Revisiting the WWE's Survivor Series tradition that began on Thanksgiving Day 1987

Survivor Series 1987 was the WWE's first pay-per-view event outside of WrestleMania, and set the tone for 30 years of events that followed. Courtesy of WWE

As we prepare for Thanksgiving on Thursday, it gives us the opportunity to revisit a moment in time more than 30 years ago, when the first Survivor Series event reached airwaves in the evening hours of Thanksgiving Day. The main event was a match that would become a tradition -- a five-on-five elimination tag match between teams captained by Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant. The two had met several months prior at WrestleMania III, and the event was a way to further their feud with another big payoff.

WWE on ESPN contributors Sean Coyle and Matt Willis sat down and watched the main event of that first Survivor Series together. Cue it up on the WWE Network, and follow along.

Event: 1987 Survivor Series
Location: Richfield Coliseum; Richmond, OH
Date: November 26, 1987
The Matchup: Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff, Bam Bam Bigelow, Don Muraco and Ken Patera versus Andre the Giant, One Man Gang, King Kong Bundy, Rick Rude and "The Natural" Butch Reed

Coyle: Before we jump into the first main event in Survivor Series history, let's start with a couple of notes to break the ice.

- The first four Survivor Series events were comprised of solely traditional Survivor Series elimination matches (1987-90).

- On top of being the first non-WrestleMania PPV in WWE history, this show also went head-to-head with Starrcade.

Willis: I've always enjoyed having pay-per-views with a theme like this. Especially with the current priduct, with big matches regularly given away on Raw and SmackDown, this really sets these events apart from weekly programming.

Coyle: Consider this PPV featured two other 5-on-5 Survivor Series matches, and then a 10-on-10 version, this allowed a lot of talent to be featured in a unique way

Willis: Tag team wrestling has rebounded over the past couple of years, but just two or three years ago, it would've been amazing to think that there was a time when WWE had 10 dedicated tag teams to put on a 20-man match like that.

Coyle: Couldn't agree more. You ready to kick this thing off, Willis? Main event time?

Willis: Hogan-Andre, Part II. I can't wait.

Coyle: Let's do it.

The heels lead the way to the ring

Coyle: Look at Rude, oozing with charisma. Doesn't need to say a word. Wearing tights featuring traffic lights and street signs.

Willis: Rude was incredible -- just a facial expression was enough for him to be a great heel. And Bobby Heenan following right behind. He was a manager on three of the four matches on the card this night.

Coyle: And incorporating his rivalries into his attire. That's innovation right three.

Willis: Ahead of his time.

With Rude, King Kong Bundy, One Man Gang and Butch Reed in the ring, Heenan takes the microphone to introduce Andre the Giant.

"Ladies and gentleman," said Heenan. "And I use that term loosely."

Coyle: Here comes Andre. There was never was and will never again be a more intimidating sight in pro wrestling.

Andre the Giant had lost to Hogan at WrestleMania III, after winning his matches at the first two WrestleManias.

Willis: Imagine if Andre was at his physical peak for this feud.

Coyle: Even where he was at that point, he took Hogan to the next level. Speaking of Hogan, now we're seeing Okerlund interview a fired-up Hogan and his team before the match.

Willis: Hogan's shtick always worked best when he was against a dominant force, like One Man Gang, Big Boss Man or Earthquake. Speaking of Hogan, the fringe of his bandana is in his eyes. I don't think I could handle that.

"I'm hungry and I'm here to survive," said Paul Orndorff.

"I'm here to burn this place down," offered Bam Bam Bigelow.

Willis: Bigelow wrestling as a face, alongside Hogan, always struck me as a surprise. A big, ugly guy with head tattoos and a sour look on his face? As a babyface in the 1980s?

"Listen to the ovation for Bam Bam," Gorilla Monsoon said, on commentary.

"I don't know why. He's ugly," Jesse Ventura weighed in.

Coyle: Yeah, Bam Bam was always in his element as a heel. I was always a big fan of his, though. Unique look, incredible athleticism for his size, and I was a big ECW guy, so I enjoyed his run there as well. He had a fun rivalry with my guy, Taz.

Willis: Bigelow could even throw in a moonsault or cartwheel. Also on the team was Mr. Wonderful, Paul Orndorff, a foe-turned-friend for this match. He famously opposed Hogan and Mr. T (with Roddy Piper as his partner) at WrestleMania I.

Coyle: Hogan makes his entrance with the crowd in the palm of his hand. Not too many people had that ability, consistently, for such a long period of time.

Willis: 100 percent of the crowd behind him, about 25,000 in attendance just outside of Cleveland. It's electric in there.

Don Muraco and Rick Rude start off the action.

