Wahoo McDaniel, who capitalized on his American Indian heritage as a football player and then a professional wrestler, died last Thursday at a hospital in Houston. He was 63.
McDaniel was on the waiting list to receive a kidney when he died because of complications arising from renal failure, the National Football League Players Association said.
Once described as the football Jets’ first real hero, McDaniel joined them in 1964, their first year at Shea Stadium. In his opening game, he made 10 tackles from his middle linebacker position. Soon, the public-address announcer proclaimed, ”Tackle by . . . guess who?”
The crowd responded, ”Wahoo!”
That byplay was part of McDaniel’s fame with the Jets, even though he was with them only one more season.
At a time when sensibilities about ethnicity were not as pronounced as they are today, McDaniel himself, news media representatives, teammates and fans readily spoke about his ”being on the warpath” or ”wanting more wampum” in contract disputes.
McDaniel started his pro football career with the Houston Oilers in the American Football League’s debut season of 1960, and ended it, after stops in Denver and New York, with the Miami Dolphins in 1968.
By then he had established a name in wrestling, bounding into the ring in his signature feathered headdress, toting a tomahawk and doing a caricatured version of a war dance.
Edward McDaniel was born in Burnice, La., on June 19, 1938. His father was a Choctaw Indian known as Big Wahoo.
McDaniel, known as Little Wahoo as a youngster, moved around with his family to the oil fields that beckoned his father, a welder. McDaniel was brought up in Midland, Tex., became an all-state fullback in high school and played at the University of Oklahoma. He still holds the university’s record for the longest punt, 91 yards.
He was an affable fellow away from the football field. In his first season with the Jets, he described himself in an interview as: ”Robust, jolly, outspoken. An easygoing guy, no angel.”
”But I know right from wrong,” he said. ”Well-liked. I’ve never been anywhere I couldn’t go back.”
McDaniel became a popular figure on the wrestling circuit. During a contract dispute with the Jets in his second season with the team, he said he could earn more money from wrestling — $3,500 a week — than he could playing football. At this time, A.F.L. players received $50 apiece for playing exhibition games.
So from January to June, he wrestled six nights a week. His financial model was the wrestler Bruno Sammartino, who earned $125,000 a year. The Jets paid McDaniel $15,000 a season.
After McDaniel’s last season playing football, he became one of wrestling’s enduring good guys, facing opponents like Ric Flair, Rowdy Roddy Piper and Bobo Brazil. He wrestled until 1989.
- June, 19, 1938
- Bernice, Oklahoma
- April, 18, 2002
- Houston, Texas
Cause of Death
- complications from diabetes and renal failure
- Cremated, Ashes scattered in a lake in Del Rio, Texas