Channel 5’s Big Jack Eaton Signs Off
Earlier this month, Memphis lost an icon: “Big” Jack Eaton, the longtime sports director and anchor for WMC-TV channel 5 passed away. Although most Memphians know Big Jack as the voice of the Memphis State Tigers football and basketball teams in the ’70s and ’80s, I always loved his coverage of the Monday night wrestling matches from the Mid-South Coliseum.
Every Monday night during the summer (and occasionally if the AWA World title were hanging in the balance during the school year) my parents would allow me to stay up to hear Eaton deliver the results of the weekly Memphis mayhem. Better yet, on Tuesday afternoons, he’d serve up a clip of the main event with his usual poetic panache.
Eaton’s deadpan delivery let you know he wasn’t taking it all too seriously, especially when describing a ref bump and/or outside interference, a staple of Memphis finishes: “Pow! Great Caesar’s Ghost! Poor ol’ referee Jerry Calhoun has just been momentarily rendered senseless by an errant blow!”
When Jerry “the King” Lawler defeated Eddie Gilbert in a loser-leaves-town bout to send the hated leader of the First Family packing, Eaton cracked, “If Jimmy Hart owes you money, you’d better find him fast.”
When Austin Idol and Tommy Rich conspired with Paul Heyman to shave Lawler’s head, Jack chastised the trio saying, “I really don’t see how they could be proud of something as diabolical as that.”
Still, Eaton gave Jerry Jarrett’s promotion some sense of credibility, complementing the excellent job of announcers Lance Russell and Dave Brown on Saturday mornings. Most Monday evenings, the main event would still be in the ring, as the matches usually ended like clockwork around 10:25 p.m.; often, as the news broadcast came to a close at 10:30 p.m., Eaton would finally have the results of the big match, giving it a legit feel as something special.
Of course, Jarrett’s “Championship Wrestling” program was for years one of highest-rated programs on channel 5, and Brown was also the station’s weatherman, so it only made sense for Big Jack to provide the rasslin’ results. In fact, Jack himself did some wrestling broadcasts back in the days of Sputnik Monroe and Billy Wicks in the 1950s. In the Memphis Heat documentary released a few years ago, Eaton had a great line when describing wrestling promoters as “a bunch of crooks.”
Prior to Lawler’s infamous April 1982 bout with Andy Kaufman, Big Jack interviewed the King, asking, “Would you like to hurt him?” Lawler paused for a brief moment before confessing, “I think I have to hurt him” Of course, the Kaufman incident was the lead story on that Monday evening’s sportscast.
Below is a clip of Big Jack discussing a December 1979 match between CWA World champion Lawler and AWA kingpin Nick Bockwinkel.
Great Scott! We’ll miss you, Big Jack.