In a blog entry last week, Jim Ross answered a question about retirement the same way he usually does. Lately, he has used this explanation more than the term "slobber knocker" to describe a Stone Cold Steve Austin match.
"Am I returning to Raw? There are no plans of which I am aware that has me returning to Raw on a regular basis however things change on somewhat of an on going basis. I enjoy dropping by on Raw from time to time."
The WWE Hall of Fame announcer has said something along those lines many times before, only to turn up on television a week or two later. This time, however, there is a different feel to Ross's statements.
Perhaps it is the fun he seems to be having pitching his line of barbecue sauces and other condiments or watching his beloved Oklahoma Sooners every week. Perhaps it is more difficult for Ross to deal with the aftereffects of three bouts with Bell's Palsy, to which Ross also alluded.
"Do I still have issues with Bells palsy? At times especially when I'm tired and am trying to verbalize. Sort of get that Foster Brooks thing going. (Google him). The paralysis around my mouth will likely never go away and I'm sure that my enunciation of certain words isn't embraced by some."
Nice Foster Brooks reference for those of us proud to admit we love the old Dean Martin celebrity roasts.
While you never say never in WWE, it sounds as if Mr. Ross's days as an everyday announcer are over. Some of us hope he hasn't called his last match, and I suspect he might at least make an Undertaker-like WrestleMania comeback—minus the druids accompanying him to the ring, of course.
But if Mr. Ross never gets behind a mic again, how does one begin to pay tribute to someone who is as big an icon as the wrestlers whose action he called?
No matter how many times the WWE tried to minimize Jim Ross, either legitimately or as part of a story line, he always rose like Val Venis on Viagara.
It took at least a decade after Ross first joined WWE in 1993, but it seems Vince McMahon finally discovered that not even he could call a match better than JR, that no one could.
Well, almost no one.
Some eight years or so ago, I got to interview Mr. Ross for Memphis radio station WREC, one of the highlights of my life, much less my media career. It was shortly after the publication of JR's cookbook, which some of us still use by the way.
I relished the thought of speaking to JR about two of our passions—wrestling and food. I was also terrified, because I had to get something off my chest.
"Mr. Ross," I began, with a knot in my stomach the size of a Mark Henry cornrow, "many people call you the greatest wrestling announcer of all time, but I can't agree with them. When I was a kid, Saturday evenings meant Georgia Championship Wrestling with Gordon Solie. I love watching you, Mr. Ross, but I will always be a Gordon Solie man."
To my enormous relief, JR replied "Me, too," meaning I could stop worrying about Jerry Lawler hunting me down to toss a fireball in my face.
Who is the best wrestling play-by-play man of all time?
Ross went on to explain that one of the highlights of his career was getting to work alongside Mr. Solie in WCW.
Putting together a top 10 list, or even a top 100 list, of Jim Ross-called matches would be impossible. There have been too many outstanding match calls to narrow them down.
I do, however, have a favorite, and (sacrilege!), it isn't a WWE contest.
On November 15, 1989, Jim Crockett Promotions invaded what was then enemy WWF country, Troy, New York. The main event at Clash Of The Champions IX: New York Knockout on TBS was a match deservedly featured on WWE's Ultimate Ric Flair Collection DVD set.
It was the "I quit" match between The Nature Boy and Terry Funk.
As if (to put it in JR lingo) the delicious, slowly smoked meat of the match needed some sauce, it received the finest topping in the world. JR and Mr. Solie called the match side-by-side.
Both announcers brought their best. Ross, as always, chose the perfect moment to passionately shout, "There it is! There it is!" as Flair locked in the penultimate figure four.
Solie was his trademark calm, descriptive, yet urgent self. "That puts pressure on five different points of the leg." Even though Mr. Solie worked solo for much of his career and Mr. Ross's most memorable calls lay ahead, it was as if the two had been together for a decade.
They landed perfect play call double drop kicks (or "Flying Drop Kicks" as Gordon would call them) a la the Rock-n-Roll Express.
It was magic that, sadly, wasn't duplicated enough.
We may not have seen the last of Jim Ross behind the microphone. But if we have, thanks Mr. Ross, for everything.
No disrespect to Michael Cole, whom I have grown to like, but Raw isn't the same without the Resistol 200X.