Bill Goldberg was Oklahoma born and raised, but in many ways is claimed by the South. Bill has been called a lot of things: football player, wrestler, actor, personality, collector, father, husband, mean BBQ-er, do-gooder, and (reportedly), the first ever Jewish action figure, just to name a few. The post-Oklahoma legend of the man began in Athens, GA on the field at Sanford Stadium. That’s right, this jack-of-all trades was a record setting Bulldog.
Let’s look at his college stats: 1986-1989
- Leading All Time Tackler Among UGA Defensive Linemen
- Total Tackles: 348 (9th most in Bulldog history)
- Primary Tackles: 170 (9th most in Bulldog history)
- Tackle Assists: 178 (6th most in Bulldog history)
- Quarterback Sacks: 12 (12th most in Bulldog history)
Goldberg also played for the LA Rams (remember when LA had a football team?), The Sacramento Surge (with whom he won a World Bowl title), and The Atlanta Falcons. His gridiron career was followed by six heavyweight wrestling titles, where he was the first man to win World titles in both the WCW and WWE. His first few years in professional wrestling saw him go 173-0 in his matches, including defeating Hollywood Hulk Hogan in Atlanta for his first world title. At a glance, no doubt, this man is a force to be reckoned with.
When I met Bill in December 2008 while working on the second season of SPEED Network’s reality show Bullrun, we bonded over the South – almost instantly. Though intimidating in size, Bill is warm and genuine. He’s a family man, dedicated to his beautiful stuntwoman wife, Wanda, and their son Gage. He’s also funny, kind, and intelligent. He’s a renaissance man of today – football, wrestling and now television and film.
A collector of classic muscle cars, he’s known in the car and automotive world as an aficionado, a reputation that has been heightened by his role as host on Bullrun, where I’ve been the casting wrangler for the last two seasons. I spend my days on set with this production ensuring that the contestants are taken care of, and instructing them where to go and when. In addition to this, I work specifically with Bill seeing that his production needs are met. Bill couldn’t be a better guy to work with, making this hands-down the easiest part of my job. He’s real, candid, and helpful.
While sitting with the cast on day two of our second 21-day run on the road in the Bullrun world, a booming voice rang out across the Mojave desert, “Hey Austen, they got anything you can eat over there?” Bill knows that I have to stick to a gluten free diet, which at times can be hard in Bullrun’s remote locations. “Not yet Bill,” I called back. Bill walked toward me, freshly BBQ’d pork in hand, right off his own grill just outside his RV. “Here, just want to make sure you get to eat.” This is the Bill Goldberg I know, gruff and tough around the edges, but none the less, a badass with a big heart.
Between his TV and film gigs, he focuses his energies on his family and his charity work. He’s a spokesman for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, having spoken to congress to raise awareness of illegal animal fighting saying, “When I step into the ring it’s my choice. But these animals, they have no choice. That’s just sick.” (Goldberg wasn’t playing for the Falcons when Michael Vick was busted for dog fighting, or he might have had to sack his own quarterback.)
Bill visits children in local hospitals who are undergoing cancer treatment, and plays annually in the Jimmy V Golf Classic, a foundation, which raises money for cancer research. He’s also appeared for charity on fellow Dawsonville veteran, Jeff Foxworthy’s Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? Bill will be contributing his time to charity again, beginning March 14, 2010 on NBC appearing as a contestant on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice, where he will represent Sons of the Fallen. He participates as a mentor at the charity’s camps for the sons of soldiers killed in action.
Bill and I sat down to chat about life, work, and the South for the Dew.
AR: What experiences and lifestyle did you have in the South that you found the most memorable?
BG: My dealings with people in the south are unparalleled. There’s a more simple philosophy for life down there. People have manners. It’s an overused cliché, but there’s truth to it. Simply, the Southern hospitality can’t be matched anywhere.
AR: What do you miss most about the South?
BG: Well, like I said, the hospitality is the number one thing I miss. It’s hard to explain living in the South versus living on the West Coast. It’s a shame that everyone out here isn’t as nice as they are back there.
