The average cattle prod emits 50,000 volts of electricity.
Applied to bovine hide, it hurts. Applied to human skin, it not
only jolts, it burns. Imagine 100 bees stinging one spot on your
body at the same time.
On a frigid January afternoon in Atlanta, five ludicrously large
men discussed how, later that night at the Georgia Dome, they
would apply a cattle prod to the skin of one William Scott
Goldberg, bar mitzvah boy and lover of kittens. Hollywood Hogan,
they decided, would smack Goldberg over the head with a belt
buckle. Lex Luger, Kevin Nash and Scott Steiner--all men of
Rambo-like physiques--would kick Goldberg's groin, head and
stomach. Scott Hall would apply the cattle prod to Goldberg.
Of course--surprise!--professional wrestling is fake. Hogan's
smack would be carefully administered. The kicks and punches
would be more bark than bite. Hall would cover the business end
of the cattle prod with a thick piece of electrical tape.
"It should've been easy," said Hall the next day, shaking his
head. "None of us want to hurt anybody, and Bill--he knew the
tape was there to protect him. But he's such a complete psycho."
In front of 39,000 screaming fans, Hall followed the script to a
T, strutting toward Goldberg and zapping away. But Goldberg
grabbed the part of the prod without tape. "I was sticking him,"
says Hall, "and he grabbed it and pushed it away, looked me dead
in the eye and yelled, 'Come on!' I thought, Whoa. Someone
please tell Bill this is supposed to be fake."
Other wrestlers have lectured Goldberg about going too hard,
about pulling some of his notorious kidney-bruising punches.
None of this seems to register. "The one thing Bill has is
99-percent realism," says Nash (a.k.a. Big Sexy), a member of
the scoundrelly New World Order--a renegade branch of WCW--and,
away from the show, Goldberg's close pal. "You see adults
shaking their heads after he wrestles. They know it's sports
entertainment, but they're not so sure about Bill. He's as close
to the real thing as you get."
That's a big reason why in less than two years, the former
Atlanta Falcons nosetackle has blossomed from NFL nobody to WCW
heavyweight star. Your local shopping mall has GOLDBERG!
T-shirts, GOLDBERG! caps, GOLDBERG! sneakers (three styles),
GOLDBERG! piggy banks, GOLDBERG! DRIVE street signs, GOLDBERG!
big-head dolls and GOLDBERG! luggage tags. And don't forget the
popular and alarmingly lifelike GOLDBERG! rubber mask. Goldberg
is being marketed as the WCW's new superhero: Hollywood Hogan
for Y2K. "Sometimes I think back to everything I've been
through," says Goldberg, 32, "and I wonder, Man, how the hell
did I get here?"
He is a large human being: 6'4", 285 pounds, with a shaved dome,
brown goatee and a gravelly voice. His most distinctive feature
is the penny-sized wad of battered, dried-up skin in the middle
of his forehead. "That's from banging my head against lockers
before a match," Goldberg says.
When he is asked about his past, Goldberg tends to cringe.
Growing up in Tulsa, he was the youngest of four children by 10
years. When his parents divorced, he experienced it alone. "I
felt a lot of guilt and anger," says Goldberg, who remained with
his mother. "My only escape was sports."
After earning all-state honors at Thomas Edison High in Tulsa,
he accepted a football scholarship to Georgia. He has two claims
to Bulldogs gridiron fame. As a senior he made 121 tackles, and
as a junior he says that he hopped a six-foot fence during a
game at Kentucky and ripped a piece out of the scalp of a
heckler who was bothering his father. Says Goldberg, "Maybe that
was a sign."
In 1990 the Los Angeles Rams drafted him in the 11th round.
Goldberg believes he should have been a first-round pick. He
thinks scouts placed too much emphasis on the Japan Bowl, a now
defunct senior all-star game in which Goldberg, suffering from
the aftereffects of mononucleosis, played at 245 pounds, about
20 pounds under his normal playing weight. Although he won't say
much about it, Goldberg was probably hurt more by a positive
test for marijuana in his junior year that forced him out of
Georgia's game against Michigan State in the Gator Bowl.
"Bill was very disappointed," recalls Vince Dooley, Goldberg's
coach for all but his last season at Georgia. "But I'm not sure
he would've been picked higher because of one game. He didn't
have the great speed of a defensive player. He made up for it
with sheer determination--he was as driven as any player I had.
