RollerGames: A Moment in Time That We Can’t Forget

The WWE has become one of the most popular sources of entertainment since it was launched in 1980 as Titan Sports Group. With steroid-fueled wrestlers putting on a fake match that often includes ridiculous hijinks, the action on screen is so bad that you can’t turn away out of curiosity of what is going to happen next. Now, imagine those manic personalities, still crashing into each other and drawing the crowd in with their antics-but on roller skates.

Do that, and you have RollerGames. This isn’t your typical roller derby, which is when one team of rollerbladers tries to lap their jammer around the other team more times than the other team laps their jammer around them. Add in some of the ridiculous elements of the WWE; the characters, the stunts, and the dramatic fictional storylines, and then you start to get closer to the final product. RollerGames, in its final form, was an extravagant attempt to meld together WWE wrestling and roller derby, which ended in failure in the short term. It has emerged as an eclectic piece of time from the early 1990s however, which gives all the more reason to do some research into it.

I discovered RollerGames completely by chance on a summer night when I had nothing to. The Mets had probably just lost at that point, so I was scrolling through the TV guide to find something to take my mind off of the loss. That’s when I stumbled upon RollerGames on FS2. As it turns out, FS2 had been struggling to put sports content on the air due to the lack of events caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. Hungry for content, FS2 turned to RollerGames to fill the void. Having never heard of this before, I clicked on it, and I am so glad that I did.

I was greeted by two play-by-play broadcasters, Chuck Underwood and David Sams. If the name “David Sams” sounds familiar to you, it is probably because of the legendary media career he has had. Sams is credited with launching the Oprah Winfrey show, as well as serving as a consultant to musical stars like Michael Jackson and Garth Brooks. He also has a passion for roller derby, which led to the Frankenstein-esque sporting event known as RollerGames. As for Underwood, according to a 1986 article from The Lantern, which is the on-campus newspaper of Ohio State University, he served as a play-by-play radio broadcaster for the Ohio State Football team for some time.

Chuck Underwood and David Sams

 The third member of the broadcasting team served as the “rink-side reporter” and brought her own storyline with her. Shelly Jamison was a reporter and on-air reporter for KTSP-TV in Phoenix, Arizona before she appeared on the cover of an issue of Playboy. According to Jamison, she received more money from appearing in Playboy than she would have in five years at her television station, which she subsequently left afterward. Sams discovered Jamison after reading about her Playboy cover in an edition of USA Today.

Shelly Jamison

 Directing all of the madness was Chet Forte, a broadcast titan in the sports industry that was responsible for producing ABC’s Monday Night Football. The show was set to compete against American Gladiator in the same timeslot, a show that essentially presented the same variety of bloodlust minus the roller skates.

 Following the introduction, it was absolute madness in the rink. There were six total teams skating in the league; the T-Birds, Rockers, Hot Flash, Bad Attitude, Violators, and Maniacs. The greatest rivalry in the sport was between the T-Birds and the Violators, who embodied the classic good versus evil matchup. The teams would bash each other to bits, and at the end of a match, a score would pop up on the screen-based off of how many laps were successfully recorded by each team. To add to the hectic scoring, teams would have the opportunity to scale massive walls on their skates, as well as make long jumps off of ramps to try to score bonus points.

The madness extended past the rink as well, with musical performances from an eclectic group of entertainers. There is of course the unforgettable (or forgettable) theme performance by D. C. Getschal, titled Rock & RollerGames. The two-minute and thirty-second ballad features Getschal rushing through the crowd while singing the theme, which essentially just him saying a bunch of U.S cities and repeating the phrase “Rock and RollerGames.”

Getschal was not the only performer to lend their pipes to the waxed wood floor. Tammy Grady rocked the rink with her single Hit & Run. As she burst onto the screen through a wave of heavily animated flames, Grady performs a typical 1980’s style music video, with fog and flashing lights sealing the deal.

The sport was full of personalities in the rink, like legendary skater Ralph Valladares who was known globally for his skating abilities, and famously used the same pair of roller skates despite them being run over by a car and frozen under two feet of ice. There was also Georgia Hase, the controversial head coach of Bad Attitude who was a pioneer in the sport as the first women’s general manager of the Detroit Devils when the league was known as Roller Games.

Ralph Valladares

 While the personalities drove revenue for the sport, it was certainly some of the more ridiculous antics of the sport that made it stick out to viewers. Perhaps the most outlandish aspect was the rules for sudden death overtime. For sudden-death overtime, two skaters would do a six-lap sprint to try to determine the winner. Another way of winning in overtime came through pushing your opponent into the alligator pit. Yes, you read that correctly. A pit full of live alligators was placed in the middle of the track, and if one skater managed to push the other into the pit, their team would be crowned victorious.

Despite this outlandish concept for a television show, RollerGames only held on for one season. It had to compete in the same timeslot as Saturday Night Live in many cities, which means many eyes did not get to see the madness that was happening on the rink. Despite this limited run, it is worth thinking about how RollerGames would perform in front of today’s audience. Given the success of the WWE, which recently beat out shows such as the series finale of MacGyver and Blue Bloods, you’d think that networks would be smart to at least consider bringing the craziness of RollerGames back to life.

Times have changed since the early 1990’s when RollerGames first premiered. Many of the personalities have retired from skating or passed away. Sams has continued his successful career in television and is now working on KeepTheFaith radio. Jamison has moved on from broadcasting completely and now works as an Assistant Chief at the Phoenix Fire Department, focusing on disaster relief. There has been a renaissance of roller derby across the world, with over 1,500 leagues in 40 countries and a push for the sport to be included in the 2020 Olympics. The Women’s Flat Track Derby Association even set the gold standard for return-to-play guidelines during the COVID-19 Pandemic. The sport clearly has positive momentum, and with the way that the WWE has been performing, it might be time to bring the blades back out and hit the rink for a RollerGames sequel.