Thursday, September 23, 2004

Cocaine, Wrestling & George Bush Part 2

George W. Bush in a July 2000 interview with Jo Thomas of The New York Times on how he hooked up with Project P.U.L.L: "It was 27 years ago, so I don't remember the exact incident where John [L. White] and I met each other, but I went down, and it was a great experience."

At the 2000 Republican National Convention a biographical video entitled “George W. Bush: The Sky’s The Limit” was played for the delegates gathered at the First Union Center in Philadelphia. Inthe video, George W. Bush fondly recalled his whereabouts during the the first six months of 1973, a period in which he had been contractually obligated to complete his National Guard Service (this is just after he received permission to transfer to the Alabama National Guard so he could work on the unsuccessful campaign for Bush family friend Winton "Red" Blount). According to Dubya: "A wonderful man named John White asked me to come and work with him in a project in the 3rd Ward of Houston called Project P.U.L.L.; it was a mentoring program."

This same promotional video also featured an ex-football player for the Houston Oilers (as well as the AFL San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs) by the name of Ernie Ladd - who was billed as the co-founder of Project P.U.L.L. (Professionals United for Leadership League). According to Mr. Ladd: "The meaning of P.U.L.L. was Professionals United Leadership League. We had professional people who were school teachers, football players, basketball players, lawyers and doctors involved in helping go into the community and help minority kids."

But George W. Bush wasn't a teacher, a football player, a basketball player, a lawyer or a doctor.

So just what was he doing there? Why was he doing full-time charity work instead of reporting for his National Guard Service?

The infamous book "Fortunate Son" by J.H. Hatfield postulated that the young George Bush performed community service at Project P.U.L.L. in order to erase a cocaine-possession infraction from his record.

Well, I don't have anything new to report that would add credence (or disbelief) to this theory. But there is something else about this story which has caught my eye.

Did John White - another ex-football player for the Houston Oilers who died in 1988 - really ask George Bush to come work on Project P.U.L.L.?

When news about Hatfield's book first broke in October of 1999, Charles Kelly and Kris Mayes - writing for The Arizona Republic - reported that they had contacted three people who said they "never heard that Bush performed the work to erase a cocaine-possession infraction from his record. One of those contacted, Ernie Ladd, a former Houston Oilers football player and co-founder of the program with fellow Oiler John White, said White never mentioned that the younger Bush's service was in any way linked to drugs. "If this would have been true, John White would have told me, and John White has gone to his grave and he never told me about it," Ladd said.

But did John White take the truth with him to his grave?

Or are Ernie Ladd and George W. Bush lying?

Because if it had been true, John White would have never have had to tell Ernie Ladd.

Ernie Ladd would've known. After all, Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd and Dubya's Poppa, George Herbert Walker Bush, had been buddies ever since the late sixties (

Why would the 6-foot-9, 320-pound ex-football player and Hall of Fame wrestler lie for the Bushes?

The same boring motives it always winds up being: power and money.

Who Is Ernie Ladd?

Ernie Ladd was born in Rayville, Louisiania on November 28, 1938 and grew up in Orange, Texas. Due to his large size and natural agility he first made a name for himself as a high school football player. Mr. Ladd won himself a full scholarship to attend Grambling State University, where he played as a defensive tackle for legendary coach Eddie Robinson, the most winning coach in college football.

Earning the nicknames "Little Samson" and "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd always sported the number 77 on his uniform. Selected by the American Football League's San Diego Chargers with their 15th pick in the 1961 draft, Ernie Ladd, along with future-hall-of-famer Earl Faison, developed into a star as one of the "Fearsome Foursome" from 1961-1965, in the years before the AFL merged with the NFL. He then played for a season with the Houston Oilers in 1966, before winding up his career with the Kansas City Chiefs. Injured, Mr. Ladd missed the opportunity to play in the first Super Bowl in 1967 which the Chiefs lost to the Green Bay Packers.

"Big Cat" had begun his pro-wrestling career in 1963, initially wrestling only in the summer during the pro-football off-seasons. He quit football in order to devote himself full-time to professional wrestling. Ernie had gained notoriety in the AFL for his frequent contract disputes, but he was able to rake in more money as one of the few marketable black wrestlers, nearly six figures a year.

