Versatile 'Wahoo' stayed in character
Midland, Texas, will honor one of its favorite sons today. A memorial service is scheduled for Ed "Wahoo" McDaniel, an American original. His ashes will be scattered over Lake Amistad in Del Rio, where, as a young boy, he used to fish with his father, Big Wahoo. McDaniel died last week of complications from renal failure and diabetes. He was just 63 years old and was an American Indian by blood and a character by nature, the kind of character who leaves a long legacy of stories behind. There was the time that he bet someone he could run from Midland to Odessa, Texas - at least a 20-mile run. He did it, so they upped the bet in Odessa to double or nothing that McDaniel couldn't drink a quart of oil. He passed out after half a quart. "He was a wild, crazy Indian," said his daughter, Nicky Rowe. "He was bigger than life." McDaniel was a linebacker in the early days of the American Football League, a league full of characters. But his main claim to fame was in the ring as a professional wrestler, when the business was run with a pulp novel script and not the comic book style it operates by these days. He wrestled all of the greats - Dick the Bruiser, Johnny Valentine, brothers Terry and Dory Funk Jr., among others, from the early 1960s until 1989 - and was a member of that club of football players who made a living in the offseason as a professional wrestler, a club that had once included Bronko Nagurski and during McDaniel's time such players as Ernie Ladd and even Alex Karras. McDaniel had stints with the Dallas Texans, Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins. It was during his time with the New York Jets where he emerged as a wrestling star. Jets owner Sonny Werblin, who also owned Madison Square Garden, got McDaniel exposure on major shows there. "He was very popular in New York," said author Bert Sugar, who co-wrote "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pro Wrestling." McDaniel, whose heritage was Chickasaw and Choctaw, played the Indian angle for all it was worth. "For one thing, he really was an Indian, unlike many of the Indian characters in wrestling who were not," Sugar said. "And he made the Tomahawk Chop look tame. He would come in wearing the Indian headdress and waving a tomahawk over his head. But he was probably the first Indian wrestling character who was a good guy. Indians were usually bad guys before that." Once McDaniel was a great football player. He was a high school star in Midland, a two-time All-State player as a running back and linebacker. He also played baseball and was a catcher on a Pony League team coached by another of the town's most famous citizens - former President George Bush. McDaniel went to the University of Oklahoma and still holds several records there. He kicked the longest punt in school history, a 91-yarder, in 1958 and also had one of the school's longest touchdown receptions, an 86-yard scoring pass from Bobby Boyd against West Virginia that same season. The 5-foot-11 linebacker wound up in the AFL, and was a perfect fit for the league, a colorful player who became a favorite of both fans and teammates. "He was a lot of fun to be around, and he was always there for his teammates," said Gene Mingo, a former Redskin who had played with McDaniel on the Broncos. "He was tough on the field and always had your back." But it was his antics off the field that made him memorable. "One time Wahoo was in my room during training camp with some other players, hanging out," Mingo said. "It was a time when cuts were being made, and an assistant coach was looking for a player to tell him he needed to report to the coach's office. They thought the player was in my room, so when this guy knocked on the door, Wahoo let out an Indian yell and threw a bowie knife into the door. The guy ran down the hall screaming, 'He's crazy. He's trying to kill me.'" Margaret White, McDaniel's sister, said her brother was "a very rambunctious young boy" growing up. But he could have had a very different career path, save for the fateful decision of a junior high school football coach. "Wahoo was a fat kid who was in the band in junior high, playing the trombone," White said. "There were slim pickings for junior high football players, and the football coach had a hole to fill on the line. He saw Wahoo in the band, and picked him to fill the hole." There will be some stories told today in Midland about the young fat Native American boy who once played the trombone but marched to his own music.