it doesn’t give you anything to do on a cold, rainy day. (In fact, I bet we still have that same magazine somewhere…that page still filled out.)
And then the conversation that would change the face of PRODIGY, and eventually the Internet. Sorry folks, once again, I’d hope that it was something earth-shattering….a conversation full of profound quotes and ideas. But it was so mundane that I hardly remember it…I think it started something like:
"Whatcha wanna do?"
"I dunno. What do you wanna do?"
"Look at this…."
From there, I don’t remember anything but how it progressed. At first we were talking about a computer game…a grand ambition to surpass the early-era Commodore wrestling games like "Tag Team." But we weren’t programmers, and we were pretty sure that Steve’s brother and his friend wouldn’t take their time to help us make a wrestling game.
Slowly, however, it coalesced. Instead of the computer, we’d just make something for ourselves, something on paper, something to pass the time. Somehow…dice from my never-used Dungeons & Dragons Basic Edition set came into the picture. If we couldn’t have a computer do the randomizing…then why not just use good old-fashioned dice? It worked for D&D and all those other games that some of those kids played. Plus, some of those dice just looked cool.
Then we started talking about wrestling. Sure, you’d make your own wrestler, that would be the easy part. But how would you have a match on paper? And how would it be fun? How does a ‘sport’ in the ring translate to dice and paper?
Well…what happens first in the ring? They square off…whether it’s in a test of strength, or a collar-and-elbow, or even on-the-mat grappling like in amateur wrestling…it all starts about getting control, so that you can execute the next move. And with the idea of ‘control’, it came together. You get control, you do a move.
But how do you ‘hurt’ somebody? How do you pin? And what about moves like Sting’s Scorpion Deathlock? Well….the ‘damage’ system in D&D seemed to work. When you do a move, you do damage. And if a move has to be ‘broken’, then the longer it’s on, the more damage it does. To pin…you don’t just cover the guy after the first move…you wear him down, get him to a certain point and then go into the kill.
And over the next few days, a ‘move list’ was created, showing everything from armbars at five points to abdominal stretches at fifty points (and break) to 100-point brainbusters. I don’t remember how many moves we started with…but it had to have been somewhere between 100 and 200. And as we thought about it some more, tag teams entered the picture, as did tag team moves. The more we did, the more interesting it got…. Start with an equal number of points, roll for control, if it’s odd then this guy gets control, if it’s even, vice-versa. Roll for a move, deduct the damage, break the hold by rolling another die if it needs to be. And once they get under 100 points, you can go in for the pin.
It was all broken down into a simple set of rules and a couple of tables. This many chances to break a hold, with one more number added to the list of ‘breaks’ each time. These specific numbers on this die give a one-count, two-count, three-count, reversal or miss. These numbers on the six-sided give a tag or doubleteam. It was simple, but incorporated the majority of the aspects we wanted.
And so, in the back of my family’s van in our church’s parking lot, we started creating the characters that would eventually be Hornet, Mark Windham, and the CS Express. We still have the finished originals from those days, along with two boxes full of other stuff. The World Tournament was held…more characters were created, and slowly but surely, the concept of other titles and actual ‘cards’ developed. The Indian Warriors, Jay Youngblood and Monte Farriss, Purple Hayes, Ben Flore, and the beginnings of the Parsons were all conceived early on and became some of the competitors for the ‘main’ characters. Notebooks and notebooks became crammed with more and more matches as the United States and Greensboro titles were created, along with the World and US Tag Team Titles.
Over the years, the ‘system’ would change slightly. Finishers would get automatic chances to pin; ‘misses’ on high-risk pin attempts would damage a wrestler; reversals could only win the match is a player was in positive points…otherwise they gave him a boost; ‘double controls’ could give a wrestler a major advantage; setup moves were created, etc. And of course, other titles and types of matches were added: everything from the Intracontinental and Pacific singles titles to the World Six-Man, Eastern States Heritage (and at one point, a "World Tape" title was considered, although it never came to be, thankfully). The ULTRATITLE was borne (although originally called the "Ultimate Title") along with "Winning Streak" and "Top Dog" tournaments. We figured out how to run special matches within the system, so Bunkhouses, War Games and others were added….until infamous concepts like the WHEEL OF DEATH and FIREHOUSE matches came into existence in the following years.
But the major change was the addition of ‘writing.’ Of course, we’d now all call it roleplay… but it began as ‘shows’ like "Buckley’s Better Beef" or "Cornette’s Corner" or even ‘miniseries’ like "The Chase", "The Prisoner In Time", or the classic "Search". Character’s now did things more than just win or lose matches and titles. Hornet and Mark Windham became more than just wrestlers based Sting, Barry Windham, Lex Luger and others, they became characters with history and motive, reasons for feuds and friendships.
Hornet, Windham and the CS Express played the ultimate babyfaces against characters like Joey Melton (post-heel turn), and Ray S. Cornette’s "Family" (which later became the CORPORATION, years before the WWF’s concept). Melton’s loss of the World Title set up a new major heel in Degadeth; while Hornet captured the US Title from Jay Youngblood, and Windham captured the first Greensboro Championship in a tournament. Tragedy struck as Hornet lost the US Title to Youngblood’s tag partner Monte Farriss….and at the next card, the first CSWA inside ‘story’ was born as Hornet got a title shot as the number one contender against Degadeth.
While Steve now argues that Hornet shouldn’t have received the title shot by virtue of his loss to Monte Farriss…the ‘official’ history (mine, of course…just ask Steve about his ‘appendices’) recorded that the new rankings had not yet been released…so Hornet was still the top contender. History, of course, also records that he defeated Degadeth, becoming the third World Champion, and beginning a saga which still continues today.
So for both our supporters and detractors…there ya have it. The "real story" of the CSWA’s first year or so in a nutshell. Some will question our ‘bias’, using this as proof that we were/are biased to Hornet, Windham, etc. You bet we were. They were our characters. Did I want Hornet to beat ‘stock’ characters…you bet. Just like I wanted him to beat Rayshone’s (Cornette’s handler) "Family" guys…but the system determined the wins…and for the Degadeth’s of the CSWA, there were also the Ben Flores, Zantoklaws, Terminators and Walls…the wrestlers, both ‘stock’ and ‘handled’, that defeated ‘our’ guys.
It was all about fun. Wins and losses were a large part of that…but we took them as they came. Was I happy when Hornet lost to Wall? Not a chance. In fact, I started trying to do a rematch right then and there until Steve stopped me. :> Was Steve happy when Terminator took the US Title from Windham? Nope…but Rayshone was. :> We gave credit where credit was due, and we created storylines and feuds based on both what was going on ‘in the ring’ and in our imaginations.
We’ve tried to recite that like a mantra over the years: "It’s all about having fun." There have been times that it was more fun than others…as you’ll see in other chapters of "The Real Story." But there was never a time that it was more fun than those first months. Other times have come close or perhaps even equaled it….but no point has ever surpassed it. It was new, it was fun, and it was ours.