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Wahoo McDaniel, 63; Football Player Became Popular Wrestler

April 20, 2002|From Associated Press

HOUSTON — Wahoo McDaniel, the former pro football player who became one of pro wrestling's most flamboyant figures, has died of complications from renal failure and diabetes. He was 63.

McDaniel, who lost both of his kidneys about 4 1/2 years ago, died Thursday night at Cy-Fair Medical Clinic in Houston, his oldest daughter said. He had been in failing health in recent years, often undergoing kidney dialysis, and was on a waiting list to receive a kidney transplant.

McDaniel was born in Bernice, La., on June 19, 1938, and was a football star at Midland High School in Texas in the 1950s.

He moved on to the University of Oklahoma, where he lettered at linebacker from 1957-59. He holds the school record for the longest punt with a 91-yarder against Iowa State in 1958.

"He was a wild, crazy Indian," daughter Nicky Rowe said Friday. "He was bigger than life. He was just amazing."

The 5-foot-11, 280-pound McDaniel was selected by Los Angeles in the second round of the American Football League draft in 1960.

He bounced around the AFL for much of his eight-year career, spending time with the Houston Oilers, Denver Broncos, New York Jets and, finally, the Miami Dolphins.

By the end of his football career, McDaniel had already established himself as a name in minor-league wrestling circuits around the country. But as a Jet, he began to headline wrestling events at Madison Square Garden with the help of the arena's owner, Sonny Werblin. Werblin also was involved in the ownership of the Jets.

McDaniel capitalized on the stardom from his gridiron days and made a smooth transition into wrestling full time. He became one of the country's most popular and beloved wrestlers during the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

"He was one of the first to make the transition from football to wrestling," said Bob Ryder, who operates the wrestling Web site "When he found out he was making more money as a wrestler than a football player, he gave up football. He was such a big star."

Over the course of his 30-year wrestling career, McDaniel had memorable battles with wrestling stars such as "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and Sgt. Slaughter. He won several titles before retiring in 1989.

"I wrestled all the top wrestlers in the world, and I traveled a lot," McDaniel once said. "I got to see a lot of places that I probably wouldn't have gotten to see."

He was also fiercely proud of his Chickasaw Indian heritage and always entered the ring with his elaborate trademark feathered headdress.

Shortly after he retired, health problems limited McDaniel to one of his newfound passions--golf. He made his home in Charlotte, N.C., until recently, but moved to Houston to live with his daughter and son-in-law as his health began to deteriorate.

"He also became a mentor to a lot of other wrestlers," Rowe said. "He was so famous, I just didn't realize it until now. We've got so many calls from people."

Rowe said the family plans to scatter McDaniel's ashes over a lake near Del Rio, Texas, that was once the favorite fishing spot of her father and grandfather. They plan a memorial service in Midland next week.

In addition to Rowe, McDaniel is survived by another daughter and a son.

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