Orlando Sentinel – July 28, 2000
By Ric Russo
College football trivia: Who holds the University of Oklahoma record for longest punt return for a touchdown? Remember, the Sooners’ program has produced such quick and talented athletes as Greg Pruitt, Billy Sims, Marcus Dupree and J.C. Watts, all capable of taking one all the way.
The correct answer however, is Ed McDaniel.
In 1958, in a game vs.Iowa State, he returned one 91 yards for a touchdown. Pro wrestling fans know Ed by his ring name – Chief Wahoo McDaniel.
“I was a football player first and foremost, who entered wrestling to supplement my income,” said McDaniel, 62, from his home in Charlotte, N.C. “For six months out of the year, I was a football player and for the other six months I wrestled.”
After leaving Oklahoma he competed in the NFL, from 1960-69. McDaniel was a versatile defensive player who had stints with the Miami Dolphins, New York Jets, Dallas Cowboys and Denver Broncos.
His road to the ring began while he was still at OU.
“Sometimes I would work out with the wrestling team,” said McDaniel, who was Florida Heavyweight Champion in 1967. “I had a buddy on the team who made extra money working for a pro wrestling promoter in the area.”
McDaniel’s roots can be traced back to a Native American tribe. The promoter wanted him to play off his heritage and gave him the moniker Chief Wahoo McDaniel. He played the role of Native American hero against a long list of villains during his 20 years as a pro wrestler.
His opponents would insult his ethnicity during his television interviews, steal his beloved Indian headdress that he wore into the ring and trash it before a national television audience. Wahoo would become irate and a feud would ensue.
“I did that angle with a quite a few guys in my time,” said McDaniel, who worked myriad territories in his career.
He held titles in Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, the American Wrestling Association, Championship Wrestling from Florida, Georgia Championship Wrestling and the National Wrestling Alliance. Later he was a booker – a liaison between talent and management. In all, McDaniel spent 38 years in the business.
Today, he plays golf every day, takes care of a 10-year-old son and makes a daily trip to the doctor for dialysis treatment. McDaniel has been doing so for the past 11/2 years. He needs a kidney transplant, and is on a long list of those awaiting a donor.
“It’s been tough, but I’m doing okay,” McDaniel said. “Quite honestly, I have a lot to be thankful for. I had fun during my wrestling career, and I made a good living.”
His relationship with his son keeps his spirits high, and he has a lot of family and friends lending support.
McDaniel keeps up with old friends from his wrestling days whenever he can and even goes to wrestling shows in and around Charlotte.
In his experiences with the two biggest federations – World Championship Wrestling and the World Wrestling Federation – McDaniel notices a definite difference in attitude.
“I went to a WCW show recently, hardly anybody was there – small crowd and the wrestlers backstage didn’t say two words to me,” he said. “At the WWF show, full house, and all the guys in the back said hello, asked me how I was doing. It was a totally different atmosphere.”
During his career, McDaniel worked for nearly every pro wrestling organization in the world, except the WWF. As one of the top “faces,” of his time – a wrestling term for good guy – McDaniel was a sure thing for promoters looking to draw capacity crowds. Already well-known to crossover football fans, he quickly earned the respect of wrestling fans for his surprisingly solid knowledge of the basics and his charisma.
“Back then neither the football players nor the wrestlers made the big bucks they do today. I did both to make ends meet,” McDaniel said. “If I would have come along today, I would have certainly made it into a higher tax bracket.”
As for the differences between his former employer WCW and Vince McMahon’s sports-entertainment industry leader, he says its simple:
“The WWF guys bust their tails to sell the show, they do the hard sell. The other guys just seem to be going through the motions,” he said.
He points to guys such as Gerald Brisco, Pat Patterson and “Sgt.” Bob Slaughter, all of whom McMahon has in management roles.
“He uses wrestlers in key roles – guys who have been there and know what’s going on behind the scenes,” McDaniel said. “I know [WCW official) Eric Bischoff – nice guy, worked in advertising during my days in the AWA (Verne Gagne’s American Wrestling Association). But he’s not a wrestler.”
Would McDaniel lend his expertise to WCW if they came calling? “Nah, I don’t think so. I’m done with it. I’m just focusing on getting my health back, taking care of my family and playing golf every day,” McDaniel said. “That’s a pretty full day right there.”