It’s not often that we get to meet our heroes.
It’s even rarer when we find out they deserve such a great honor.
I went to the Clickjab Wrestling Fanfest on Sunday afternoon intending to write about fathers and sons and heroes, and I still will. Only this is not about my wrestling memories with my father, or the ones that little Javier Chavez III made with his father here at the Doubletree Hotel. This is not really even about wrestling at all.
You see, you’ve probably never heard of Danny Nickerson.
Before Sunday, neither had Bill Goldberg.
Goldberg, a former WCW and WWE world heavyweight champion and the hero to a 14-year-old Jewish boy in 1998, read about Danny on Sunday morning on Yahoo.com. Danny is a 5-year-old boy in Foxboro, Massachusetts, and he’s fighting cancer. The fight is not going well; the brain tumor is inoperable, and, well, who knows? He will turn 6 on Friday, and all he wants is birthday cards.
The story about his battle and the birthday cards went viral this week, and Goldberg wanted to help.
So he called on his friends, a gang of whom gathered in Tucson for the Fanfest to sign pictures and foreheads and posters, to join in. Ric Flair was there. Bret Hart, too. Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, X-Pac, Edge, WWE Divas left and right. Most of them signed a giant birthday card and filmed video wishes that will be sent to Danny.
Goldberg filmed his first, tears streaming down his face. This affected him. All 6 feet 4 and 285 pounds of him melted into a heap.
“I see this story this morning, a 5-year-old little boy, and the first thing I think of is my 8-year-old little boy,” Goldberg said. “I figured, why the hell not put a real big smile on his face? Why not grab some friends who are of the like mind and try to make it special for him?”
On a day when boys of all ages, and a smattering of girls, got to come face to face with their idols, smiles stretching from here to somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, it was a reminder that life in the spotlight doesn’t always burn a person to his core.
One after another, they smiled and posed and took grown men back to their childhood and took young boys onto their shoulders. Nash and Hall flashed the familiar NWO signs. X-Pac, otherwise known as Sean Waltman, thrust his hips, chopped his hands and threw up the Degeneration X sign. Flair wooed approximately 982 times. The Divas blew kisses and made every boy in the room feel like he had a chance.
That takes us back to the Chavezes, Javier II and Javier III. They stood in line for their chance to meet and greet Tommy “Tiny” Lister, of “Friday” and “The Fifth Element” fame. You should’ve seen little Javier, 7 years old and a state wrestling champion for the 55-pound weight class, beam when WWE Diva Lita walked by and gave him a high five. You should’ve seen his shoulders sink when fellow Diva Candice Michelle walked by without a high five.
“Whenever they come to town, we go together,” the elder Javier said. “He always wants me to come, never his mom. She was gonna come today, but I did overtime last night so I could come. I more like watching the expression on his face than the matches. This is for him.”
Seeing father and son, all of the fathers and sons in attendance — and there were a lot as the event was a smash hit — made me think of my dad, and our bond over wrestling. I think of my heroes — some of whom are here today, and some, like The Ultimate Warrior, gone too soon — and the hours we spent watching them fly around the rings.
It floored me to meet them on Sunday. Floored me even more to watch them interact with fans, and to watch them joyfully leave messages for Danny Nickerson, back in Foxboro.
“It fulfills me inside, and it means that my father, God rest his soul, would be proud of me,” Goldberg said. “That’s all I (care) about. Period, end of story. Not the money I put in the bank, not the fact that everybody knows who I am. It’s that the people who do know who I am know that I’d like to make a difference.”
Fathers and sons.
“The legacy you leave is very, very important — it’s what I’m leaving my son,” Goldberg said. “And I want him to follow in my footsteps in being the person I am. I don’t care if he’s successful in any other way shape or form except for being a human being.”