The results are in, and over 60% of voters on Twitter agreed that Bob Backlund’s presidential candidacy belonged in the hallowed halls of WrestleCrap. Don’t blame me – I’m just carrying out the will of the people.
Mr. Backlund, the delusional moral crusader and purveyor of malapropisms, was easily one of the best characters of the New Generation era of the WWF. Not only was he never fallacious in his attempts to boon the plebeians’ lives, but the Mr. Backlund character resulted in two unreasonably good matches with Bret Hart, culminating in a shocking title victory.
Backlund’s luck soon ran out though, losing the title to Diesel in seconds, then putting on an incomprehensibly bad I Quit match with The Hitman at Wrestlemania XI. That’s where our story begins.
To wrap up a bout featuring nothing but submission holds, Bret Hart locked Bob Backlund in his own crossface chickenwing hold and made him say he quit (or more specifically, “Yahhhh! Oh-Ugh! Eugh!”)
Post-match, Backlund uttered his first intelligible words of the evening, claiming to have seen a light. For weeks after, WWF announcers teased a big announcement from Mr. Backlund.
Vince McMahon speculated that Backlund would announce that he was Duckman.
The real announcement turned out to make even less sense than that, with Bob Backlund claiming to have observed a “scintillation” at Wrestlemania that had only grown in the ensuing weeks. His announcement promised to be historic, like the first Olympics in 1776 DC, or “December 22nd, 1983 when John F Kennedy was shot” (which was, if you know your Federation history, actually the day Backlund lost his title to the Iron Sheik).
It was, it turned out, a very long and confusing announcement that left Bob gasping for air, but before Vince could finite the former WWF Champion, Mr. Backlund announced that he was considering a run for President of the United States.
Cue the pyrotechnics and a high school marching band playing “Hail to the Chief” in a loop.
Even Vince McMahon, who had suggested that Backlund was secretly a cartoon character, was bewildered by this bizarre development.
1995, after all, was not an election year, and to carry this storyline through to the next presidential election would take an 18-month commitment. That’s unreasonably long for a wrestling angle, though par for the course for American elections at the time, a trend that has only gotten worse since then. For example, the US is currently in a permanent presidential election season that began nearly six years ago and that, like a modern Wrestlemania, shows no signs of ending any time soon.
Immediately after Backlund’s announcement, arenas were flooded with complimentary Backlund For President buttons.
For every WWF t-shirt order, Barry Didinsky would throw in a Backlund lapel pin for free, just to sweeten the deal. The WWF probably realized a little late that the buttons would cost far more to ship than they could ever get away with charging for them. Either that, or they didn’t want to have to report button sales as campaign contributions.
I kid; if they’d been worried about election laws, they wouldn’t have aired these Backlund campaign commercials. Somebody call Irwin R Schyster’s cousin, Ferguson E. Campaña.
Backlund’s absurd platform read like that of a villain from a cancelled Footloose sequel. President Backlund would ban not only rock and roll, but calculators and spellcheck. Maybe Bob was just 25 years ahead of his time on that last one – a ban on autocorrect nowadays would be pretty ducking popular.
Backlund’s education plan also called for the abolishment of summer vacation for children (until the United States achieved 100% literacy) and weekly required reading for every adult, possibly with book reports. But it wasn’t just evil principal s**t that Backlund espoused; one of his other big issues was the economy. Under a Backlund presidency, everyone would be able (or perhaps required) to get a job and earn enough money to afford –
– wait for it –
– a dictionary.
Backlund began holding rallies at WWF events before captive audiences of fans waiting for the arena doors to open.
These rallies stretched into the night, with Backlund, aided by a flashlight and undeterred by his total lack of audience, continuing to rant.
Mr. Backlund’s campaign criss-crossed the USA, from Daytona Beach (where he made sure the cameraman focused on his UV-protected nose and not on the nearby girls in bikinis)…
…to Philadelphia. Backlund scrutinized the historic city (and site of the 1995 King of the Ring) – but not before admonishing you, the viewer, for littering.
Speaking with the plebeians, Backlund found a black man named Washington and asked if he was related to George Washington. It’s possible, but I kind of hope not, the more I think about it.
Crazy Bob even bought a famous Philly cheese steak, but admonished local vendors to put a giant carrot right in the middle (for the beta carotene and Vitamin E).
The so-called Apter mags had a field day with the angle, if “field day” is the right term. Publications like Pro Wrestling Illustrated and Inside Wrestling used the angle, which was played consistently for laughs on WWF television, as fuel for serious columns analyzing Backlund’s candidacy and platform.
The Wrestler even put the would-be president on the cover… sort of. In reality, the graphics department pasted an oversized Bob Backlund head onto another man’s body. The real cover model in Uncle Sam garb?
Paul Heyman, who had been photographed for the magazine years earlier and whose trademark cell phone had been cleverly edited out of the new cover.
The cover story included a number of exclusive photos from the campaign trail. Imagine being this kid, getting handed a sign on the way in, then ending up in a magazine that implies that you want Bob Backlund to abolish summer vacation. He must have had hell to pay once school came back in session (from teachers and students).
The article itself centered around a fictional political analyst who critiqued Backlund’s platform, predicted the ex-champion’s popularity among disaffected voters, and forecasted a Ross Perot-like third party run (garnering, say, 19% of the popular vote).
