Carolina Panthers receiver Steve Smith bought a Ric Flair wrestling robe at a Charlotte charity auction. The robe, which Flair used to wear into the ring, is gaudy and bejeweled and red. Red is Smith’s favorite color.
Flair says in our brief telephone conversation Monday – a scheduled follow-up conversation with Flair never took place – that Smith and Cam Newton are the Panthers to whom he’s closest.
But he’s not as close to Smith as he was.
On Saturday Flair met with the San Francisco 49ers, who on Sunday would play (and defeat) the Green Bay Packers in an NFL wild-card playoff game. When he wasn’t strutting or delivering his trademark “wooo,” Flair gave players and coaches a motivational speech.
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He also told them he loved them.
“Ric Flair’s heart is with the 49ers all the way to the end,” Flair said.
This presumably includes Sunday in Charlotte, when San Francisco plays the Panthers. The winner will advance to the NFC Championship Game.
World Wrestling Entertainment, Flair’s sometime employer, released a video of the Flair-49ers meeting. Smith saw it.
“Hmmmmm,” Smith says, when I ask his reaction. “As a guy who actually has a Ric Flair robe I’m real disappointed in seeing that. Real disappointed.”
Adds Smith: “I’m not sure if he’ll (Flair) get the invite here. That Golden Gate Bridge has been burned.”
Flair, 64, no longer lives in Charlotte. He moved to Atlanta but left and might now be living in Florida.
Yet for decades Flair was one of Charlotte’s best-known citizens. He won more wrestling championships than the Panthers won games. He wrestled for the (now-defunct) National Wrestling Alliance off South Boulevard.
Although he was a star worldwide, Charlotte was home. Flair was a regular at Charlotte Hornets games and bought Panthers season tickets from former Panthers linebacker Kevin Greene, an occasional pro wrestler.
The Panthers used to flash Flair’s image on the scoreboard at Bank of America Stadium, and of course he said, “Wooo!”
But after several well-publicized legal disputes, among them an altercation on I-485 and the release of allegations from a divorce, Flair disappeared from the scoreboard.
Are the 49ers now your team?
“My heart will always be with the Panthers,” Flair says.
Flair has a large heart.
He says the WWE flew him in a Learjet to Appleton, Wis., where the 49ers were staying. He’s Ric Flair. Of course it was a Learjet.
Several 49ers, says Flair, had asked that he talk to them on the eve of their wild-card game. The players, says Flair, knew he was a long-time acquaintance of San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh. When Harbaugh played for the Chicago Bears he attended Flair’s matches, and they became friends.
There’s another potential connection with the 49ers. Wrestlemania, which is to the WWE what the Super Bowl is to the NFL, will be held March 2015 at Levi’s Stadium. The 49ers will play in 2015 at Levi’s Stadium, a new $1.3 billion structure in Santa Clara, Calif.
As Flair’s face was flashed on a screen in San Francisco’s Wisconsin hotel meeting room, and as Flair’s trademark “Thus Spake Zarathrusta,” the theme from “2001: A Space Odyssey,” played, Flair entered.
It’s evident from the video that the 49ers were thrilled and, because they were, Flair was. There were laughs and handshakes and touching moments when Flair talked about his love and respect for the team.
Panthers cornerback Drayton Florence was not touched. Florence probably is Carolina’s most prolific woooer. Asked about the video Monday, he says, “I ain’t talking about it.”
Where there are sporting events, there are wooos. Flair wooed in Raleigh at Carolina Hurricanes hockey games. Fans wooo at Panthers and Charlotte Bobcats games without being provoked. A wooo is like a high-five. If you go to a game in a faraway country, a game that involves soccer balls and goats, somebody will wooo.
Will the Panthers continue to?
“We’ll discuss it,” says Smith. “We’ll have to have an executive meeting.”
Not invited to the meeting: Kevin Greene. Flair says he received a text from Greene, the former Panthers linebacker, who is now a Green Bay assistant coach. “Say it ain’t so,” the text said.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn, another serial woooer, is asked if he feels betrayed.
“I’m sure they gave him a little money,” Munnerlyn says of Flair. “But, no, I don’t feel betrayed. We said the chant and they (the 49ers) brought him in. At the end of the day it’s a football game going to be played.
“It’s not about Ric Flair, it’s not about wrestling. It’s about playing football Sunday at 1:05.”