AR: What really sticks out for you from those days when you played football at the University of Georgia and for the Falcons?
BG: The passion people have in the South. The feeling playing at Sanford Stadium is unbelievable. You can find people who really love football anywhere, but the South is just better. Their passion is greater; I mean in Georgia you’re talking about people who literally live, breathe, and die red and black.
AR: Your website, seems to proudly proclaim that you were the first ever player to be cut from the Carolina Panthers. What’s that about?
BG: I was a supplemental draft out of the junior teams. When I got there I had just had stomach surgery three weeks earlier. It was an embryonic team at the time. I sat down with them and we all decided that they didn’t need to wait on a player who couldn’t walk for six months. We all decided it was what was best for the team.
AR: How and why did you transition into wrestling? Had you wrestled competitively before in high school or college?
BG: Honestly, it was a monetary decision. I’d never wrestled before. I had no particular passion for it going in. I had rubbed shoulders with the guys from WCW in Atlanta, and when I’d recovered from the surgery and hadn’t played football I called them.
AR: You won several heavyweight titles, including beating Hulk Hogan in Atlanta in 1998 for the World Heavyweight Championship – what was that like?
BG: Totally surreal. The coolest part about it was that it was in my backyard – it was at the Georgia Dome. There was tons of support there for me. Really meant a lot to me. And in beating him I was saved from being annihilated by my buddies – about fifteen of the guys from the Falcons came out to support me and to watch. It was a really great night.
AR: You’re like the proverbial cat with nine lives. Then you moved on to movies and TV work. Why did you leave wrestling?
BG: I didn’t want to be part of a packaged product I wouldn’t want my kids to watch.
AR: What has been your favorite part to play – in all respects. Not just the role, but your whole experience – other cast, crew, etc.?
BG: The Longest Yard. I was working all the way around with good guys. It was an absolutely first class team – but then anytime you work on an Adam Sandler production it’s going to be just that, first class. It was really a great experience. As far as TV goes, I really love it because most of the time it’s just me getting to work and hang out with my friends. I’ve gotten to a place – fortunately, where I can sort of pick and choose what I want to do. So it means I’m going to enjoy what I work on and I’m really lucky for that.
AR: Between the Longest Yard and last season’s experience on Bullrun, you’ve ‘done some time’ at the Old New Mexico State Penitentiary, as have I. I thought it was beautiful, but creepy How’d you feel spending so much time there?
BG: You know, I thought it was cool to go back. It’s an awesome place, and a wonderful time. The stories they have about that place are really cool, and it’s a unique experience. But yeah, it can be a little creepy at times.
AR: What about your son, Gage… do you have any dreams for him related to sports, or just generally following in your footsteps?
BG: All I can ask is that he grows up to be a good human being. At first I wanted a boy, then I just wanted a healthy child. Then he was born and all I want is for him to be healthy and happy. Doesn’t matter what he wants to do. His mom’s gonna have him on a dirt bike soon anyway. Between the two of us [football player/wrestler dad and stuntwoman mom] he’s doomed to a life of pain.
AR: We’ve just talked about Wanda being a stuntwoman, how did you two meet?
BG: We met on the set of Santa’s Slay. She was a stuntwoman on the production. We had a somewhat uncomfortable scene to film, and she broke the ice perfectly. The moment I looked into her eyes, I was in love with her. Two and half months later I asked her to marry me.
AR: That’s so awesome Bill. Any final words on the South from you?
BG: You know Austen, I really miss it out there. The South is a place unlike any other. And I know I’m going to be spending some time out there soon, I can’t wait. Ford has me going on the road for them to re-enact what happened to my car when it went over to Vietnam. I don’t know if I can put into words how much I miss the South. It’s just easier to get to Los Angeles from San Diego than from Dawsonville. I wish Hollywood was located right outside of Atlanta.
Catch Bill on the third season of Bullrun, currently airing on SPEED Network Thursdays at 10:00PM EST, and beginning Sunday March 14 at 9:00PM EST on NBC in Celebrity Apprentice.
Check out the first minute of this portion Bullrun Season 3 Survival Guide to see Bill and I goofing off on set: