Forty-one years ago, Bruno Sammartino and Stan "The Man" Stasiak headlined the very first World Wide Wrestling Federation event at the Nassau Coliseum. This Monday, John Cena, Seth Rollins and other top wrestling stars will step into the ring at the very last WWE event at the current Coliseum, before it closes down later this year for major renovations.
And, somewhere in between, evil dentist Dr. Isaac Yankem defeated hog farmer Henry O. Godwinn in the fourth to last match of a November 1995 house show in the Uniondale arena.
While hardly a memorable encounter, it was historic for one reason: It was the very first visit to the Nassau Coliseum by Glen Jacobs, who portrayed the Yankem character and is better known to most fans today as Kane.
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During the next two decades, the man known as the Devil's Favorite Demon would perform dozens of times for Long Island fans. He will do so for the very last time at the original Coliseum in a Memorial Day edition of "Monday Night Raw."
Kane, whose given name is Glenn Jacobs, recently discussed his Coliseum memories, and more, by phone with Newsday reporter Alfonso Castillo.
ALFONSO CASTILLO: You've been working in the building for about 20 years now. What's your take on the Nassau Coliseum?
KANE: It's a great venue with a lot of history, and not just for us, but every time you go backstage and you see all the stuff with the Islanders. It's really cool to be part of that history, whether it's WWE's or that from the NHL. So it's a neat building in that regard. And, of course, being there in the New York City area, it's a major venue for us. It's been awesome going there for all these years.
CASTILLO: Having been doing this as long as you have, you've seen a number of these old, historic buildings close down or undergo big renovations. Are you happy, in that it kind of makes it easier to work there? Or is there part of you that laments these old, historic buildings going away?
KANE: On the one hand, if you ask any athlete or performer, some of the older buildings compared to some of the newer buildings are -- I don't want to use the word "substandard" -- but they certainly don't have the amenities that the newer buildings do, both for us, and in many cases, for the fans. On the other, hand, yes I do feel kind of melancholy when that happens, because there are so memories there. I missed the final WWE show in the old Boston Garden. And, as a basketball fan, I grew up watching the Celtics and the Lakers in the finals like every other year, or whatever it was. And that was like a big deal. I was like, "Aw, man. I'm going to miss the last show."
But what was really cool was that one of the maintenance people at the old Garden gave me a piece of the floor. I got to do the last show WWE did in the Philadelphia Spectrum. And, again, being a basketball fan during that period, being out there in the same arena that Dr. J played in was really awesome. I think for all of us that are sports fans, a part of our childhood go away when those old venues are torn down.
CASTILLO: What are your favorite memories of the Nassau Coliseum? Before talking to you I did a little research. Your first match there was November of '95 against Henry Godwinn. I can't imagine you remember that.
KANE: I do, actually. I was with Jerry Lawler. But, yeah, there are a couple that stand in my mind. We did this deal in 1997 when the Kane-Undertaker story line first came about. It was the one when I had supposedly dug up my parents' grave. We had the casket brought down to the arena. And Paul Bearer was singing a country song and digging up bones. It was so ridiculous, it was good. I also remember having a cage match with MVP there. For some reason that one always stands out in my mind. And there was a lot other stuff. I've had some really good times there.
CASTILLO: I think your feud with MVP was somewhat underrated for that year. He had just come into the company and they matched him with you almost immediately. I think that really helped him get up and running.
KANE: I think so. He came in and pretty quickly, there I was. That's when we had Raw and Smackdown as separate brands. And what had happened was that I was transferred over from Raw into Smackdown, and he was my first opponent. And he and I did a lot of stuff. There was that cage match. We did an inferno match at a pay-per-view. And, hopefully, I would think that I helped him progress as a WWE superstar -- that he learned some stuff by working with me.
CASTILLO: You were part of the ECW Monster Mash battle royal with Viscera, Khali and Mark Henry at the Nassau Coliseum in 2007.
KANE: Yeah. I try to forget about that one. It didn't turn out that great.
CASTILLO: Going back to 1995, working with Henry Godwinn, could you imagine that some 20 years later you'd not only still be working in the company, but featured prominently -- even now part of a main event angle?
KANE: I'm so close to it, but when I take a step back, yeah. I'm not sure what the average career span of a WWE superstar is, but I've exceeded that by a long way. Early on, I had some rough times, but I was able to overcome that and, as you said, be on top or close to the top for 17 years to this point. It's pretty cool when I take a step back and think about it.
CASTILLO: It's a cliched question, but if the Kane of 2015 could have a conversation with Isaac Yankem of 1995, what would he say to him?
KANE: I would tell him that he needs to have some confidence, because he could actually do it. I think that's true of a lot of young guys. I was so star-struck that it was a really difficult transition for me. I would also tell him, as well as the Kane of 1997, to enjoy things, because the time does go by so quickly. When I think about it, 20 years really seems like a blink of an eye sometimes. I wish I would have made a more concerted effort to enjoy things along the way. You get to a level like that and you get so caught up in things, and then twenty years is over and it's like, "Wow. Where did all that time go?"
CASTILLO: There have been so many incarnations of the Kane character over the years, but this one is pretty unique. You still have the Kane name and some of the attitude, but I imagine I would never have been able to have this interview with you ten or 15 years ago. Are you glad to be able to shed some of the character and just be yourself?
KANE: Yes, I am. And I realize a lot of people aren't particularly fond of this character, because they want to see the masked Kane. Some people even say, "You ruined the character." I don't think that's true by any stretch of the imagination. I think what it's done is add another layer of depth to the character. And the secret to longevity is the ability to reinvent yourself, and do different things. We've seen that with the Undertaker. We've seen that with Shawn Michaels, Triple H. Anyone who's been in the WWE for an extended period of time has to be able to do different things.
Eventually, a character gimmick is going to get old and stale. And, when it does, if that's all you can do, you'e done. So I'm very proud of the fact that I can do different things. I've gone from a character that never spoke to a guy who goes out every week and is in the middle of big promo segments.
CASTILLO: Do you find that there's a comaraderie among the wrestlers who have been around a long time -- you, Mark Henry, Triple H, Jerry Lawler. Are you drawn to each other more naturally when you're on the road because you've been working together for so long?
KANE: Yeah, there's a certain bond. But we have a great locker room right now. I shouldn't say "the younger guys" because a lot of them aren't that much younger anymore. They've been around for a while. But it's a tremendous group of people. I really adore our locker room. And they have a bond because they've shared a common experience. And it's one that I haven't shared. So, yeah, I have more of a bond with some of the older guys because I can say, "Hey, remember when . . . ?" and they remember, because they were there.
CASTILLO: Have you transitioned to that role of a kind of leader? Do you find yourself giving these younger guys advice? Do they come looking for it?
KANE: Yeah, to some extent. They're a great bunch of guys, and they're confident in their craft. So it's not like I have to say, "Hey, you should do this" or "You should do that." Most of them are very good. But I'd like to think that I lead more by doing what I do -- the way I carry myself and the way I take care of business.
CASTILLO: Is it a relief not to wear a mask just because it's a pain? I've always thought about that. Doesn't it restrict your breathing?
KANE: It does. It's hot. That would be the biggest thing. I sweat a lot. Actually, one of my memories of the Nassau Coliseum was an autograph session I did there in 1997 or 1998. I'll never forget. There were literally thousands of people there for this thing. The line went all the way around the building, which was incredible. Unfortunately for me, I had to wear the mask. And it was really hot. So I had two hours of boiling at this autograph session. That's actually the worst part. Somebody else can go and do an autograph session and they get to wear whatever. But I have to put that mask on.