By Mike Mooneyham

May 22, 2005

For Bill Goldberg, it’s no longer a question of who’s next, it’s more a question of what’s next.

The former world heavyweight champion has been plenty busy since leaving World Wrestling Entertainment a year ago. His latest accomplishment is a role in Paramount’s “The Longest Yard,” a remake of the 1974 sports classic in which comical convicts square off against oppressive guards in a prison football game.

Goldberg’s role in the movie is that of a homicidal maniac which, he laughs, isn’t much different than the role he played on the football field and in the wrestling ring.

“That’s me. I’ve been telling people it’s Bill Goldberg the wrestler, Bill Goldberg the football player and then a homicidal maniac rolled into one,” the 6-4, 270-pound sculpture of muscle said last week.

“Thinking back, though, that was a lot like Bill Goldberg the wrestler. It (the movie) gave me an opportunity to put them both together.”

Bill Goldberg

Bill Goldberg

Along with numerous roles on television, the wrestler-turned-actor has had parts in several films over the past few years, including “Universal Soldier II,” “Ready to Rumble,” “Looney Tunes: Back In Action” and “Santa’s Slay.”

“The Longest Yard” was a favorite, he says, because it afforded him the opportunity to work with legendary tough guy Burt Reynolds, who starred in the darker, grittier original.

“He had to be an idol to any young kid growing up in the ’60s and ’70s,” Goldberg says of the mustachioed machoman. “I got the Trans Am as my first car, had all the ‘Bandit’ posters, went down the river he went down in ‘Deliverance.’ Burt Reynolds is an icon. It was a wonderful experience, not just to be on camera with the guy, but ultimately at the end of the shoot to have become one of his friends. That was awesome.”

A couple of Goldberg’s former wrestling colleagues, Steve Austin and Kevin Nash, along with no-holds-barred superstar and former NFL lineman Bob Sapp, have cameo roles in the movie, which opens in theaters nationwide Friday. Austin recently joked that he’s in it for 46 seconds, so “Don’t go to the bathroom or you’ll miss me.”

It’s the acerbically witty Nash, though, who particularly impressed Goldberg.

“Kevin is wonderful. His ability to make people laugh is amazing. He’s one of the most talented guys I have ever met – wrestling or whatever it may be.”

That pro wrestlers were included in the movie should come as no surprise. Sandler, who steps into Reynolds’ sizable cleats as a disgraced former pro quarterback who finds himself doing hard time (Reynolds now portrays the jailbirds’ grizzled coach) and produced the prison-yard gridiron tale, is an avid wrestling fan. Many of his self-written films, including “The Waterboy,” “Billy Madison,” “Big Daddy” and “Little Nicky,” have references to pro wrestling in them, and Sandler has even appeared on WWE shows promoting his movies.

“Adam’s a definite fan and has been for a long time,” says Goldberg. “You kind of look at Adam and David Arquette in the same vein. He’s quite entertained by us guys gong out there and throwing each other around. It’s the levity of it all.”

The all-star cast also includes comedian Chris Rock and hip-hop star Nelly, as well as former NFL players Brian Bosworth, Michael Irvin and Bill Romanowski.

While Goldberg says there’s no comparison between his two latest movies, he was grateful for the opportunity to do “Santa’s Slay,” since he met stuntwoman and future wife Wanda Ferraton on that set. Although she had no idea who he was, a romance blossomed, and the two recently exchanged vows in the Florida Keys.

“To say I enjoyed ‘The Longest Yard’ more than ‘Santa’ Slay’ (a horror-comedy in which he played a bitter, homicidal Santa Claus) would be a major understatement. Let’s see. LA … Edmonton (respective filming sites). There you go. But if ‘Santa’s Slay’ was the last movie I ever did, so be it, it’s great because I met my wife on that set.”

The newlyweds, however, have had little quality time since tying the knot.

“Honeymoon … what’s that? Honeymoon is usually when you and your wife or your significant other have a couple days off to yourselves. We haven’t had that yet,” says Goldberg. “Fortunately we’re doing some publicity with this movie, and I’ve got a TV show coming out. It’s a pretty busy time for us right now. You just try to work as much as you can. You can’t rest upon what you’ve just done.”

