Saturday, February 19, 2011

Orange Bowl Snapshot: Wahoo McDaniel

November 6, 1966: Miami Dolphin player Wahoo McDaniel attempts a punt against the Buffalo Bills in the Orange Bowl. McDaniel was one of the few players in pro football history to wear his first name or nickname on the back of his jersey

Edward "Wahoo" McDaniel was one of pro wrestling's most colorful characters during the 1970s and 80s. A Choctaw-Chickasaw Native American, he would enter the ring in a traditional Indian headress complete with feathers. But before he gained fame as a wrestler, he was a journeyman profesional football player in the American Football League. He played nine seasons in the AFL with four different teams. Among his stops was Miami in 1966 , where he was a member of the first Miami Dolphins team. McDaniel was known as a wild character who loved to drink, party and raise a little hell. But one thing made him unique compared to other players. He was the only player who had his nickname or first name placed on the back of his jersey. Instead of reading "McDaniel", his jersey simply read "Wahoo". Many years later, WWE wrestling owner Vince McMahon Jr. would start a pro football league called the XFL. Many players had colorful names placed on their jerseys. The most memorable was Rod Smart whose jersey read "He Hate Me".

The 1966 Miami Dolphins were a collection of castoffs, misfits and unqualified rookies and their league worst 3-11 record was a reflection of that lack of talent. But among this group of characters was linebacker/punter Wahoo McDaniel. He was selected by the Dolphins in the expansion draft after being left unprotected by the New York Jets. McDaniel was a solid player in New York and once made 23 tackles in one game against Denver in 1964. During the offseason he began his pro wrestling career while working for Vince McMahon Sr. McDaniel, along with former Houston Oiler player Dory Funk Jr. were among low salaried football players who dabbled in wrestling. McDaniel and Funk would become longtime rivals and later legends in the wrestling business.

McDaniel got his nickname Wahoo from his father who was known as "Big Wahoo". Wahoo grew up in Midland, Texas and was an accomplished athlete. One of his high school baseball coaches was future President George H.W. Bush. McDaniel earned a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma and played for legendary coach Bud Wilkinson. During his career at Oklahoma, he played in two Orange Bowl games with the Sooners on New Years Day of 1958 and 1959. Oklahoma won both times.

Wahoo McDaniel played three seasons with the Dolphins from 1966-68. But after an altercation where he knocked out two police officers, he was traded to the San Diego Chargers. McDaniel would never play a down in San Diego and quit football to pursue wrestling full time. For the next 20 plus years, he became one of pro wrestling's most iconic figures. His glory years were wrestling in the Mid Atlantic area staging many memorable matches with his peers Ric Flair, Harley Race and the Funk Brothers. But his health quickly declined in the mid 90s and eventually lost both kidneys. He died on April 18, 2002 from complications due to diabetes and renal failure. Wahoo McDaniel was 63 years old.

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