As for Backlund’s running mate? Dr. Ewald Adler predicted Sting for VP, for a “balanced ticket” of rulebreaker and fan favorite.
Carlos Cabrera, on the other hand, saw a Backlund/Vega ticket as a winning campaign (although Article 1, Section 9 would have precluded Savio becoming King of the Ring while in office).
Speaking of Cabrera, the Spanish announce team certainly had a rough time making sense out of Backlund’s campaign, especially when he delivered his insane stump speeches live on pay-per-view.
At the September In Your House, for example, Bob arrived with his prized Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary and ranted for several minutes to a paying global audience. It would have been a challenge to translate his patented sesquipedalian vocabulary even if Backlund were to use it correctly, which of course he did not.
“Try not to exacerbate me!” opened Backlund. Hugo Savinovich translated this for the Spanish-speaking audience as: “Try not to consume much oxygen here in the Coliseum.”
When Backlund berated fans and asked, “Where’s your lexicon?”, viewers watching in Spanish got this exchange:
Carlos Cabrera: “He’s telling the people to mind their lexicon.”
Hugo: “That’s beyond Colombia and Ecuador, right?”
Carlos: “No, and it’s not an avenue in New York, either. He says Lexington [sic]. Language, he says.”
Thus, through an English to Backlundese to Spanish translation, “Where’s your dictionary?” became “Watch your language!” (or possibly, “Where is Mexico?”)
At Survivor Series in November, Backlund was a guest of “The President”, who encouraged him to run against him as the Republican nominee. Obviously, Backlund wasn’t about to pal around with Slick Willie, scolding the president for enjoying a WWF event during a government shutdown.
Backlund’s candidacy was quietly dropped by year’s end. After Bill Clinton won re-election the following November, a bitter Backlund chomped on a prop cigar and vowed to set a world record for marijuana-eating so he could be president, too. He should have chewed, but not swallowed.
By now, you might be wondering what the point of this angle was (besides demonstrating Backlund’s appetite for edibles). Did it sell merchandise? No, the campaign paraphernalia was all free, and the WWF never put out an official Backlund dictionary.
Did it create any new stars? No, but Bob did once act as Dean Douglas’s cornerman. The Dean was presumably Backlund’s pick for Secretary of Education.
Did it lead to any high-profile matches? No. Excluding Royal Rumble appearances, Backlund never again wrestled on WWF pay-per-view.
Did it spark any feuds? What wrestler could possibly feud over a phony presidential campaign?
That’s right, Man Mountain Rock! He’s not just a WrestleCrap meme, you know, but an actual character from 1995 WWF.
In Rock’s one and only feud in the World Wrestling Federation, Bob Backlund took exception to the kind of “mean, evil things” that came out of Man Mountain Rock’s “so-called piece of machine”. In a backstage incident, Backlund knocked over Rock’s second-favorite guitar…
…handled it like a used Kleenex…
…and dumped a crate on it before stumbling to the ground in a fit of righteous anger.
My brothers and I taped the Monday Night Raws that summer and re-watched them ad nauseam; at seven years old, I had this hilarious diatribe practically memorized, even if I didn’t know what “laymen” were (my guess: people who were lame).
Later that night, an inconsolable Man Mountain Rock cut a heartbreaking promo. “I can’t believe he broke it”, he cried. “It was an accident!” chimed in an unsympathetic Jerry Lawler.
The next week, Rock vowed revenge. “What you did to my guitar? That’s my soul, man!” Dah-dah-dah duh-dah-dah-duh-dah!
While Backlund would dominate a short series of house show matches that summer, the two never met on television (literally; they were never even involved in the same segment). Given that Rock’s matches rarely lasted longer than two minutes, and that the matches they had off television consisted almost entirely of stalling…
…it was probably for the best that the feud was dropped before they ever squared off on Superstars, Raw, or, heaven forbid, pay-per-view.
Still, that didn’t prevent perhaps the crappiest moment of this entire angle, when, before their feud had even debuted on TV, Backlund wrestled Man Mountain Rock at Madison Square Garden. In the same arena he had headlined every month for six years as champion, Bob Backlund lost to Man Mountain Rock after one (1) amateur takedown and one (1) schoolboy rollup off a distraction.
If Backlund for President was such a pointless waste of time that didn’t make a dime for the WWF, though, why did nearly 40% of respondents say it wasn’t WrestleCrap?
1. Bob Backlund’s rants were often hilarious, and
2. What else was Monday Night Raw going to do with all that TV time in 1995?
Air another Tekno Team 2000 match (the one they had to re-shoot)?
Make another visit to the dental office of Dr. Isaac Yankem, DDS?
Indulge Jerry Lawler’s foot fetish for a few minutes more?
Just to prove that truth is stranger than WrestleCrap, Bob Backlund would indeed seek federal office in 2000, running for the US House of Representatives in Connecticut’s First District. On Election Day, Mr. Backlund sought to achieve two things: win a seat in Congress and break the record for the Harvard Step Test, and he achieved one of those things.
Will Mr. Backlund ever go to Washington? At 71 years of age, Backlund is younger than the president, the president-elect, the House speaker, and the Senate majority leader. In other words, 2024 could be his year!