The date was March 29, 1987. The event was World Wrestling Entertainment (formerly World Wrestling Federation) owner Vince McMahon’s third foray into the world of the squared-circle as we knew it at the time, WrestleMania.
It was a spectacle unlike anything wrestling fans had ever seen! McMahon packed 93,173 people in for WrestleMania, a record attendance that made history for the then-WWF, in the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Mich.
And that didn’t count the pay-per-view (PPV) watchers, which is where we’ll come in shortly.
To catch you up (then and now) with WrestleMania III, the big event highlighted 12 matches and featured WWF World Heavyweight Champion Hulk Hogan successfully defending his title against André the Giant. But sadly, "the" match between Hogan and Andre was not the match that lived up to its hype. No, far from it.
The match according to some, Les Walters included, was the bout between Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat and Randy "Macho Man" Savage--with Steamboat defeating “Macho Man” after a number of near-pins.
(Savage, sadly, was killed on May 20, 2011, when he died at age 58 after suffering a sudden heart attack while driving with his wife as passenger in Seminole, Fla. Incidentally, Andre the Giant died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on the night of Jan. 27, 1993, in a Paris hotel room. Whoever claimed that wrestling is a game or fake, it did take its toll on these two wrestling icons and a lot more as the years rolled by.)
Let’s cut to the chase (or quick, if you’re bad to snip your nails too short). What does all of this have to do with Les, Troy "Leon" Pitts and me? Plenty, but not just because this is a first-hand account of wrestling's "biggest dance," but I’m going to tell you told about the trip that we took on March 29, 1987, departing at 12:30 p.m. from Les’ house: Troy “Leon” Pitts (as Les lovingly called him), Les, the driver, and me, riding shotgun. We were very excited to be heading to Birmingham to Boutwell Auditorium to enjoy WrestleMania III.
Les remarked, "I had to get my knock-about clothes and kicks (sneakers) so we could hit the road," then we piled into Sheri's car, a sleek-looking, two-tone Toyota, with blue and white paint, and off we went, Birmingham-bound! (Confidentially, I felt like a “country rube” going to the big city of Birmingham--for up to now, this major Alabama town was the biggest place that I had been.)
Let me elaborate on the third member of our traveling trio, Troy “Leon” Pitts (his real middle name was Lee), who aside from knowing a lot about Hamilton High School Aggies football and basketball, SEC football, a few pro teams from the NFL and of course, his beloved Chicago Cubs, Troy knew sports.
So did Les, who always talked up his team: The Miami Dolphins while Troy (who asked to sit in the backseat) and I listened to Les because he had such a rapport with the high school football and basketball coaches. Troy and I were totally-amazed at Les’ sports knowledge. Truthfully, I was more amazed about Les’ broad knowledge of sports, because Troy was not only a sports fan, but a sports addict from start to finish.
Troy was, by far, the most-intelligent guys that I had ever met, but what awed me the most about him, was his ability to not flaunt his almost-endless wisdom--about sports, people and life itself. Troy was also a computer whiz, because he could just listen to anyone tell why their computer wasn't working, then tell them the reason why, then he would smile that smile, and walk away.
Nope, Troy was not about self-glory. He was not only a super-intelligent guy, but had arguably the most-humble heart anywhere to be found. I doubt if there is anyone who will disagree with me about this fact.
Here we were, riding along, and Les, who had this habit of talking to anyone who happened to be riding with him without knowing how heavy his foot was pushing the accelerator, we “burned the wind” heading southeast to Birmingham. Les said he was hungry and suddenly turned into this Wendy’s restaurant and as life had it, the drive-thru was totally empty. Les got himself a cheeseburger and a drink, Troy got a drink and some fries, and I just got a cup of coffee (you will understand later).
I can be honest with you because Les would expect it here. The reason that Troy and I did not get that much at Wendy’s was because if you have ever ridden with Les, I can tell you that unless you are accustomed to his fancy driving techniques, your stomach will suddenly become uneasy and your nerves will be on end. As Les talked, the car was going off of the highway and gravel was hitting the bottom of the car, which caused Troy to start punching me in the back and trying to say, watch it! Wreck! I looked back at him and sure enough, he was very pale and was holding onto the edge of the backseat for dear life. But everything considered, Troy went through it like a trooper.
