Funk's Corner - Sam Steamboat
I pushed the throttle on the Cessna 210 and we
were rolling down runway 18 out of Tallahassee, Florida. The night was
pitch black. My eyes were on the instrument panel even though it was
supposedly a clear night, there was no moon and we would soon be over
the Gulf of Mexico on the way to Tampa, Florida. Soon after takeoff, black
night turned grey. In the mist outside, you could see the reflection of the
rotating beacon on the heavy cloud cover outside the window of the single
"We're in the soup." is all my only passenger
sitting to my right, Sam Steamboat had to say. I had just received my
instrument rating a few weeks before and had little experience flying on my
own in the clouds.
There was nothing to worry about because Sam had
it all under control.
Sam gained his flying experience flying right
seat for Lester Welch in Florida Championship Wrestling's Twin Beech H-18.
Lester was the spot show promoter and pilot for Florida Championship
Wrestling. Sam loved to fly, so much so that on a previous flight to San
Juan from Tampa, even though I was licensed to fly and the NWA World
Heavyweight Champion, it was Sam Steamboat who flew right seat next to
Lester Welch. I was relegated to the back seat. Sam was Lester's replacement
for the autopilot.
My first concern was flying the airplane. Flying
in weather is no easy chore handling the flying and extensive radio
communication. There is no telling how much experience Sam Steamboat had
gathered flying the Twin Beech H-18 throughout the Florida territory as
Lester's right hand man including many flights through the Bermuda Triangle.
(If you happen to be superstitious.)
About fifteen minutes out, I looked at Sam
and said, " Sam, can you handle the flying and I will take care of the radio
communication. Sam just reached up and
took the wheel on the right side of the Cessna 210. I navigated and handled
the radio communication and Sam Flew the plane until we broke out of the
clouds about 50 miles out of Tampa. From here it was a piece of cake. I took
the controls and we landed at Tampa International.
To this day, I don't know if Sam had a pilot's
license or not, but he loved to fly. And to this day, I am thankful that Sam
Steamboat was flying right seat for me on the way back from Tallahassee to
There is more about Sam Steamboat. He was Eddie
Graham's protégé in the formative days of the Florida, Territory. Sam
wrestled as Eddie's partner. Sam's wrestling style was a combination of Lou
Thesz and Samoa Joe. Sam always started his matches with wrestling. As the
match progressed and Sam warmed up, his style became more aggressive, then
Sam's wrestling style preceded other great
Florida Championship Wrestling mat wrestlers, Hiro Matsuda, Mike Graham and
Sam was a very quiet man. I never saw him loose
his temper, but I for sure would never want to make him mad.
From the Funking Conservatory, our condolences
to the family of Sam Steamboat.