Willis: Just look how muscular these two guys are -- that's the late 80s for you. Muraco is enormous.

Coyle: Enormous. Muraco tags Orndorff and he is on fire. Hogan's team is taking turns beating on Rude, the early sacrificial lamb.

Willis: Rude looks tiny in there compared to the other nine wrestlers. He might be the smallest guy in this match.

Coyle: Which is shocking to say. Rude finally gets out of there, making the tag to Butch Reed.

Willis: But Hogan's team continues to roll. Patera tags quickly to Muraco, who hits an impressive dropkick, given his size.

Coyle: Lots of quick tags by Hogan's team -- using that tag team psychology.

Willis: Not to mention Hogan repeatedly putting out his boot for his partners to utilize. Understated heel techniques for the biggest face in the world.

Hulk Hogan drops the leg on Butch Reed, making him the first elimination of the match.

Coyle: It's only fitting that the first elimination comes by way of the famous Hogan leg drop.

It wasn't quite the first Survivor Series elimination in history, though. The first came earlier in the night in the form of a double count out, courtesy of Jim Duggan and Harley Race.

Willis: Andre is in and we get Hogan and Andre, face-to-face.

Coyle: Andre has entered the ring, and Patera thinks he can handle him.

Willis: Ventura claims the referee favors Hogan for allowing the Patera tag.

Coyle: And the suspense continues as Andre tags Bundy.

Willis: Andre can't bother with Patera. He has no time for such things.

Coyle: Bundy was always an underrated performer to me. He was surprisingly athletic, given his look and size. And it doesn't seem that way with him standing next to Andre, but man, Bundy was massive.

Willis: Unfortunately in this era, we never got to see a lot of these big guys show off athleticism. Big guys were ground and pound.

Coyle: Muraco clearly has the most impressive physique in this match. Lots of quick tags here and Patera and One Man Gang are in there.

Willis: It's probably best that Gang and Bigelow go full bodysuit. No way to compare to Rude and Muraco.

Coyle: True story. I always loved the flames on Bigelow's attire.

Willis: The pace of this match has been fantastic, and the crowd is totally into it.

Coyle: Yeah, there is no slowdown in this one.

Willis: Patera's perm doesn't stand up against Rude's perm. He made a nice run at it though.

Coyle: As soon as I say there's no slow down, Patera gets stuck in a rest hold with One Man Gang.

Coyle: Multiple rest holds. Patera fights back, but One Man Gang continues to dominate and Patera is the first to go out on his team.

One Man Gang eliminates Patera with a clothesline.

Willis: Not the cleanest finisher. Gang gets Patera with the feared combo of a clothesline, followed by collapsing onto your opponent.

Coyle: Hogan came in briefly and now Bam Bam is in there taking it to One Man Gang.

Willis: The crowd pops huge for Bigelow getting tagged in. He debuted with a lot of fanfare, as managers were competing to get his services.

Coyle: A newly-turned babyface, Orndorff, is in there with Rude now, and again he's on fire. He brought a ton of intensity into this match.

Rude rolls up Orndorff, with a handful of tights, for the pin.

Coyle: But...it wasn't enough. Rude rolled him up in stereotypical heel fashion, holding the tights.

Willis: Orndoff had just called for the piledriver, too.

Coyle: Hogan's team continues to use the quick tag techniques.

Muraco hits Rude with a powerslam, evening up the eliminations with two apiece.

Willis: Rude almost kicked out, but fell victim from a trio of offensive maneuvers from the Hogan team.

Coyle: The great thing about this match is the slow build to the Hogan and Andre encounter.

Willis: Andre has let his teammates take the heavy lifting.

One Man Gang hits a big splash onto Muraco for the elimination.

Willis: Hogan complaining to the referee about the shot from Andre that led to the splash. But Hogan's hit the legal man from the outside all match. I'm calling out the hypocrisy.

Coyle: We are down to Hogan and Bigelow versus Andre, Gang and Bundy. Two-on-three.

Willis: Big bump by Bigelow from the Bundy clothesline. Sent him head over heels.

Coyle: Bam Bam with a great showing in this match. He had all the tools to be elevated to the next level, but never quite reached those heights.

Willis: Especially paired up against three bigger heels.

This was Bigelow's PPV debut. He'd also appear in the WrestleMania IV WWE championship tournament.

Coyle: Still an awesome character. Bigelow is really taking a beating here.

Willis: I loved Bigelow's work under Ted DiBiase in the Million Dollar Corporation. And it says something that WWE trusted him enough to give him the WrestleMania spot opposite Lawrence Taylor.

