In that thread, I mentioned that it was not unusual for Pittsburghers who grew up watching Sammartino to mention his name in the same breath as other sports heroes such as Roberto Clemente. In fact, the surnames need not be mentioned. Denizens of The Steel City treat their heroes like members of the family. "Roberto" and "Bruno" would be as welcome in their homes just as much today as they would have been fifty years ago.
Now, nearly sixty years since he first captured the hearts and imaginations of the fans who went to the Pittsburgh Civic Arena or tuned into WIIC-TV for "Studio Wrestling," Bruno Sammartino has crossed over. No longer can fans line up to meet this mythical-seeming man at a local Italian festival or sports memorabilia show. The mothers and fathers, explaining to their children in tow how Bruno beat the likes of Crusher Lisowski, George Steele, and Killer Kowalski from pillar to post, will no longer be able to shake this living superman's hand. The man is gone and with him an era.
I can still remember finding a carded example of his first action figure, from the LJN WWF Wrestling Superstars line, for $15 at a local sports memorabilia show. As much as I wanted to open it, my dad told me not to as I would be able to have it autographed someday. While my dad himself never did have the chance to meet Bruno, the figure did end up signed. My dad also never had the opportunity to attend a card headlined by Bruno, despite the story that my grandfather often said he would take his brood to the matches. This is why it meant a lot to me when it was announced that Sammartino would be joining the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013. Myself and many others already had tickets to attend the event in New York's Madison Square Garden, but the event did not sell out until this particular announcement. Therefore, in honor of my dad, I attended what would end up being Bruno's last sellout.
He was a superhero without a cape. A humble family man thrust into one of the biggest spotlights ever shone in the world of professional wrestling. And as much as he preferred life with his family, it would surprise me to ever hear a story of Bruno turning down a moment with a fan. The star who waited until the last autograph was signed? That was Bruno.
While others might envision "The Living Legend" entering the pearly gates to greet wrestlers gone by, I would doubt that very much. To Bruno, wresting was a business. Instead, I see Sammartino rushing to see his beloved parents once again. His mother, without whom he would not have survived a childhood marred by World War Two, would be his number one priority. With this reunion in mind, I'm sure that our Italian strongman was not afraid to pass over.
Thank you, Mr. Sammartino. Thank you for brightening the childhoods of my parents, countless Pittsburghers, and millions all around. Thank you for giving their parents and grandparents a hero to root for each and every week, even when their lives were less than hopeful. The opportunity to chant "BRUN-O" in Madison Square Garden just around five years ago is a moment that I will always cherish as a wrestling fan...and a true Pittsburgher.