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Former NWA World champions Harley Race, Terry Funk, Ric Flair and the NFL bounty controversy

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The hunted becomes the hunter: Jerry Lawler convinces Ric Flair to turn the other cheek.

In news as shocking as 20/20’s stinging, ear-ringingexpose” on professional wrestling in 1985, reports surfaced earlier this week regarding the National Football League’s New Orleans Saints’ policy of aggressively hitting vulnerable quarterbacks and wide receivers, knocking them out of the game (and possibly the season…or perhaps the remainder of their career) in exchange for under-the-table cash payments in the hundreds and/or thousands. To millionaires. (Anyone who thinks this is anything new in the sport should watch any game involving the Oakland Raiders and the Pittsburgh Steelers from the ’70s. Just ask Lynn Swann, who now sips steak dinners through a straw.)

Bounties, of course, have been a staple of professional wrestling since the ’70s and ’80s–even among the kingpins of the sport. Seven-time (eventual 8-time) NWA World champion Harley Race makes his stance perfectly clear on the issue in an effort to avoid facing former champion Ric Flair at Starrcade ’83 in a rematch for the vaunted 10 pounds of gold. (I can only hope former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams carried himself with the same subtlety and class when he barked, “Somebody take the damn money!”)

I mean, really, why should we hold Super Bowl champions to a higher standard than NWA kingpins of the ’80s era? (Rhetorical.) Former NWA World titlist Terry Funk had a bounty on Lawler in the late ’80s, long after their first encounter for the NWA strap in 1976. And when Ric Flair found out the hard way that the Lawler was not just a pauper in a long line of pretenders to the NWA throne, the Nature Boy unabashedly wrote a $10,000 check to Jimmy Hart, brazenly offering in front of live TV cameras “to bring him a piece of Jerry Lawler” and knock him out of contention. Where was NWA president Bob Geigel then? (Most likely making low payoffs to the boys in Kansas City.)

Ah, well. Let the boys be boys, I say. (And yes, for the record, I’m a Steelers fan, so I can vouch for James Harrison when he says every hit he’s made in the last two years have been perfectly legal. Absolutely perfect. OK, except maybe this one.)

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