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Column: Wrestling with questions about knowing others

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How you know someone depends on when you are introduced during that person’s life.

I thought about this a few weeks ago when I was researching items for Looking Back, which publishes daily on Page A2 in The Republic.

As I was looking at the archived edition for Feb. 7, 1964, I came across a headline that caught my attention: “Dick (The Speeder) Bruiser.” I instantly knew that this was about the professional wrestler from Indianapolis whom I recalled watching on TV on Saturday mornings as a kid and later knew as a neighbor.

The Bruiser, if you are not aware, grew up in northwestern Indiana and played as a lineman for the Green Bay Packers from 1951 to 1954. He then turned his focus to professional wrestling, eventually becoming champion and co-owner of the World Wrestling Association. He was billed as the “World’s Most Dangerous Wrestler.”

The newspaper story told about how Dick Afflis, better known as “Dick the Bruiser,” had been fined $5 and costs, totaling $22.75, for speeding. The Indiana State Police trooper who pulled him over said he was going 85 in a 70 mph zone.

Reading that account took me back a a few decades to the early 1980s in Indianapolis. I remember watching him on TV, his gravely voice at full throttle as he challenged and then tossed around opponents. For a young kid, it was a lot of fun to watch.

In the late 1980s, my mom, sister and I moved to a different part of Indianapolis, off Kessler Boulevard. Shortly after moving in, I was stunned — and excited — to learn that Bruiser’s home was across the fence from ours.

In this setting, though, I saw him much differently. He kept to himself; our family got to know his wife better. When the weather was warm, the Bruiser spent a lot of time by the pool with his wife and grandchildren.

The highlight of my Bruiser experience was when he had purchased a limousine and my sister and I got a ride in it, with Bruiser driving!

Sadly, he died Nov. 10, 1991, from internal bleeding after a weightlifting injury. I was a sophomore in college.

Knowing of Dick the Bruiser first as the brutish wrestler and later as a reclusive grandfather made me wonder what might be a similar situation here in Columbus and how it might affect one’s memories of a person. The name that came to mind was Bill Russell.

Residents of Columbus in the early 1960s most likely know him as a star on the Columbus High basketball team. Russell scored more than 1,200 points in his career, helped the 1962-63 Bull Dogs to a No. 1 ranking entering the state tournament and was a 1963 Indiana All-Star. He then went to Indiana University, where he was a starting guard on the 1966-67 squad that captured the Big Ten championship.

Separate from basketball, though, Russell has had a successful business career here in Columbus. He’s been an executive with the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., a member of the Columbus Capital Foundation and co-owner of the historic City Hall building on Fifth Street that was renovated from a bed-and-breakfast into loft apartments and offices.

While the timing of when you are introduced can affect how you know someone, often what matters most is that you got to meet that person at any point.

That’s how I feel about Dick the Bruiser.

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