The Snake gets as close to a standing ovation as you can get at these events. After half a minute, the room goes silent. Roberts bows his head and speaks in a growl that bottoms out the woofer on the P.A. “I stand before you today… wearing a suit,” he says, deadpan, laughter filling the room.
When it finally dies down, he resets the room and in two sentences changes the mood. And at the end of every sentence after that he comes to a full stop, dialing down his voice to three, then two, and finally one. “I wish I could laugh,” he says, his head bowed. “The honest-to-God truth is I thought I’d never wear a suit again until it was time to stick me in the ground. I’m ashamed of where I’ve been. I’ve earned all the scars, the labels, the tattoos and all that. I’ve made a lot of mistakes. This is not the end. This is not the beginning. This is not the beginning of the end. This is the end of the beginning.”
Jake “The Snake” Roberts came without a script or even notes. He looks up and pans the tables in front of the podium to find someone who’d understand. He had shot every conceivable angle, every storyline — as heel, as the avenging angel with a dirty face — and he had made every last word sing. But this was his moment, not a remembrance of rings past, loath as he was to accept honours for what he had been. It was nothing he ever sought in his career, in his character. No, this was his shot, the one, only and last. And as far as he ever sank, he rose twice as high, a confession and a declaration wrapped up in spontaneous, heartfelt poetry.
I fell in love with professional wrestling.
I fell in love with performing,
Not knowing that I had been performing all my life.
My struggles in my childhood.
As a young man I made a lot of mistakes, a lot.
The one mistake I never made:
I never gave up on myself.
Though I came so friggin’ close.
I’m ashamed to tell you.
The only reason that I didn’t commit suicide is those three kids sitting there.
Three of my eight. I didn’t want to hurt them anymore.
This guy right here [DDP] stuck a hand out when I couldn’t pull myself up.
Stuck a hand out and helped me, man.
What it’s all about.
I’ve had a wonderful career, 37 years.
And I hope it pales in comparison to what I do in the next 20 years.
Helping other people with the problem I had.
See, I never met anybody in jail or rehab that had said, “When I grow up,
I want to be a drunk and drug addict.” Nobody dreams of that.
I want to thank the WWE. They tried to help me.
All of my friends who tried to encourage me.
I wasn’t ready yet.
I’m ready now.
Thank you Diamond Dallas Page.
Thank you to my kids.
To Ricky Steamboat.
I’ll drop your ass again.
Before the crowd springs to its feet, Steamboat shoots to his and runs to the stage. He doesn’t go aerial, no flying dropkick, just a handshake and then a hug, an acknowledgment of Jake the Snake’s career, a moment when wrestling was so real that it made the world outside this room seem fake.
Originally published at https://www.sportsnet.ca/wwe/cauliflower-alley-club-reunion-big-read/