Like so many of us, Brian Pillman Jr. was really disappointed that the Baltimore Ravens fell just short of a return to the Super Bowl this year.
Of course, unlike the majority of us, Brian Pillman Jr. isn’t from Baltimore and didn’t grow up a Ravens fan. Brian Pillman Jr. is a 26-year-old who is from Kentucky, just outside of Cincinnati, Ohio. You might think his name sounds familiar. That’s because he’s a professional wrestler currently working with “Major League Wrestling” (MLW) and part of the show “MLW Fusion” that airs on the cable network beIN Sport. He was named Pro Wrestling Illustrated‘s “Rookie of the Year” for 2019, and most pundits believe he appears destined for a future in WWE.
But far more likely you think his name sounds familiar because his father, Brian Pillman, was one of the most exciting, unpredictable professional wrestlers in the history of WWE (then known as WWF). He famously wrestled with and against superstars like Ric Flair and Bret Hart, and he was famously involved with perhaps the most infamous segment in professional wrestling history alongside his one-time tag-team partner, Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Tragically, the elder Pillman died of heart disease in 1997 at the age of 35. His namesake son had just turned 4 years old.
Before jumping into wrestling, the elder Pillman was a football player, both in college and briefly in the NFL. He was even the Bengals’ inaugural winner of the Ed Block Courage Award in 1984. The younger Pillman has learned more about his father by connecting with his father’s Miami (Ohio) roommate and teammate in recent years.
“They both played football together, and apparently they got in all kinds of mischief together as well,” Pillman Jr. said on the “Jobbing Out” podcast Jan. 30.
“They were bad guys,” he joked. “They’d get in fights with people at college, they’d get in fights at the fraternities, they’d be slashing their tires and all kinds of crap.”
That roommate, that former football player at Miami, that man is Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. When Harbaugh found out roughly a decade ago his late former teammate had a son who was playing high school football, he took it upon himself to track him down.
“John reached out to me when I was a very young age. I was probably 16 or 17,” Pillman Jr. said. “I was playing football. He wanted to see how I was doing at football. He wanted to extend a hand and sort of help out us kids because we were never in a very good spot after my father passed. We were always in a different rough patch here or there; my Aunt Linda helped us out. John reached out to bring us to some Ravens-Bengals games, let us get on the sideline and experience that close kind of view.”
Pillman Jr.’s family experienced financial troubles after his father’s death that led to him and other family members going through all sorts of difficult situations. But the relationship Harbaugh established with him not only represented a connection with his own father, it also created sort of a new family for someone who had clearly experienced more than his fair share of trauma.
“We’ve had a lot of great experiences with John Harbaugh,” Pillman Jr. said. “He’s really just a family member at this point. We reach out every holiday and exchange gifts and stuff. He’s a really good guy overall. We got to go to [Super Bowl XLVII]. We got to see him face his brother, which was really, really cool.”
But their relationship isn’t just about trips and gifts.
“He’s a great mentor, really, and that kinda plays into his career as a coach,” Pillman Jr. said. “A lot of his career, a lot of his life is coaching up young guys to not only be better athletes but be better people. He’s a great role model. He’s a very Christian man, very faithful man. Even though I might not be the most religious person, there’s definitely some lessons I can take from the way he lives his life and the virtues that he has that make him a great father and a great leader for the Baltimore Ravens.”
Pillman Jr. says it hasn’t worked out yet for Harbaugh to come out and see him perform live, but he looks forward to the opportunity for that to happen in the future. He knows his father’s former teammate isn’t going to turn into a professional wrestling “mark,” and that’s just fine by him.
“I don’t really reach out to him for advice on wrestling,” Pillman Jr. said. “But as far as success and decision-making and doing the right thing, he’s always there for me to give me some advice and lend me his ear.”
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood
Originally published Feb. 18, 2020