Roderick Toombs, a professional wrestler known as "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, died Friday at his home in Hollywood, Calif. He was 61. This story originally ran on NHL.com in October 2012.
In 1969, two tough 15-year-old Winnipeg boys got into a tussle. That's how it started.
Aspiring boxer Rod Toombs handled the larger Cam Connor, sparking an enduring friendship that has lasted more than four decades. It wasn't the last fight for either kid.
Connor eventually was a first-round pick of the NHL and the World Hockey Association. In a pro career that lasted 10 seasons, he won a Stanley Cup with the 1979 Montreal Canadiens and totaled more than 1,000 penalty minutes.
Toombs adopted the moniker "Rowdy" Roddy Piper and became a pro wrestling icon.
Former NHL player Cam Connor and wrestling star "Rowdy" Roddy Piper are still buddies long after growing up and scrapping together in Winnipeg. (Photo: World Wrestling Entertainment)
"I whupped him and we became friends," Piper told NHL.com. "He was the only friend from my childhood. I love him. He's the only guy I keep in touch with."
The pair spent countless hours at the gym working out and engaging in dozens of wrestling matches. Even back then, the future Roddy Piper didn't like to lose at wrestling. Piper was navigating numerous wrestling circuits when his best friend was selected by the Phoenix Roadrunners with the fourth pick in the 1974 WHA Draft.
From there, Connor quickly established himself as one of hockey's toughest players. In his second season with Phoenix, he had 18 goals and 295 penalty minutes in 73 games.
Just as Connor's hockey career was winding down, "Rowdy" Roddy was becoming a worldwide phenomenon. His hockey-playing pal was there every step of the way.
"We became good buddies," said Connor, who retired in 1984 and has worked for the past 18 years as a computer consultant. "We hitchhiked to Toronto together. I was with him his first day he got into wrestling at a local circuit in Winnipeg. He fought all over the world and had me come and meet him. I was there when he fought Mr. T. I was in the fifth row sitting there with Billy Crystal."
That match, in which Piper partnered with Paul Orndorff to face Mr. T and Hulk Hogan, was the main event of the first WrestleMania extravaganza. With Connor among the 19,000 fans at Madison Square Garden, Piper achieved his dream. His best friend had done the same a few years earlier.
In 1978-79, Connor appeared in 23 games for a powerhouse Montreal Canadiens team before convincing coach Scotty Bowman to give him a regular shift in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Connor's only goal of the playoffs came in double overtime in the quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but his run ended when he got a bad case of food poisoning during the semifinals against the Boston Bruins. Montreal captured its fourth straight Stanley Cup after beating the New York Rangers in five games, but Connor missed the Final due to his illness and was told he hadn't appeared in enough games to have his name engraved on the Cup.
That's when some Hall of Fame teammates intervened.
"[Ken] Dryden, [Bob] Gainey and [Doug] Risebrough all said, 'If you're not putting his name on the Stanley Cup, you do not have permission to put anyone else on our team's name on the Cup," Connor said. "I didn't know this until after. They went to bat for me and I'm grateful."
A few years later, while Connor was enjoying life after hockey, Piper was becoming wrestling's biggest bad guy. That fame had its benefits, but there were hazards being the most-hated man in one's sport.
"Rod was always the bad guy in wrestling," Connor said. "He has been knifed three times by fans. So when we went to a bar he would sit up against a wall because he always had to keep an eye on who was around him. We were like brothers. He'd jump in for me and I'd jump in for him. There were many nights we got in scraps together against bikers and different groups of guys."
"I whupped him and we became friends. He was the only friend from my childhood. I love him. He's the only guy I keep in touch with."
-- 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper on Cam Connor
No matter where the battles took place, Piper and Connor formed a fortuitous pair. They once even combined professions when both men wore boxing gloves on the ice to practice scrapping alongside Nick Fotiu, a former Golden Gloves boxer who played alongside Connor with the Rangers.
The pairing of hockey player and wrestler also led to some rowdy times off the ice.
"Without question the wrestlers [were rowdier]," Connor said. "We would always hook up. Rod would come in and take me for a beer with Andre the Giant and the Hart brothers and all those guys."
Almost 45 years since that fateful fight in Winnipeg, Connor and Piper remain the best of friends. They both climbed the ranks of their respective professions through brute strength and sheer will. Through it all, their respect for one another only has grown.
"There's a lot of correlations between hockey players and me," Piper said. "Keeping your family life together, being on the road, the constant pressure of performance. Those boys earn their money. People don't realize how tough hockey players are and what a tough sport that is. Those guys, I take my hat off to them. I think they're some of the greatest athletes in the world."