MADE FOR THE MOVIES

The hulking wrestling demigod, son of a Harvard-educated obstetrician and a one-time concert violinist, has thoroughly enjoyed his thespian-related activities. He’s hoping to transform his popularity as a pro wrestler into a less physically demanding career as a star on TV and the big screen.

And although he likes the transition from wrestling star to Hollywood hero, he’s not quite ready to put himself in the same category as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who parlayed a successful wrestling career to feature films on the silver screen.

“I’d love to continue to pursue doing some movie stuff,” says Goldberg. “I’m not basing my success or my life’s worth on becoming Hollywood’s next action hero. There’s no question that I would love to experience a portion of the success The Rock has – except for the fact that I’m not nearly as pretty as Rock. But that’s all relative. If I never do another movie, it won’t kill me. If I do 50, it’ll be wonderful. It would be a lot of fun.”

The 38-year-old Goldberg also wouldn’t mind tackling some roles that stray from his bruising, bone-crunching persona. It’s worked beautifully for The Rock, he says, and he thinks it could work for him.

“Rock’s characterizations of these things that have been far departures from himself have been his best projects. That’s what makes people stand up and notice. Everybody knows that I can turn the corner and chop somebody’s head off. They don’t know if I can make people laugh, or make fun of myself. I’m more than happy to do that. I do that every day.”

RETURN TO THE SQUARED CIRCLE

Goldberg laments the fact that the wrestling business has taken a sharp, radical turn over the past decade. But he doesn’t rule out making a return if the wrestling landscape were to change.

His meteoric rise to the top of sports entertainment had no parallel in the history of contemporary professional wrestling, and he was one of the main reasons WCW’s popularity soared during the late ’90s.

“I’d love to (come back). I’d do it tomorrow if the situation were different. There’s no question that I would love to wrestle again. I owe it to these fans. As ridiculous as the business is sometimes, and as much as I detest the stuff that goes on backstage and the stuff that is in no way, shape or form deals with advancing the business positively, it’s something I’d be interested in doing if things were different.”

For Goldberg, that means a return to a simpler way of doing things, one which would involve a more basic approach to the business.

“You go back to the simplistic storyline of what made wrestling: good versus evil. You don’t cross the line, you don’t use profanity, you don’t have naked girls out there. When I was a kid, I do remember things being pretty entertaining with things just being good versus evil. It’s crazy to try to make people into who they’re not and trying to swerve folks every week.”

Goldberg, who says his favorite part of the wrestling business is his interaction with the younger fans, bristles at the mention of his ill-advised heel turn toward the end of his run in the now-defunct WCW. It was a blow to his enormous fan base, and Goldberg still hasn’t forgotten. “I should have never been turned heel – ever. It was disgusting. The reality is that a lot of these bad things that happen in the wrestling business, 90 percent are because of certain people’s egos. There’s no question about that.”

The affable Goldberg’s forced transformation certainly wasn’t befitting a role model who routinely aided charitable causes, visited silk children in hospitals, served as a national spokesman for animals rights, and respected his roots enough to decline to wrestle on the high holy day of Rosh Hashana or to change his name to a more convincing ring moniker.

Fresher in Goldberg’s mind is his most recent stint in the business with WWE. The relationship got off to a shaky start when he butted heads with company standard-bearer Triple H (Paul Levesque) a couple years before even joining the company.

“Hunter and I had some really bad times prior to me coming to WWE. I’m a professional athlete. I’ve been paid since I was in my early 20s to go out there and fight with guys who were 40 or 50 pounds heavier than I am, and fight for my life. I got into a business where people make decisions based on some of the most stupid things. I cannot tell you how dumb some of these decisions are, and how inadequate and mentally unprepared some of these people are.”

Goldberg’s last run in the business, he says bluntly, was disastrous.

He signed with WWE in March 2003 after almost two years out of wrestling following the demise of WCW. Disillusionment set in quickly for Goldberg when the WWE creative staff tried to introduce a “human side” to the intense performer and even turned him into a comedic act in a series of backstage vignettes that only served to tarnish Goldberg’s reputation. His tenure with WWE, he readily acknowledges, was one of the most miserable times of his life.

“It’s not rocket science. It’s easy. I’m not saying I’m a booker and can put things together – I can deliver them but I can’t put them together – but I guarantee you that Kevin Nash could write better shows than any wrestling show out there right now. I liked the business when it was pure and it didn’t have all the crap associated with it.”

