2017 WWE Hall of Fame Story: Teddy Long

David Gibb shares an anecdote that shines light on why Teddy Long is Hall of Fame worthy.

In the summer of 2008, I became of legal drinking age, which meant I needed beer money. Given my relatively limited skills and knowledge of the world at the time, one of the few clear avenues to obtain said beer money was to work catering at the Nassau Coliseum, which was located across the street from the university I was attending and was hiring able-bodied young people for grueling work.

I worked all day and all night on a number of events, but the highlight of my brief career as a stadium caterer was working the night of the 2008 WWE Great American Bash, the final event promoted under that name before it was shortened simply to “The Bash” the next year. If you watched that show from a luxury box, I probably brought you your dessert.

My story isn’t about dessert, though. It’s about 2017 WWE Hall of Famer Teddy Long, and it takes place at a family-friendly VIP event a few hours before the show even began. I had prepped the tables and was charged with removing empty glasses as quickly as possible (since the tabletops were quite small).

To call the small gathering a “VIP event” is something of a superlative. It was an opportunity for about thirty fans (almost exclusively parents in their thirties and forties with 2.5 children) to enjoy some lower-tier professional sports arena delectables and meet a few lucky wrestlers who were on the clock two hours before showtime. Without naming more names than are necessary, the lineup included a charismatic midcard champion, a well-respected Divas’ Champion, an agent with an ECW legacy that nobody in the room understood, two tag team goofballs who were at least drunk, and Teddy Long.

The fan reaction to this collection of exciting WWE Superstars was almost universal disappointment. This was a John Cena crowd, and they weren’t seeing anybody even close to the John Cena tier. Co-workers approached me to lean in and ask, “Are these guys famous?” or to tell me, “These people are pretty pissed off.”

Wrestlers are skilled in reading crowds, so it was no surprise that there was growing tension on their end as well. The Superstars stood in a straight line along the side wall of the room in full middle school dance standoff mode. Only the tag team who shall not be named appeared to be having fun, pointing and giggling with watery eyes at misbehaving children and short-fused parents.

Around this time, I had to carry a bus tub with about 30 pounds of dirty dishes and wasted food back into the Coliseum’s large kitchen. As I approached the door, however, I noticed that the well-respected Divas’ Champion was blocking it. For some reason, I didn’t say, “Excuse me,” but just made eye contact, hoping she’d see the load I was carrying and understand. Instead, when she finally noticed I was there (which took several long seconds), I was greeted by a Hall of Fame caliber dirty look.

“I think they need to get through there,” a calm voice interjected from just outside my field of vision. It was Teddy Long.

I nodded graciously to both of them (there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes banter in catering, but it’s still taboo to chat during an actual event), carried the bus tub into the kitchen, and resumed with my dirty glass collection duties. When I came back through the door into the function room, something had changed, though. Somebody was actually walking around, chatting with families at the tables. It was Teddy Long.

I’m not an eavesdropper, but Teddy was working the room hard. There were smiles and laughs and pats on the back, as well as apologies that other wrestlers had major commitments. He asked kids to pick the winners for the night and warned parents that some of the matches were going to get pretty intense (a few hours later, Chris Jericho would wail mercilessly on a heavily bleeding Shawn Michaels to total stunned silence). Every other WWE employee in the room had firmly decided to let these fans (who paid for some of the most expensive seats in the building) drown in cheap catering and sulkiness, but Teddy mustered the strength and enthusiasm to break down the barrier of awkwardness and connect with the paying customers.

I distinctly remember thinking, “He’s so good at smoothing things over. What a pro.”

The VIP meet-and-greet/pre-wrestling family snackfest ran about an hour, but most fans had slunk away to find their seats early or go for a walk out of sheer disappointment. As the road-weary WWE Superstars withdrew from the room to the guts of the Coliseum, Teddy Long lingered with the bartender and us three waiters.

“You guys did a really great job,” he said. Then, he shook each of our hands and disappeared into the hallway.

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