When my husband and I were first married, and I was new to Pittsburgh, he took me to Lombardozzi's in Bloomfield for dinner one evening. A very large man with a very kind smile was seated near us, and as he ate his dinner, a steady stream of people came up to shake his hand.
I did not recognize Bruno Sammartino then, but everyone else in the restaurant did. I soon learned: Bruno Sammartino is the longest-running champion in the history of the Worldwide Wrestling Federation, which became World Wrestling Entertainment. And, he grew up in Pittsburgh.
Sammartino hasn't always had the rosiest of relationships with the WWE, but last night, in Pittsburgh, he celebrated his 78th birthday on stage at a WWE event as the audience sang "Happy Birthday."
The Post-Gazette's Bob Dvorchak wrote about Sammartino when he was given a lifetime achievement award by the Dapper Dan Charities in 2010:
A native of Italy whose family hid to escape Nazi soldiers in World War II, he developed rheumatic fever as a child and was prescribed leeches as a medical treatment. In 1950, he came to Pittsburgh where his father worked in the coal mines and steel mills.
"I wasn't a 97-pound weakling. I was an 80-pound weakling," he said.
Clearly, he's come a long way since.
Happy Birthday, Bruno!