According to Steve Slagle at Wrestling Museum Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd was "[k]nown equally for his treachery and penchant to cheat at every opportunity as he was for his talent and overwhelming size, Ladd was perceived by fans as one of the most dangerous men in the sport." One of his signature motifs was to sport a taped thumb, allegedly an old football injury, which he frequently used to jab at the throats and other extremities of his foes. His most famous wrestling move consisted of a "giant boot to the face." Although he began his wrestling career as a "good guy" Ernie became a legend after he assumed the role of "bad guy."

"Big Cat" fought over 2000 matches in an assortment of leagues (including the AWA, WWF, WWA, NWF and NWA), and against such notable grapplers as Andre the Giant, Killer Kowalski, Fred Blassie and Dusty Rhodes. Although he was often serenaded with the "N" word at many of his matches in the south, Ernie also once threatened to "beat the black" out of another renowned African-American wrestler - the late Junkyard Dog aka Sylvester Ritter. Years later, Ernie would be the one to induct Junkyard Dog posthumously into the Hall of Fame.

In 1977 Ernie Ladd teamed up with Dusty Rhodes in a tag team match against Buddy Wolff and Nikita Koloff which is still vividly recalled today by professional wrestling fans worldwide. Here's what happened in the match, according to Championship Wrestling from Florida:

Ladd was no stranger to the heel turn. He had turned heel previously on several former tag partners, such as Sailor Art Thomas in the WWA, and Cowboy Bob Ellis in the IWA. The team of Ladd and Rhodes was about to grind to a bloody halt in the main event at Miami Beach on June 8. Midway through the tag battle, Buddy Wolff drove an already dazed Rhodes into the ringpost. Rhodes lay bloody on the arena floor as Ladd made numerous attempts to tag his partner, but found nothing more than an empty ring apron.

After several minutes, Rhodes climbed back to his corner, staggering to hold onto the ropes. Ladd, angered with Rhodes lack of participation in the match, tagged him so he could enter the ring. When Rhodes, who was semiconscious at this point, didn't enter the match, Ladd picked him up and bodyslammed him over the top rope. Wolff and Koloff destroyed Rhodes, who continually tried to tag his partner. Ladd instead argued with several of Miami Beach's ringside regulars and ignored every tag attempt. Koloff finally pinned a very bloody Rhodes after a kneedrop.

With the match over, Ladd picked up a piece of paper and made a writing gesture several times to referee Sonny Myers. Ladd confronted a battered Rhodes, who was on his knees, and made the writing gesture several more times asking him why he was signing autographs during the match. Rhodes shook his head, and mouthed the word "no," but Ladd nailed him with a couple of hard rights.

Ladd continued to berate "The American Dream" as well as argue with a growing number of fans that had made their way to ringside. Within minutes, a hundred or so spectators had gathered near the ring to voice their displeasure at Ladd's cowardly turn on Rhodes, when cups and other objects started raining from the stands, with Ladd as their intended target.

Members of Miami Beach's Finest immediately rushed to apprehend the perpetrators who would be subject to a fine and/or prosecution for throwing an object towards the ring. A small group of fans rushed at Ladd, who along with several more policeman, quickly fended off the would-be attackers. Ladd, who had successfully turned heel and nearly incited a riot, was rushed back to the dressing room and then escorted from the building under heavy security.

The Republican Rassler later claimed that dirty tricks were employed to doctor the video of the controversial match. In a televised interview with Gordon Solie, Ernie Ladd exclaimed, "What are you trying to make this thing look like? A Watergate situation?"

In the mid-eighties, after retiring from wrestling, Mr. Ladd managed - for a time - the Wild Samoans, the most extreme tag team of the decade, and filled in as a commentator at WWF events. Eventually, Ernie Ladd was recognized for his ring prowess and was elected into Baltimore's WWF Hall of Fame in 1994. He was also inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall Of Fame and the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.

The back of his 1963 Topps football card notes that "Ernie is the most prodigious man in football, from his size 18-D shoes on up to 6 feet 9 inches and 321 pounds of muscle." Known for his voracious appetite, Mr. Ladd competed in a charity pancake-eating contest in 1965, where he managed to suck down 124 pancakes smothered in maple syrup. Ernie lost. But to a two-man team.

To Be Continued


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