King Æthelstan, Chris Jericho and The Coming Supremacy Of Conference III
This is a tale of two men, connected in only the most tenuous ways.
One was a great king, a man who, largely through the force of his own ego, united peoples who thought themselves distinct into a nation which would grow to be the most powerful the world has ever known.
The other, born 1,077 years after the first — both had fathers named Edward (one known as The Elder; the other as a winger) — would similarly bring together under one title warring factions, factions whose similarities out-numbered their differences, but who nonetheless, had to be united, again, through the force of a powerful ego.
The first man was the King of the English.
The second is the Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla.
And together they have something to teach Conference III.
Tracing the history of what are now known as the WWE Championship and the World Heavyweight Championship is no easy task. There are unifications and splits and rival claimants to the lineage so numerous, it would make the pretenders of Europe green with jealousy.
Those titles — and a number of others — all go back to the original World Heavyweight Wrestling Championship awarded in 1905.
But North Americans, especially of a modern vintage, don’t care about these early claimants, swapping titles in National Guard armories and at state fairs in a time before TV. Only the truly devoted can name more than a few wrestling promotions. And in the 90s, the only two promotions that mattered were the only two on national TV: Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation and Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling.
In the end, McMahon’s ego beat Turner’s. The WWF bought WCW (and then became WWE) in the spring of 2001. There was the pesky problem of two belts, both with proud histories — real geeks will say the WCW belt, having come over from the NWA in a truer, more uncorrupt way, had a purer lineage than the WWF belt, though such things mattered little to McMahon, who, at the time, was most interested in destroying any remnant legacy of his old rival.
A rather tortuous and projected story arc ended in San Diego in December 2001 when Chris Jericho — born to a St. Louis Blue and raised in Winnipeg so he’s ours if anyone is — defeated Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock to unify the two belts into a single title.
Though Jericho’s ego had a lot to do with his being crowned champion, it was McMahon’s that was responsible for this merger. History be damned. Legacy be damned. This was a new reality, forged by him. It was a good because he said it was a good. Hockey fans — even the less cynical ones — see a similarity.
Jericho, though, wasn’t the first person to benefit from the reflected largesse of another’s megalomania. Indeed, Her Majesty Elizabeth II, et cetera, et cetera, has many ancestors to thank for the crown on her head.
The first gratuity she should hand out is to Æthelstan, the man who, as King of the West Saxons, looked at the post-Roman island he led in part and decided he wanted the rest of it (or the most of it — Wales and Scotland would come later, and depending on who is talking, Cornwall, and maybe we’ll talk about that when parsing nominees for the Selke).
England at the time was a Heptarchy — seven kingdoms (how Conference III of them) — and Æthelstan came to power controlling his own Wessex, plus Mercia and East Anglia. He married his sister off to the Danish interloper ruling Northumbria — this is the “We’ll give you Detroit if you also take Columbus” of the 10th century — and waited. When his brother-in-law died, he attacked.
So the Northumbrians, rather begrudgingly (sound familiar, Chicago?), joined up. The three minor kingdoms, seeing little alternative, one presumes, got on board and Æthelstan minted coins declaring he was Rex totius Britanniae, King of the Whole of Britain.
As Alex Woolf said, “Clearly, King Æthelstan was a man who had pretensions.”
I like him already.
So what, then does this say about Conference III?
Jericho and Æthelstan were opportunists, yes, but opportunists who felt the gravitas of history on their backs. Rather than succumbing under the awesome pressure, they used that weight — not unlike a judo master — to their own advantage, uniting legacies under one head, bringing to life the greatness they already felt within themselves.
In 2013-14, Conference III should have that opportunity. This new Heptarchy will come together and, if destiny is on our side (and it is), will have three crowns to unite. Chicago will win the Central. Minnesota is well-positioned to win the Northwest. And Winnipeg — the home of Jericho — can seize the Southeast.
That’s half the divisions in the league, math majors, to be united under one triumphant Conference III banner.
The first champion of Conference III will, truly, be champion of half of the league. The first champion of Conference III shall seize a spot in the Stanley Cup final, wresting it from the tanned, smooth, uncalloused and lazy hands of the Californians, stifling the dry-mouthed screams of the Phoenicians, rending the curtain and exposing to the Western Canadians the vast, empty wasteland they inexplicably choose to call home.
We are Æthelstan. We are Jericho.
It is our birthright.