Those of us at the longer scale of the Baby Boomer meter in Minnesota found many heroes at the dawn of the 1960s. The Twins arrived with Harmon Killebrew at Met Stadium in 1961, as did the Vikings with Fran Tarkenton a few months later, and Murray Warmath's sudden conversion to roster diversity led to consecutive Rose Bowl appearances for our beloved Golden Gophers.
Yet, for the rapscallions in this category of youth, glorious as were these happenings, the most influence on us took place early on Saturday nights when the weekly All-Star Wrestling show appeared on Channel 11 from a cramped studio at the Calhoun Beach Towers.
If only the lake had been renamed those six decades ago, and we had a chance to hear Marty O'Neill from behind his sunglasses attempt to handle "Bde Maka Ska'' in his pre-match interviews, what a treat that would've been.
As it was, neither the Killer's gigantic home runs nor Fran the Man's scrambling, not even Bobby Lee Bell's majestic tackle play, equaled the impact of our rasslin' hero:
We loved him initially as a bad guy, loved him equally when he was transformed into a good guy. It became a sure sign in those early '60s to put out the campfire and scatter to Parts Unknown when various attendees started crushing almost-empty beer cans against their foreheads, Crusher-style.
Marty's favored descriptions in his interviews became part of our lexicon, and the most-used was O'Neill's constant introduction of the "very capable'' Kenny Jay.
This was Marty's way of telling viewers:
"Yes, Kenny's going to lose tonight, we all know that, but he is going to start this match on fire, and show us his true talent, before being caught in an unfortunate reversal and getting pinned by an opponent who happens to be among the main attractions on this weekend's card — and there's still time to get your tickets!''
There was no finer compliment for a friend arriving for an evening of thirst-quenching than to say, for instance: "There he is … the very capable Gary Clerkin.''
Kenny Jay was the wrestling name for Ken Benkowski, who died at 85 on Thursday in Bloomington. He was a standout athlete in Holdingford, Minn. He wrestled both amateur and some pro-style matches while in the Navy, and joined Verne Gagne's fledgling AWA circuit here in 1962.
He was "very capable'' from the start; later, when he started a sod company, Kenny became known as "Sodbuster.'' The other most-famous All-Star wrestler to face almost-weekly defeat was George "Scrap Iron'' Gadaski.
"Two of the all-time great characters, and they both loved wrestling,'' said Greg Gagne, Verne's son. "After they had been with us for quite a few years, we started putting on an annual Sodbuster-Scrap Iron match as one of the main attractions on an arena card.
"The crowd loved that match. And we presented a trophy. George won the first one, Kenny won the second, and then the trophy disappeared.
"Years later, I was at an AWA reunion event in Milwaukee … drew a huge crowd. There was a display at a building next door and there was the trophy, with a tribute to George, Kenny and other 'jobbers.'"
That was the term for the Sodbusters and the Scrap Irons: jobbers — a rasslin' phrase attached to regular losers with the skill to do "the job'', i.e., to make the match look good before the predictable finish.
The toughest assignment ever for Kenny Jay in this area was when he was brought to Chicago as an opponent for Muhammad Ali. This was preparation for Ali's boxing-wrestling combination match "The Greatest'' would have with Japan's Antonio Inoki on June 26, 1976.
Ali would receive $6 million for the match with Inoki (which turned into a fiasco). And Kenny … he had no complaints over his financial reward when I talked with him after Ali's death in 2016.
"Verne called me one night and said I was fighting Ali the next night,'' Jay said. "They flew me to Chicago, picked me up in a limo and I got a thousand bucks. It was great.
"He knocked me out in the second round.''
I said to Kenny: "I assume you were told in advance the match would conclude late in the second round.''
Aghast, Sodbuster said: "No, no … Ali got me with a good one.''
That was also prime duty for being a "very capable'' jobber: Always stick to the story.
©2023 StarTribune. Visit startribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.2023-02-04T23:35:18Z dg43tfdfdgfd