Coyle: That's true, I was actually at WrestleMania 11. I vividly remember loving Shawn Michaels vs. Diesel. It was one of my favorite early matches as a kid.

Willis: Bigelow gets the tag to Hogan!

Coyle: We finally get Hogan vs. Andre here. They are chopping the hell out of each other. Hogan is all fired up here and cleaning house.

Willis: Neither wanted to give an inch to start, but Hogan takes advantage by bashing Andre's head in the corner.

Coyle: Bundy pulls Hogan out of the ring as the referee starts the count. Huge slam by Hogan to Bundy on the outside, but Hogan gets counted out.

Hogan's elimination leaves Bigelow 1-on-3 against Andre, Bundy and Gang.

Coyle: This was a shocker to me, Hogan being gone mid-match. It kept Hogan safe being eliminated by way of a count out, but this was always a big shock to me.

This was Hogan's first loss at a PPV. He wouldn't be pinned/submitted/counted out at another PPV until WrestleMania VI in 1990 against the Ultimate Warrior (he had DQ and battle royal eliminations before that).

Willis: Yeah, it was a way to give Andre one back without him needing to pin Hogan.

Coyle: Exactly. It also gave Bigelow a stage to show what he had. And now Bigelow is getting the better of Bundy here with headbutts and dropkicks.

Bigelow gets the pin on Bundy after a slingshot splash from the apron.

Willis: That's a move you didn't see from even much-smaller superstars in those days. It's a shame to think Bigelow's first run was done less than a year later.

Coyle: One Man Gang is in there. I almost forgot he was still in the match. He brought the rest holds in an otherwise fast-paced match.

Monsoon gives Bigelow a 50-1 shot to win. Ventura points out that the Minnesota Twins were 150-1 to win that year's World Series. Which they did.

One Man Gang misses a top-rope splash, Bigelow covers him -- now it's just him and Andre.

Willis: The Gang, not exactly graceful from the top rope.

Coyle: No, not at all.

Willis: That was a feet-first splash.

Coyle: Bigelow is using his unexpected speed to sidestep Andre, but Andre catches up to him.

Andre catches Bigelow with a double-underhook suplex to be the sole survivor.

Hogan returns to the ring and hits Andre with the belt, sending him from the ring.

"What a sore loser!" cried Jesse Ventura.

Coyle: Andre gets the win, Hogan gets the celebration. It's one way to send the crowd home happy, I guess.

Willis: Heenan's telling Hogan he needs to put the title on the line to get Andre. I wish he was mic'ed up for this.

Coyle: Fun fact: Hogan never lost another traditional Survivor Series match after this one. He won four straight. Not only did he win four straight, he survived in each of those matches.

Willis: His only singles match at Survivor Series was a pretty big one. In 1991, he lost the WWE Championship to the Undertaker.

Coyle: That was the first Survivor Series to feature a non-traditional Survivor Series elimination match.

Ventura comments that he was so perturbed that Hogan stole the spotlight that he might come out of retirement to take his title.

"[Andre] survives everything. You want him, you got him!" exclaimed Heenan. "Hogan, you miserable human."

Coyle: This was the final pay-per-view event before WrestleMania IV, when it was Randy Savage's time to shine.

Willis: Savage participated in the opening match, leading his team to victory over a collective led by the Honky Tonk Man.

Coyle: I enjoyed this first Survivor Series main event. Was it a classic? No. But it was a well-designed match, well-worked for the most part (minus One Man Gang's attempt at a top-rope splash). It was what it should have been, entertaining.

Willis: Yeah, given the size of the competitors involved, the match flew by. If you watch earlier matches on the card, the pace of this one was much more quick and fun.

Coyle: Yeah, the 10-on-10 elimination match earlier on the card lasted nearly 40 minutes.

Willis: With the exception of Butch Reed, I think everybody came out of this match looking pretty good.

Coyle: I agree. Again, with the exception of Gang's top-rope flop.

Coyle: The first Survivor Series was such an important event, not just because it went head-to-head with Starrcade, but it got the ball rolling in terms of more frequent pay per views. And look where we are today -- pay-per-views are the cornerstone of the WWE's storyline direction.

Willis: Yeah, and they did well going head-to-head with that Starrcade card in '87, which was packed. But Vince McMahon pulled quite a power move and made sure his event was center stage, threatening to withhold WrestleMania IV from cable providers who aired Starrcade. Can't underestimate the impact of that, either.

The fallout continued as Andre defeated Hogan in a controversial finish at The Main Event in February, but was forced to vacate the title when he attempted to sell it to the Million Dollar Man. In a 14-man, one-night tournament at WrestleMania IV, Randy Savage won the WWE championship.

Editor's note: this story was first published in 2017.