From that moment, we rode and talked about wrestling, sports and Troy was an excellent listener and would just add to the excitement of the trip with his humorous remarks that he’d toss in now and then.
We soon made our way to Boutwell Auditorium and in nothing flat, Les went across the street, parked like a pro, and we three couldn’t wait to see the wrestling event of the century--talk about hearts beating faster than Ringo Starr, drummer for the Beatles, well that described us. We found a good seat and settled down for an afternoon/night of good wrestling and just a time for us to have some fun.
Les was on one side, with me in the middle and Troy “Leon” holding down the right side of the seat. But . . .before the action began, there was a warning on the screen telling about a “signal problem,” so we had to tough it out. But the teenagers who were sitting below us were not all that concerned about not getting WrestleMania going. One teen guy must have never seen a Snickers bar, because (yes, I witnessed this) in three bites, the candy bar was history. But he did, for a moment, think of others, because as he inhaled the candy bar, he yelled, “Want another Snickers! Thanksssss!”
We soon found out, thanks to a super-perceptive Troy “Leon,” why this kid was so hungry who told us that the teen--and his pardnuhs (western spelling)--smoking a “left-handed cigarette.”
I can truthfully say that during each of the wrestling matches, Troy “Leon” would predict who would win. I would laugh at his predictions, then look very stupid, because he had such a working knowledge about wrestling, he knew the winners, losers and, amazingly so, why. But like I said earlier, he never flaunted his knowledge whatsoever--truly the mark of a selfless person. Selfless is what I said. That fit Troy “Leon” Pitts to the letter.
One more memory that I want to share with you is that (like a ticking clock), every Monday afternoon, Troy would visit the offices of The Progress with a ton of stats that he had compiled from the previous Friday night’s game with the Hamilton Aggies and whomever they might have been playing. And he was accurate, too every time! One time I asked him how he managed to do all of this work, and he just replied, “It’s not that hard--I just look at the game notes, and it comes to me.” That was Troy. Never one to boast of anything.
Les and Troy, I had noticed, had such a wonderful friendship that I am now sorry that I did not get to know him earlier when he first came to our newspaper office. I will tell you, without apology, that my time with Troy was brief, because in a year or so, Les, Troy, and I, the “WrestleMania Trio,” parted ways, but not by choice. Life has those side roads very often.
But although my friendship was brief with Troy “Leon” Pitts, it did not take me a long time before I was blessed to discover his many priceless gifts and traits. And if he were here reading this piece, I am convinced that he would first smile that smile, then laugh, and say, awww, you don’t need to say that about me,” then walk away.
I have found out one thing in my 65 years: Take hold of those who may come into your life. Savor their every gift and trait. Learn to be more like they are, and less of yourself. I can think of no other friend than Troy “Leon” Pitts (Les, too), whom I have tried to be like. Frankly, I failed miserably, because there is no one who could be as wonderful as our friend, Troy “Leon.”
R.I.P. Troy “Leon” Pitts, you truly touched a lot of lives. Including Les and mine.
Sunday night, March 29, 1987, we arrived at home in Hamilton after WrestleMania III was over and frankly, we three had a great time. But as we rolled into Hamilton, the “WrestleMania Trio” made their first (and last trip)--because Troy, Les and I, went our separate ways, and I recall feeling sadness and loss like I had never felt before.
That was until we learned of the passing of Troy Lee Pitts last week. When I read his obituary, I called Les just to make sure that it was our good friend and fellow “WrestleMania Trio” member. Les confirmed the sad news that in fact, it was Troy Pitts, who had went on to be with Jesus.
Then again, I felt another, deeper sense of sadness and loss knowing that Troy wouldn’t be with us again, until we all meet in Heaven.
But Troy “Leon,” your friendship with us will never be equaled by anyone, anywhere. Thank you for sharing the trip with the “WrestleMania Trio.”
R.I.P. Troy “Leon” Pitts. Now take your rest because you have certainly earned it.