But I don't think anyone thought he'd be a star in the NFL."
Goldberg attended two training camps with the Rams but failed to
catch on. After an impressive showing with the Sacramento Surge
of the World League in the spring of '92, he tried out with the
Falcons. He made the team and stuck around until '94--three
injury-plagued seasons that, he says, could provide footage for
a video called The NFL: View from a Bench.
In a 1994 preseason game against Philadelphia, Goldberg was
nailed from behind and--thwack!--a sharp jolt shot through his
pelvis. "It felt like it ripped me in half," he says. "Pure
pain. I knew something was wrong, but they'd shoot me up with
Toradol before games and send me out. I couldn't do a sit-up for
seven months. I had to roll out of bed."
Goldberg believes the Falcons ruined his career. "They sent me
for tests, but never for an MRI," he says. "They milked me for
everything I had. That's when it became obvious how the league
treats people. The NFL can go to hell."
Following the season, Goldberg underwent an exam at Duke
University Medical Center, where doctors explained to him that he
had torn an abductor muscle, which connects the leg to the
pelvis. His career, for all practical purposes, was over.
Naturally Goldberg's injury is a touchy subject for the Falcons,
who officially wish him the best of luck. Andrew Bishop, who has
been a Falcons team physician since 1994, says Goldberg was just
one of the hundreds of NFL players who experience pain. "If you
ask any lineman if something hurts, 90 percent will say yes,"
says Bishop. "We had Bill see dozens of doctors and specialists,
and everyone said they didn't see much there. I'm sure he had
pain, but that's not the only reason he's not in football. If
that's what he wants to tell people, that's fine. He got three
years out of the league, and that's probably what his ability
merited. We, as a team, did nothing to hurt him."
Says Goldberg, "That's the typical answer from a doctor who
works for the organization. If a guy is hurt, you take care of
him. The Falcons didn't do that."
Regardless, Goldberg got something out of his Atlanta days that,
whether he admits it or not (and he does not), made his
wrestling career possible. During Deion Sanders's seasons with
the Falcons, players occasionally settled disputes by going at
it--no holds barred--inside a makeshift ring in the locker room.
Sanders, as every NFL fan knows, doesn't like to tackle. He also
doesn't like to fight. But he didn't mind having Goldberg fill
in for him. "Goldberg was Deion's ace in the hole," says Chuck
Smith, a Falcons defensive end. "So anyone who wanted to deal
with Deion would have to go through Mr. Goldberg. He'd walk into
the ring, and nobody would mess with him."
Down, out and over the hill at age 29, Goldberg eventually
returned to his home in Dawsonville, Ga., 50 miles north of
Smyrna, where WCW is based. Over the years Goldberg had
befriended several wrestlers. In January '97 he enrolled in the
Power Plant, the WCW training program.
He learned the tricks of the trade: How to fall hard without
pain. How to take a shot to the head without bleeding. How to
hit someone with a chair and not break his neck. Most important,
Goldberg developed his signature move. It is called the Spear,
and it has made him a superstar. As his opponent stands a few
feet away, Goldberg rushes toward him, nails him with a
shoulder, picks him up and bulls him to the ground. It is
straight out of football. "I remember the first time I ever saw
Bill do the Spear," says Hall. "It was, 'Wow! Keep that. No
one's ever done that before.'"
On Sept. 22, 1997, Goldberg won his first official match,
beating a scrub named Hugh Morrus in less than 10 seconds. For
some reason Goldberg struck a chord. By last summer he had
become a phenomenon, and his matches are the loudest, most
fan-frenzied of the evening.
"You wanna know the best thing about Goldberg?" said Jason
Blondel, 22, who waited two hours for an autograph after a match
on Long Island. "He's been through so much, it makes him a
regular guy." Blondel was wearing a GOLDBERG! baseball cap and a
GOLDBERG! T-shirt. "A lot of these wrestlers, they're full of
it. Not Goldberg. He's the real thing."
SCOTT CUNNINGHAM/AMERICAN SPORTS GALLERY Wrestlers have lectured him on going too hard, on pulling his kidney-bruising punches. None of it registers.
Goldberg believes the Falcons ruined his career. "The NFL can go
to hell," he says.