Former WWE Host On Hulk Hogan's Massive Appeal In The 1980s

Former WWF host and interviewer Craig DeGeorge recently did an interview with Wrestling Epicenter, where he talked about his time in professional wrestling.

"I always tell my kids this about doing an Internship and doing something you enjoy for free because you never know how it is going to pay off," DeGeorge said. "For me, it was a meeting with Bruce Beck who is a well known sportscaster in New York with WNBC and used to be with MSG. I met Bruce at a Rutgers/Syracuse football game when I used to go to Syracuse. I asked if there were any internships and he gave me the name of Pete Silverman at MSG Network. So, I called Pete. This would have been after my junior year because I did Triple A baseball after my sophomore year. So, I took the subway and I went to MSG every day, pretty much 9 to 5. No money. Believe it or not, I used to go to the big library there in New York (New York Public) and copy microfiche articles of old (New York) Ranger games. But, when you're there every day, you make an impression on people. One of the guys was Phil Harmon, Executive Vice President. He got to see me come in every day, good attitude, excited to be there. I got my first job as a Sports Director in the middle of nowhere, West Virginia. I got a call from Phil (Harmon) and he asked, "Would you like to work for the WWF?" I was like, "Woah! National TV!" So, I went up for an interview and I got the job!"

DeGeorge, whose real name is Craig Minervini, worked for the WWF from 1987-1988. He now is the host of Marlins Live for the Major League Baseball team. He formerly hosted Panthers Live for the National Hockey League team.

DeGeorge got to work with the late "Mean" Gene Okerlund, who of course died last year following complications with chronic kidney issues.

""HEY KID!" (Gene impression) He was the best! That guy! I used to love him on the plane. He'd say to the stewardess, "Why don't you give it all up and come away with me?" holding her hand. (laughs) He was truly the best," said DeGeorge. "I kept in contact with him over the last few years of his life. But, I am so sad, really, that I never got to see him again. He was a mentor. He was not only the best broadcaster ever in the WWF/WWE that didn't do play by play but he was also the best interviewer ever. Nobody even came close."

DeGeorge's time with the WWF in the late 80's is considered by many people to be the "golden era" of wrestling, really setting the stage for the business as mainstream entertainment. It is something he realized, even at the time.

"I think so," DeGeorge said about realizing his time in WWF was special. "Growing up in New York, I was a fan. I really liked Vince McMahon and I am not just saying that because I later worked for him. In fact, I worked for him twice because I also called the XFL. But, his expressions and the way he called it, his seriousness. I enjoyed that. This was a different time in the 70's. But, I can't say I was a monster fan. But, this thing that came at me in the 90's, this was a more unfamiliar thing to me because I really only knew of Hulk Hogan and Randy "Macho Man" Savage. But, I really do think this, James. I think they wanted more of a local sports guy.. More of a meat and potatoes sports guy rather than a screaming wrestling guy."

DeGeorge watched the rise of Hulk Hogan, who became the most recognizable name in the history of the business. He recalled Hogan's appeal as something to see, even at smaller house shows.

"Look, I've been to every major sporting event. I've covered everything. I will put up Hulk Hogan coming to the ring, Real American playing, in a packed house... That moment, the excitement of that crowd... I will put that up against any event I've ever been around," said DeGeorge. "I'm not just talking about WrestleMania III. I'm talking about Thursday night at the Buffalo Auditorium or the Kiel Center in Saint Louis... If I was on the podium to interview him and that music hit or in the crowd for one of his matches, I'd put that excitement up against anything! It truly was the golden era! I didn't realize it at the time but I knew we were hot. I mean, just the recognition I was getting. I was only on TV for a few weeks and people already knew my name!"

DeGeorge's career with the WWF was short but he left a good impression with Vince McMahon. This was evident when he was re-hired by him in 2001 for the XFL on TNN, which was part of the league's first run.

"I did not want to leave the WWF when I did. It was a very quick exit. I was surprised because I thought they liked what I did. And, I know it wasn't anything personal with Vince McMahon because he later hired me for the XFL," said DeGeorge. "Vince was kind of like a hard coach. I loved working for him. Growing up as a kid from Long Island never dreaming of being involved in wrestling, he was a great person to work for and very insightful. To get to know him and work with him was a great experience."

Wrestling Epicenter's complete interview with DeGeorge is available at this link or can be listened to embedded in the video above.