Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Broken Neck Failed to Pin Sammartino's Mat Career

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Broken Neck Failed to Pin Sammartino's Mat Career

Article excerpt

Bruno Sammartino was a fighter - nothing fake about it.

During World War II, the future pro wrestler, along with his family, hid from German soldiers. As a child, he battled bouts of sickness. As a teen, Mr. Sammartino emigrated from Italy to Pittsburgh with no knowledge of English, let alone any Pittsburghese.

It probably wasn't a surprise, then, that two crushed vertebrae wouldn't keep him out of the ring for long.

Mr. Sammartino, who began weight training after moving to the U.S., became arguably the greatest champion in the history of the pro wrestling. At one point, the longtime Pittsburgh-area resident currently living in Ross held the World Wide Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment) heavyweight title for nearly eight consecutive years (1963-71).

The highly popular grappler was in his second multi-year reign in April 1976, when he broke his neck in a title match against Stan Hansen at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

The contest was stopped. Mr. Sammartino headed for a hospital but was never admitted, choosing to make what The Pittsburgh Press called a "painful trip" back to Divine Providence Hospital in Pittsburgh.

"This can be a permanent disability, but not necessarily, and I doubt it in this case," Louis Civitrese, chief of surgery at Divine, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette at the time.

Still, any neck injury elicits some worry, and Mr. Sammartino was no different. His concern though wasn't for his health or career. It was for his parents; he didn't want them hearing any bad news from strangers.

"My parents - my dad's 85, my mom, 79 - worry so much about me all the time. If they had heard about it, they couldn't have taken it, said Mr. Sammartino, wearing a neck brace, as he was sitting by his twin sons, Danny and Darryl, and his wife, Carol, during an interview in the May 8 edition of The Press. …

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