Tragedy at the altar

Tragedy at the altar
ATLANTA -- It was supposed to be the biggest season premiere ever on Friday Night SmackDown, and the happiest night in the lives of SmackDown General Manager Theodore Long and Kristal Marshall. Tragically, only one of those expectations was realized inside the Philips Arena…and it wasn't the latter.

After months of planning, Long and Kristal were ready to say their "I do's" before family, friends and fans on the biggest sports-entertainment stage on network television. Emanating from his hometown, the SmackDown GM joked before the wedding ceremony that Kristal would "holla-holla-holla" by the end of the night. How ironically prophetic those words would soon become, though not for the reason he envisioned.

The ceremony itself was a star-studded affair, featuring invited Superstars and Divas from SmackDown, Raw and ECW. Sitting up front was none other than WWE Chairman Mr. McMahon, Raw Executive Assistant Jonathan Coachman -- and Mr. McMahon's "li'llegitimate" son Hornswoggle, who popped out from under the ring, then planted himself down with a phone book-assisted ringside seat next to Coachman and "Daddy." Also on hand were a slew of hometown celebrity guests, including popular rap duo Kaine & D-Roc, The Ying Yang Twins; Coming to the Stage host Bruce Bruce, who presided over the ceremony; and special musical artists Jagged Edge, who would perform live for the happy couple their No. 1 hit "Let's Get Married."

Flanked inside a spectacular ring-transformed altar by his son Antoine, former protégé Butch Reed and best man Ron Simmons, Long's features emitted sheer elation as his lovely bride, dressed in white, walked down the aisle. Despite slipping on the steel steps -- which Bruce Bruce eased with a comment about how she "fell for her love" -- Kristal took her side between the groom and her bridal party, maid of honor and Assistant GM Vickie Guerrero, plus bridesmaids Michelle McCool and Torrie Wilson.

Perhaps there were some warning signs before the tragedy that was to unfold that Friday night. Raw's screeching siren, Jillian, and her wedding "gift" -- a song to commemorate the lovebirds' special day -- had to be literally carried away by Women's Champion Candice and Mickie James. The Godfather came out and failed to convince Long to take one last ride "in the dirty South" on his "'Ho Train," though he chugged out of "Hot-lanta" with a majority of the male Superstars (and SmackDown commentator John Bradshaw Layfield). And Hornswoggle relentlessly tormented Coachman with tiny taunts and slaps, to the point that a Benny Hill-style chase ensued under the bride's gown, around the wedding decorations and all the way out of the Philips Arena.

Though Kristal was visibly upset, Long refused to let the matrimonial hi-jinx ruin their special day. In fact, it seemed nothing could take the smile off his face, or ever would as he heard his beloved say "I do" to loving him, in sickness and in health. That is, until Bruce Bruce asked if Long would do the same.

"I… I…" said the groom, unable to finish uttering his lifelong commitment as beads of sweat suddenly poured from his now-pale face.

Long then clutched at his chest and collapsed.

Kristal, sobbing hysterically, screamed for her intended to wake up, but without success. Vickie and the bridesmaids tended to her while Long's groomsmen urged for medical assistance. Dr. Rios and EMT's rushed to the side of the unresponsive GM, opening his shirt and covering his mouth with an oxygen mask. The wedding guests consisting of Superstars, Divas and our fans could only stand and watch, their stunned, horrified expressions painting a frighteningly grim description of what had just transpired.

As Friday Night SmackDown went off the air and its GM was rushed to a medical facility, the questions began to surface: What happened to Theodore Long? What's his condition, and how will it affect the Friday night brand?

Granted, all these questions will require answers. But not now. Out of respect, we should allow Kristal her privacy, and let her watch over the man she had sworn to love…till death do they part. Hopefully, Theodore Long will soon recover and respond in kind.

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