By Mike Mooneyham

Feb. 1, 2004

William Shakespeare said it best when he wrote the lines, “All the world is a stage, and we are all merely actors.”

Enter, stage left, Vince McMahon and Bob Costas.

Costas, the popular sportscaster whose relentless grilling of McMahon led to some tense moments on two HBO “On The Record” appearances, recently bumped into the brash WWE owner at a Florida restaurant. Dining with wife Linda, daughter Stephanie and her new husband, WWE heavyweight champion Triple H (Paul Levesque), McMahon reportedly shared – gasp! – pleasantries and laughs with Costas over the controversial interviews.

Vince McMahon, Jr.

Vince McMahon, Jr.

According to a New York radio show, Costas approached the McMahon table to let Vince know that he bore no grudge over their near-shoving match three years ago. The two then embraced and hugged, a scene you won’t see played out on HBO, where McMahon’s most recent appearance on “Real Sports” last year saw him angrily knock a clipboard out of interviewer Armen Keteyian’s hands.

Adding more levity to the occasion, Triple H stood up and joked that his father-in-law had “backup” this time, prompting a round of laughter from the group.

It’s all show biz, of course, and McMahon – and Costas – are solid practitioners.

In their first of two interviews in 2001, the 58-year-old McMahon leaned in close to the diminutive Costas, waved his finger at the host and told him to shut his mouth before walking out of the studio. Later admitting that he wasn’t going to actually hit Costas, McMahon downplayed his temper tantrum as a mere extension of his passion for the business.

Last year’s Costas-McMahon confrontation produced its share of pre-show hype.

“This time if Bob Costas gets in my way, I’m going to forgot that he is 4-10 and 120 pounds … when he gets in my face this time, I will beat the living hell out of him,” McMahon warned. Replied Costas, “Vince, Vince, first of all, I’m a strapping 5-6 and a perfectly proportioned 148. Secondly, any more talk like that and I’ll kick your sorry butt all the way to ‘Taxicab Confessions.’ Which is on next.”

– A more serious Vince McMahon delivered an ultimatum to his crew at recent backstage meetings prior to Raw and Smackdown. McMahon, increasingly upset over “leaks” that have found their way to the pages of trade sheets, the Internet and other publications, warned that any wrestler guilty of doing so would be fired on the spot. McMahon reportedly was angered by the dissemination of information coming out of the newly instituted pre-Raw and Smackdown meetings. A recent Smackdown confab saw McMahon threaten the jobs of performers, while at a subsequent Raw meeting he was more upbeat, asking his crew to slow down the action and return to a more methodical style that emphasizes moves and storytelling over risky high spots.

McMahon has made it clear that he wants what he tells his crew to remain private. Overall, many of the wrestlers see McMahon’s weekly meetings as a positive move, since it gives them an opportunity to voice their opinions on a range of subjects.

McMahon also quelled fears that Brock Lesnar was going to “kill” anybody caught leaking information to the Internet. Lesnar made the offhanded statement during one of McMahon’s recent talks about leaks to Internet sites. McMahon reassured his crew that Lesnar wasn’t actually going to kill anyone, and Lesnar later apologized.

– Charlotte Observer sports columnist Tom Sorenson, calling the Carolina Panthers the most anonymous Super Bowl team in recent NFL history, related a wrestling-related story emphasizing that fact.

“Here’s anonymous. Wrestling star Ric Flair, perhaps the most recognizable of Charlotteans, walked into a restaurant near Piper Glen a few weeks ago and found a lobby and bar full of people awaiting a table. The proprietor moved Flair to the front of the line. He didn’t ask. Doesn’t have to. He’s a star.

“Flair felt guilty because waiting in line were two other stars, Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan and Carolina defensive end Kris Jenkins.

“And the restaurant didn’t know who they were,” Flair said incredulously. An article titled “Whoo! Panthers Wish They Had Flair For The Dramatic” in Friday’s New York Post emphasized Flair’s stature.

“The Panthers are big in Charlotte. Real big and getting bigger all the time. But they’re not as big as native son Ric Flair of pro wrestling fame, and probably never will be.”

“I remember growing up as a kid watching him, so there’s no way you can get bigger than Ric, especially in his city,” Panthers DE Mike Rucker said. “We’ve talked, I’ve been to a couple of his matches, I know he wanted to be here this weekend but he’s got a match in Pittsburgh. It’s sad he can’t be here. He’s part of Charlotte.”

Flair did attend a Panthers rally, along with some 35,000 Carolina stalwarts in Charlotte, before the team headed to Houston. Flair gave it to Beantown like a lifelong Yankees fan.

“They said Charlotte was not a big enough name,” Flair said, recalling his early sports career. “Now they know. Charlotte, whoo, North Carolina!”

A column by Joe Posnanski in the Kansas City Star reflected those sentiments.