RACIN’ AND RASSLIN’

Goldberg, who had been one of the most sought-after recruits in Oklahoma coming out of high school in 1985, went on to become a record-setting nose guard at the University of Georgia where he was an All-SEC selection from 1987-89 and was selected to UGA’s all-decade team for the 1980s. He played professional football with the Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Rams before an abdominal muscle tear ended his career. He entered the wrestling business after meeting mat stars Lex Luger (Larry Pfohl) and Sting (Steve Borden) in an Atlanta-area fitness club.

“Sting is the guy who made me want to become a wrestler. Many people tried, but Sting’s advice to me and Sting’s going out there and being able to do it with a smile on his face made me do it. But the day he told me he couldn’t let his kids watch anymore, that was the day I knew the business was going down.”

Goldberg says he has no interest whatsoever in the Total Non-Stop Action promotion and even less with company star Jeff Jarrett.

“Absolutely not. The reality is that I’d love to be able to be associated with businessmen who were in the wrestling business – not wrestlers who thought they were businessmen.”

Goldberg, who was named one of the 100 most powerful people in the sports industry by The Sporting News, currently is looking forward to a hosting role on a new one-hour weekly series on the History Channel called “Automaniac” that will premiere June 1 at 10 p.m.

Described as a wild ride that puts the viewer in the driver’s seat of the coolest, hottest, fastest and most unusual vehicles ever to hit the road, the show is right up Goldberg’s alley. He’s had a longtime passion for cars and motorcycles and has a collection of more than two dozen vintage cars, from an all-original 1959 Chevrolet to a 2003 Ferrari Modina 360.

“If anybody knows anything about me, they know I’m a car freak. It’s a lot of fun for me. It’s another dream come true to be a host of a show whose storyline is automobiles. I’m a freak. I’ve got 19 cars in my garage. I love it.”

Each episode will focus on an unusual theme, such as vehicles driven by gangsters, police departments, hot rodders or the super rich. Incorporating a mix of history, technology, the culture and hands-on participation from Goldberg himself, the show will take viewers into the garage, under the hood and out on the road to show how the cars work and what makes them the hottest wheels of any era.

A fringe benefit of the show, says Goldberg, is that it will allow him to interact with many wrestling fans.

“The good thing is that it’s a blue-collar interest. Automobiles, not the high end, not the collector cars and sports cars. I’m doing some publicity work at NASCAR. There’s a parallel between NASCAR and wrestling fans. This gives me the ability to get back out there for these wrestling fans. That’s going to put a big smile back on my face.”

Goldberg says he has little time to keep up with what’s going on in the wrestling business, but he’s extremely happy for new WWE world champ (Dave) Batista.

“I really don’t know anything about his push, because I haven’t watched wrestling more than twice since I left. I know that of all the guys who are there, he deserves it. He really does. Obviously Taker is the man. He’s been there a long time and deserves everything he gets. And by me saying Batista deserves it doesn’t mean that he’s worked harder and been there longer. But the fact is, that as one of those guys who’s put people in the seats, they’d don’t give a damn if you’ve been there 10 or 15 years or 10 or 15 days. As long as you go out there and you do your thing, that’s all that matters.

“Knowing Batista when I was there, he was the best guy, he was one of my best friends, and I love him to death. If I can ever help him out, it’s more than my pleasure. I’d love to see him far surpass anything that I ever did. I’d love to get in the ring with the guy again. That would be a lot of fun. In five minutes, I can come up with 10 different ways to do things better than they’re doing right now – with or without me. He was very frustrated when I was there, and I’m happy that good things are happening to him.”

– George’s Sports Bar, 1300 Savannah Highway, will air the Judgment Day pay-per-view tonight at 8 p.m. Cover charge is $7.

– Carolina Pro Wrestling Association will hold a fun day 2-6 p.m. Saturday at the National Guard Armory in Mount Pleasant. A wrestling show will follow at 8 p.m. Doors open at 7. Advance tickets from 2-6 p.m. will be $5. Tickets will be $8 at the door. For more information, call 747-3200.

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected] He is the co-author of the New York Times best-seller “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment.” For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.