The WAWLI papers #360

On Friday morning, WWF wrestlers Al Snow and Darren "Puke" Drozdov met with reporters over breakfast in the Regal Riverfront Hotel. Snow, a 6-foot, 234-pound, golden-haired bodybuilder, pulled a plastic mannequin's head from under the table and sat it next to his plate of buttered toast.

This was the famous Head, which, as the story goes, was rescued from a trash bin in Connecticut and helped Snow turn his career around almost overnight. In a world of bizarre gimmicks, Head is certainly among the most bizarre.

Snow says Head can be grouchy, especially early in the morning. He says he takes it on "long quiet walks" and nourishes it with its favorite food - popcorn and grape Kool-Aid.

In return, Head directs Snow's career. The team has been wildly successful. At his matches, fans wear Head T-shirts and wave their own plastic versions of Head in the stands.

Drozdov, a newcomer in the wrestling arena, has a gimmick, too. Admittedly, it is a bit more crude. He can force himself to vomit at will (a talent he once demonstrated in front of a national Monday night football audience while a member of the Denver Broncos).

Both Snow and Drozdov are quiet, mild-mannered gentlemen outside the ring.

They talk about their concussions, broken bones and assorted other injuries in much the way that ladies at a tea party might talk about their grandchildren. The pull of the sport is basic, they say. "We all have an animal inside of us," said Snow. "It's why people go to the car races to see the crashes. It's human nature, being sadistic. We enjoy it when it's not happening to us." Not since Hulk Hogan dominated the sport of professional wrestling more than a decade ago has the sport enjoyed such an enthusiastic following.

"It's bigger than life now," says Steve Mohrhard, 35, a wrestling fan since the old Wrestling at the Chase days in St. Louis, when promoter Sam Muchnick ran a mini-wrestling empire here.

Mohrhard admits that today's professional wrestling - particularly some parts of it - may not be appropriate for children. He has a 3-year-old son, he says, and probably would steer him away from the WWF and toward the WCW, generally considered the tamer of the two organizations.

In recent years, the in-the-ring violence - real or imagined - has been escalating dramatically. Some matches use lengths of barbed wire instead of conventional ring ropes. Some are held in steel cages. On occasions, the rings have actually been set on fire.

Obscenities are common. "The language can be a problem for kids," said longtime wrestling fan Buddy Flick, 42, of Webster Groves. "Still, it's not like they haven't heard it in movies that Disney has been putting out for years."

Flick, who will be in the crowd for Sunday evening's wrestle-off at Kiel, said the crowds at the matches can sometimes get carried away, too. "But you'll see the same thing at a baseball or a hockey game." Joe Turck, 24, of Granite City, says he loves wrestling as much for the ongoing soap opera as the action in the ring.

"It's the interviews and the plot twists that keep me coming back, that keep me tuned in," he said. "It's the male soap opera."

On Saturday afternoon several hundred fans gathered for a "rude, crude and tattooed" pre-wrestle party outside Union Station.

Several dozen people waved Al Snow facsimile heads. "Wild Wes" Wesley Simmons, 9, of Arnold stood on a railing holding a Stone Cold Steve Austin banner: " 'Cause Stone Said So."