Steve (Crusher) Casey, 78; A Boston Favorite

Boston Globe – January 12, 1987
By Edgar J. Driscoll Jr.

Steve (Crusher) Casey of Cohasset, former heavyweight wrestling champion of the world and retired owner of a Back Bay cafe, died Saturday in the Brockton Veterans Administration Hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 78.

Fit and active into his seventies, Mr. Casey had been described as “the last of the pre-television heroes in Boston. And perhaps in other parts of the country.”

He also was a champion oarsmen and in recent years taught youngsters sculling on Cohasset’s Straights Pond.

Mr. Casey reigned over the matfrom 1936 to 1946, attracting crowds to Boston Arena, Boston Garden, Braves Field, Fenway Park, the old Mechanics Hall and such out of town emporiums as Madison Square Garden and San Francisco’s Cow Palace. He had wrestled in every state in the nation but Florida.

His opponents included wrestlers such as Strangler Lewis, The Shadow, The French Angel, Chief Little Wolf, The Sheik, The Hooded Terror, Tiger Tasker, The Hollywood Howitzer, The German Oak and Bronko Nagurski.

Mr. Casey, a native of County Kerry, Ireland, worked wonders on them all with his “Killarney Flip” and “Kerry Crush.”

He first won the world championship in 1937. For the next decade the 220-pound, 6-footer defended his title against almost anyone who thought he could take it away from him. He lost his title for the last time to Frank Sexton in 1946.

“I never met a man I was afraid of – in or out of the ring,” Mr. Casey told reporters when he first landed on the docks of East Boston in 1936 with 201 professional wrestling triumphs in Europe behind him. Sporting a pompadour haircut, he promptly posted a standing offer of $500 to anyone who could go 20 minutes with him in the ring.

He had been brought to this country at age 26 by the late wrestling promoter, Paul Bowser, of Lexington, who had guaranteed him $100,000 for a series of American matches that they both correctly felt would lead to the championship. Bowser once called him “the greatest athlete” he had ever seen.

When Mr. Casey arrived in the United States, wrestling was undergoing a great change, becoming more theater than skilled sport. A wrestler’s success was becoming more dependent on his acting ability than his wrestling ability. The mighty Crusher managed to combine both.

Mr. Casey developed his rowing skills, which he relied on to keep him in shape for his wrestling bouts, as a youngster in Ireland. He used to scull every day across Kenmare Bay to school and on Sundays to Mass. He also raced in regattas on Lake Killarney with his six brothers, father and grandfather.

“I never lost a rowing match,” he used to say proudly. In 1932, he was headed for the Olympics but was ruled ineligible at the last minute when officials said that a wrestling bout for which he was paid the equivalent of $50 in U.S. currency made him a “pro.”

After coming to this country, he continued sculling in mock races with Harvard crews on the Charles and participating in sculling events in other parts of New England and Canada.

He was especially delighted with the rowing victory he and two of his brothers, Jim and Tom, earned in 1940 over famed Boston scull racer Russell Codman, the city’s onetime fire commissioner.

The brothers won the one-mile contest from the Boston University Bridge to the Harvard Bridge. For their prowess, they received $1,000 from Codman and a cup donated by the late Bay State governor and U.S. senator, Leverett Saltonstall, a skilled rower himself.

“Codman was a real gentleman,” Mr. Casey recalled. “He never thought three clucks from Ireland could beat him, but he finished fourth.”

On retiring from professional wrestling after some 400 matches, Mr. Casey opened the Back Bay barroom bearing the name “Crusher Casey’s” in 1949. In 1968, Mr. Casey was critically wounded and one of his patrons killed when three armed men held up the bar.

In 1976, Mr. Casey, who maintained a camp in Princeton, was given a dinner in Hull attended by more than 240 people, including many noted names in the sports world.

Mr. Casey leaves his wife, Mary (Neiter) Casey; two sons, Patrick Casey of Cohasset and Michael Casey of Hull; a daughter, Margaret Marr of New York City; five brothers, James of Texas, and Patrick, Michael, John and Daniel, all of Ireland; a sister, Josephine Casey, also of Ireland, and three grandchildren.

A funeral Mass will be said at 10 a.m. Thursday, Jan. 15, in St. Anthony’s church, Cohasset.

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