“There was, in fact, only one big-time guy in Charlotte when I was growing up there. We would see him in restaurants. We would see him at the movies. And he was the very essence of big time. He was the one guy who made Charlotte cool. When you saw him in town, you felt like Charlotte was the middle of everything. ‘Look,’ we would whisper to each other, ‘there’s Ric Flair.’ … He was as big in Charlotte as Derek Jeter is in New York, Madonna in Miami, Tom Cruise in Hollywood. He was our link to the big time.”

“Some things may change, and Charlotte may go to the Super Bowl, but in the end, if you want to be the man you still have to beat the man.”

– Reid Fliehr, Ric’s 15-year-old son and one of the top high school wrestlers in North Carolina, emerged victorious in the prestigious Tulsa (Okla.) nationals Jan. 17 with a 2-1 win in the finals.

– Longtime Toronto promoter and ex-WWF figurehead president Jack Tunney died of a heart attack in his sleep Jan. 24 at the age of 68. Tunney had been affiliated with the company’s Canadian division and had worked in the front office based out of Toronto. He was never, though, in a position of any decision-making power in the WWF, but was used on TV because of his authoritative presence.

Tunney was from a long line of promoters in Toronto who controlled wrestling in southern Ontario for 60 years. His father, John Tunney, served as head promoter until his sudden death. His uncle, Frank Tunney, was a longtime NWA member who wielded considerable influence in that organization. Jack and his cousin, Eddy Tunney, inherited the Queensbury Athletic Club when Frank died May 9, 1983.

The Tunney’s Toronto promotion was a hotbed for pro wrestling in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with shows at the Maple Leaf Gardens headlined by the likes of Ric Flair, The Sheik, Whipper Billy Watson and Bulldog Brower. Jack Tunney switched allegiances from the NWA in 1984 and aligned himself with Vince McMahon, positioning himself as Canada’s WWF promoter and being named by McMahon as “president” of the WWF, a largely symbolic title used in television plotlines, but one that made him a familiar face on screens across North America.

“The timing was perfect,” former mat star Billy “Red” Lyons told the Toronto Sun. “Vince had started to make his move all over the United States. He had big ideas and everybody thought he was just crazy, but not Jack. He saw what kind of an opportunity it was. Thank God the WWF did come in here because the business was dead in Toronto.”

“I grew up watching wrestling in Toronto and many times, I’d watch the cards that were produced by the Tunneys,” said Carl DeMarco, president of World Wrestling Entertainment Canada (formerly the WWF), who succeeded Jack Tunney upon his retirement. “It’s a sad day for the whole wrestling community.”

– Former professional wrestler and longtime actor Don Haggerty (Don Stansauk), known in the ring as “Hard Boiled” Haggerty, passed away Jan. 28 at his home in Malibu, Calif., at the age of 78. Haggerty’s health had been in a severe decline since suffering a broken neck in an auto accident in June.

For many years Haggerty, with his thick neck, bald head and handlebar mustache, was one of the most recognizable faces among wrestling and film fans. He began his career as a pro football player with the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, joined the wrestling ranks and later became an accomplished actor in movies, television and commercials.

The self-proclaimed “King of Wrestlers” held a slew of titles during his mat career, including the AWA world tag-team belts in the early ’60 with Lenny Montana (who would also have great success in the film business, most notably as Luca Brasi in “The Godfather”), Gene Kiniski and Bob Geigel, the AWA U.S. title, the California-based WWA world tag-team title with The Destroyer and El Shereef, the Hawaiian heavyweight title and the Hawaiian tag-team belts with Bill Savage and Butcher Vachon.

Among his film resume were “The Muppet Movie,” “Dirty Harry,” “Foxy Brown,” “Earthquake,” “Micki + Maude” and “Paint Your Wagon.” His television credits included “Get Smart,” “Baretta,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “The Love Boat,” “Starsky and Hutch,” “Fantasy Island,” “Happy Days” and “The Incredible Hulk.”

A longtime member of the Screen Actor’s Guild, Haggerty also was a voting member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences.

– NWA-TNA is courting Kevin Nash, whose WWE contract recently expired, and former NWO and Outsiders partner Scott Hall. Nash reportedly is asking for a $7,000-per-week deal. Hall’s last contract with the company was for $7,500 a week.

The working plan is for Jeff Jarrett to turn babyface and team with Sting against the reunited Hall and Nash at an upcoming pay-per-view.

Nash, who signed with WWE two years ago for an estimated $750,000 a year downside despite being injured the vast majority of the time, recently announced that his affiliation with that company had ended. “I met with Vince and we talked about the possibility of my staying with the company in a creative role,” Nash said in a press release. “This would have meant working five days a week and spending too much time away from my home and family, so I decided not to stay with the company. There are many options in wrestling with other companies, and I am also looking into more film and television appearances.”

A recent article in the Philadelphia Daily News revealed that Nash was accidentally stabbed while filming a fight scene of the feature film “The Punisher” last year. According to the article, the injury occurred during a fight scene with the film’s lead, Thomas Jane, who accidentally stabbed Nash, who is being billed as a character named “The Russian.” Nash wasn’t even aware he was stabbed due to the intensity of the scene.

