Here's to you, Steve Austin.
You survived a childhood, part of which was in a single-parent household. You went from a $40 debut to becoming perhaps the face of professional wrestling in the late 1990s. And let's be honest, it was a struggle: after all, how many people have their first major wrestling angles involve their trainer AND the trainer's ex-wife?
You thought WCW believed in you. Well, they did once upon a time. Then the Orange Goblin known as Hulk Hogan came in (I dunno where I got the nickname from. I heard it somewhere, it sounded good) and changed the culture, and basically you were on the outside looking in.
At least Paul Heyman believed in you. He took you in ECW when pretty much all you could do was talk because you were on the disabled list at the time of your firing (via FedEx, no less. That's the 1995 version of breaking up via tweet. The younger folks will just have to take my word for it.).
Here's to sticking it out through your early days with the WWF, where you were almost called Otto Von Ruthless, Fang McFrost, and Chilly McFreeze, yet they thought the Ringmaster was okay. Seriously, what was up with your haircut in your early days?
Here's to ditching Ted DiBiase, Triple H wanting to say goodbye to his friends, and to whoever planted the seed for one of wrestling's greatest promos.
Oh, and here's to that promo too,t he promo that would be the first seed of wrestling's most popular--and most controversial--era.
Here's to Bret Hart, who did what was good for business at a time when most everyone wasn't. Not a whole lot's changed in that department now that I think about it. And here's to the late Owen Hart. I know, I know. He broke your neck. But not many people can turn near tragedy into a blessing. Despite not wrestling for more than three months, you were the hottest act on WWF programming by a considerable margin. Hell, you were about the only good thing on WWF programming. If only the powers that be could turn the clock right now.
Here's to Shawn Michaels, bad back and all, also doing what was good for business at a time that most everyone, himself included, wasn't. And to Mike Tyson who played along at a time most nobody in the world wanted anything to do with him.
Here's to you for bringing life back into the WWF, even though most everything you did wouldn't fly today. And here's to Vince McMahon for being your perfect foil. Scriptwriters in Hollywood can rarely create a dynamic as good as Austin-McMahon.
Or for that matter, Austin versus The Rock, one of the greatest rivalries in wrestling history. (DYK: Did you know the two met a total of just 23 times in a one-on-one match? 23. Ever. Take out the house shows, and that number drops to 8, or barely more than once a year. For the sake of comparison, John Cena versus Randy Orton happened 19 times just on TV. Add house shows to the mix and it's nearly 100.) So, yeah, here's to The Rock, who was the perfect wrestling foil for you. And one of the few rivalries that saw both men get out of the game before they got old.
Here's to career B+ player Triple H, who thought taking you out of the picture would make him a bigger star than he is. Silly, silly fool. Better to fight by him than against him, ya know? And here's to sticking with your shocking heel turn where you became a petulant 10-year old basically. And the crowd still wouldn't boo you because you were just too damn awesome.
No cheers to 2002 though. That was a pretty tough stretch in your life. With a career treading water and marriage in shambles thanks a domestic incident, you became disgraced in the eyes of wrestling fans and the company that made you enough money so your children's children (you know, if they have any) wouldn't have to work. But we are a forgiving bunch, and when you returned seven months later, we welcomed you back with open arms. It was a good thing too; it turned out your body had just enough left to get a proper sendoff.
Here's to you doing what most wrestlers do not, though I do see this changing in the next decade or so: getting out of the business and largely staying out. I mean, sure you do come back occasionally; wrestlers never truly leave the business behind. You stun your boss (and his whole family) for old time's sake, you stun future presidential candidates, hell, you even stunned the "face that runs the place".
Here's to your post-wrestling life. While that acting thing hasn't totally worked out, you do pretty good with reality television (You were the BEST host of Tough Enough. Hell, you were the only reason to watch the first reboot). And your podcast, The Steve Austin Show, launched a thousand wrestler podcasts. Maybe. I mean, name one wrestler who doesn't have one or at least hasn't thought of one. I'll wait. You were a trendsetter, even if you never meant to be one in the first place. After all, black boots and black tights weren't marketable, right?
Here's to you, Steve Austin, and all you've done for the wrestling business, and the many, many, many, many people you've inspired. And that's the bottom line.