Stu Gibson was a legitimate hometown hero in New Albany and Louisville. The New Albany native turned professional wrestler was a star football player for the Bulldogs as well as the U of L Cardinals. But Stu’s most favored status did not extend to neighboring Jeffersonville, Indiana, home of the New Albany’s most hated rival, the Jeffersonville High School Red Devils.
The New Albany-Jeff rivalry goes back more than a hundred years. No game is more important to the residents of New Albany and Jeff as the annual basketball game between the two schools, with fans on one side chanting the now toned down cheer, “Beat the devil out of Jeff!” as fans across the way chant the not-so-innocent response, “SONA! SONA!”
There was so much heat between the two schools during the 1950s, you didn’t drive in certain parts of Jeffersonville with a New Albany license plate, or vice versa. Stu’s status as a former New Albany Bulldog, coupled with his reputation as one of the biggest villains in Louisville’s wrestling scene, led to an incident at the Nachand Fieldhouse in Jeffersonville that took place around 1952 involving a Jeffersonville alum named Billy Tanner.
“I was a small guy in high school,” says Tanner, who still works as a musician and singer in Southern Indiana. “The big guys were always putting me up to stunts they themselves couldn’t do. The old Fieldhouse on Court Avenue had a marquee sticking out from the front entrance, and one night during a wrestling show, Stu had parked his Studebaker convertible right near the marquee. Stu was the bad guy, and he was from New Albany, so we decided to have some fun.
“My friends lifted me up on top of the marquee, and I jumped straight down onto the roof of Stu’s car. Caved it right in! We didn’t tear it up or anything. Stu was able to pop it back in place when he came out. But boy, did we get a kick out of that.”
Gibson had no idea who had damaged his car that night. Three decades later in the early 1980s, Tanner shared the story over lunch with a man named Bill Heinz at the old Marriott Hotel in Clarksville.
“Tanner had no idea I was Stu’s brother-in-law,” says Heinz. “All of a sudden, he’s confessing to me that he was the one who jumped on Stu’s car. I didn’t say a word. I sat back and listened, thinking to myself, ‘You just signed your death warrant.’”
Heinz called Stu that afternoon and told him Tanner’s story. When Stu made his next visit to New Albany, Heinz arranged to have lunch with Tanner.
“Stu sat with his back to the door,” says Heinz. “As soon as Tanner walked through the door, I pointed him out. Stu was on him in an instant. He put him in a headlock and took him right to the ground!”
Tanner didn’t recall being taken down, but he will never forget the vise-like grip of Stu Gibson around his neck. “All of a sudden, this bear of a man grabs me in a headlock!” says Tanner. ‘Do you know who I am?’ he said to me. That’s when I realized I was in trouble. ‘I’ve been looking for you for thirty years!’” he said.
Tanner was relieved to know Gibson was only joking. Even in his late fifties, Stu was a powerful and imposing figure. “He was the nicest guy, once you got to know him. It’s a funny story, looking back, but when he had me in that headlock, it wasn’t quite so funny!”
Stu Gibson’s story can be read in the book Louisville’s Greatest Show, now available!