– Chicago Bears standout Brian Urlacher’s appearance on last Wednesday’s NWA-TNA PPV drew the wrath of Bears management.

“Contractually, he can’t get himself in those types of situations,” embattled general manager Jerry Angelo told the Chicago Sun Times. “That’s not something we’re going to condone. We’re not going to make a big deal out of it. We understand who he is, and he needs to understand who he is.”

Urlacher’s contract with the Bears, worth $56.65 million over nine seasons, has a clause in it that prohibits any activity that might expose him to significant personal injury, according to the Sun Times. Wrestling is not specifically mentioned in the contract.

“I know a lot about wrestling, and it’s a whole different thing than what we do in football,” said Urlacher. “So I’m going to do what they tell me to do, try not to get anyone hurt or get myself hurt, and have a good time … I’m not doing anything that can get myself hurt, so they’re probably not going to be too mad.”

– Ric Flair will meet Shawn Michaels Feb. 5 in Hiroshima on WWE’s “Road to Wrestlemania” Japan tour. Flair and Batista will defend their WWE tag-team belts against The Dudleys the next two nights in Osaka and Saitama. Michaels will meet Kane and Triple H on those shows.

The Feb. 7 show thus far has grossed $1.6 million U.S., according to a report on the WWE Web site, making it already the largest-grossing non-televised event in WWE history. Outside of Wrestlemanias, it is the third-highest-grossing event in WWE history, behind only the 1992 Summer Slam at Wembley Stadium in England and the Global Warning live event from Australia in August 2002.

– Hulk Hogan will serve as the grand marshal for the Florida Dodge Dealers 250 NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race Feb. 13. His daughter, Brooke, will sing the National Anthem.

– Matt Morgan was hospitalized after suffering an apparent stinger at a Smackdown house show Monday night in Reading, Pa. Morgan was later released.

Morgan put a scare into the WWE crew when he didn’t get up after taking a clothesline from Bob Holly during a tag-team match in which Morgan teamed with Brock Lesnar and Big Show against Holly and Billy Gunn. The match stopped and Morgan still couldn’t get to his feet. He was eventually taken to the back on a stretcher and sent to a local hospital for evaluation.

– The Rock told Jim Rome on his radio show last week that if he had to choose between wrestling or movies, his heart and family were in wrestling. Rock also said that he would be making one appearance this year with WWE, and it would be at Wrestlemania.

The Rock initially had planned to work dates in January and March leading up to Mania, where he was to have teamed with Mick Foley against Randy Orton and a partner.

– Chris Benoit discussed his Royal Rumble victory on the WWE Web site. “It was very hard. Probably one of the hardest challenges I’ve ever had in my career. There were a lot of the Smackdown superstars who I was familiar with. I knew their game and I knew what to expect from them, but with many of the Raw superstars, I’ve never been in the ring with before, guys like Randy Orton and so forth. It was very challenging … Every time I thought I was getting a second wind, I had someone else on my back. To be in there with 29 other superstars certainly isn’t a walk in the park. I mean, I’ve been training for a long time, and I always try to keep myself in tip-top condition. But once I learned what I would have to do to win this, I’ve been focusing and training really hard. There really is no way you can prepare for this kind of a match because there are way too many intangibles. The match is so unpredictable that the best you can do really is the best you can do.”

– The Rock (Dwayne Johnson) donated $10,000 for food to help Samoa after the island was hit by Cyclone Heta earlier this month. The Rock’s grandmother lives in a village in Samoa and told her grandson they need food.

“What a perfect example of a local boy who has done good and is doing well. You know it’s that old adage, ‘It takes village to raise a child.’ In this case, it takes one child to feed a village,” said Gus Hannemann, who has been coordinating relief efforts.

The food container will arrive in early February. More has been collected at local Samoan churches and Oahu fire stations.

– Steve Austin hinted in interviews last week that he might have a couple more matches left in him.

“We’re gonna see. Never say never,” said Austin. “I think I’ve got a match or two left in me. Maybe after Wrestlemania, let’s play it by ear and see what happens.”

Austin also said he wished the Raw and Smackdown were still together, “but Vince is a different man.”

– Jimmy Hart said in a recent interview that he and Hulk Hogan were looking to start a promotion based out of Universal Studios in Florida and had been talking Ted DiBiase, Sting and Buff Bagwell.

Friday marked the 20th anniversary of Hogan’s historic WWF title victory over The Iron Sheik at Madison Square Garden – an event many consider “the birth of Hulkamania.”

– Maven is expected to be out of action for six to eight weeks after suffering an elbow injury at a house show Jan. 16 in Des Moines, Iowa. An X-ray revealed a radical head fraction in his elbow.

– WWE has released Brian “Spanky” Kendrick at his request. Reports say the split was amicable. The underutilized Kendrick, who wasn’t being used at house shows enough to make more than his downside guarantee, will be working Japan’s Zero-One promotion along with a number of U.S. indies.