April 8, 2006

The Greatest Spectacle In Sports Entertainment and A Dream Come True

If you were a guy growing up in the 1990’s, there’s a pretty good chance you were a fan of professional wrestling.

Admit it. There’s something in all our DNA that attracted us to this flashy, ridiculous form of entertainment that mixes athleticism with soap opera and violence. No matter how book smart you are, or how much of a pretentious indie fuck you act like when it comes to the music you listen to, there was still something strangely appealing to this ‘sport’ a level above barbarianism.

My brother and I were no different. I suppose it makes more sense for him, because he’s the athletic type, always interested in any type of sporting event to come on. The Olympics are like Christmas morning for two straight weeks for him. Don’t even get me started with basketball.

Me? Not so much. I always liked to read and watch movies. Sports were boring. Professional wrestling was for idiots.

However, on a boring June night in 1998, I found myself watching an episode of WWF RAW IS WAR (now WWE RAW) with my brother. It was some segment featuring WWF Champion ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin and Kane hyping their First Blood match at the upcoming Pay-Per-View. It ended with Austin getting dumped with fake blood and Kane vowing to set himself on fire if he didn’t win.

With that, I was hooked.

Kane ended up winning the title that weekend, but he lost it back the next night to Austin. As the summer wore on, my brother and I educated ourselves in wrestling history with viewing countless hours of tapes (this was before DVD’s, children).

Out of all of these tapes, we tended to enjoy the annual WrestleManias the most. WrestleMania was a pay per view started in 1985 by the WWE that would feature the best of the best wrestlers. It’s where feuds culminate and grudges are settled. It’s also chock full of celebrities and features some of not only the best wrestling ever put to tape, but also some of the finest dramatic moments, if you understand the history. It’s widely considered to be the ‘Super Bowl’ of wrestling. Just like the Super Bowl, it’s held somewhere different each year. We vowed that if it were ever to return to Chicago, we’d be there, hands down.

Drew and I gradually burnt out of watching wrestling on a regular basis somewhere around 2000. This was after forming our own backyard wrestling federation where we defended title belts that I designed and we had a hand in writing our own feuds. I went as Dude Love one Halloween and Cactus Jack the next. Drew went as Sting the first year and Spike Dudley the next. A friend of ours even went as ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin the first year.
It’s all hilarious to think about now, but it really showed how much we loved something so stupid.

Anyways, even though our fandom eventually dwindled, one thing we always did each year was rent WrestleMania on pay-per-view. Since 1999, we hadn’t yet missed one. Even if we didn’t exactly know what was going on with some of the feuds, it became somewhat of a tradition that we refused to break with.

Last year, when we rented Wrestlemania 21 on pay-per-view, it came time to announce the location of next year’s WrestleMania. Immediately when we saw the promotional video featuring the Chicago skyline, we freaked out.

It was coming back to Chicago! Only two times in the 21 year history of the event had it even taken place in Chicago – parts of WrestleMania II were held at the Rosemont Horizon in 1986, and the entire WrestleMania XIII event was held at the same arena. We vowed at that very moment to get tickets.

We kept enough attention to know that they were going on sale in mid November. Then, out of nowhere… WE FORGOT.

Tickets literally sold out in two minutes, as reported by Ticketmaster.

The feelings of shock and disappointment were quickly stifled with “Oh well, I guess we’ll just watch it on pay per view again this year.” It was an okay consolation, but we were still bitter at the fact that we totally slipped up and missed our chance to go to our favorite event when it FINALLY came back to our town.

We largely forgot about it for the next couple of months, until somewhere around mid-March where we realized we’d better start paying attention so we know what the hell was going on leading up to the big event when we’d get it on pay-per-view.

Then, like a godsend, we saw it.

Two weeks ago, in the Daily Herald, I spotted an advertisement in the form of a WrestleMania trivia quiz. It said that the winners of the quiz would get two free tickets to WrestleMania 22 on April 2!

Then I looked at the questions. I knew almost all of them off the top of my head – and what I didn’t know, Drew did.

“What do we have to lose?” I said.

“Nothing,” he replied.

So we sat up in my room and filled it out. After clicking send, I said “We’re going to WrestleMania.”

“No we’re not,” Drew said, walking out of my room. I insisted we were. For the next few days, I talked as if we were going. He was getting angrier and angrier with every mention of it, stating “DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY PEOPLE PROBABLY DID THAT THING?” I just laughed.

Anyways, two Wednesdays ago I got out of my Copy Editing class early and sat at the computers in the Journalism Department. I checked my e-mail. It was from some woman from the promotions department at the Daily Herald. Right at the top, it said.

“CONGRATULATIONS! You have been selected as one of the winners of our WWE WrestleMania 22 trivia contest!”

I nearly jumped out of my seat. Confident after filling out the quiz that we had them all right, I never really thought we’d win. But we did. I tried to hold back my excitement to prevent the risk of embarassing myself in the middle of a lobby full of people.

Needless to say, I’ve never heard Drew more excited about something in my life.

We finally were accomplishing the goal we’d set so many years before.

He convinced it was a joke. It wasn’t until we picked up our tickets did it finally become a reality.


Anyways, we left at around noon Sunday to get to the event. It didn’t start until five thirty, but I knew that there was going to be some stuff to do in the parking lot. The lines were incredibly long, so we decided to line up to get into the arena. We talked to two guys who worked at a Wal-Mart somewhere in the suburbs most of the time. They were total wrestling geeks, just as we were.

I have never seen so many grown men dressed up as their favorite wrestlers, and so many people carrying around $300 plus dollar replica title belts. Even we weren’t that bad, and trust me, we were bad.

Anyways, after several hours of waiting in line, we finally got inside. It really hadn’t hit either of us that we were at WrestleMania. Something we’d been watching for years. Something that’s first fourteen installments got us through an extremely long car ride to Virginia. Finally, we were a part of the big event.

The set was incredible. It was constructed to look like the Chicago skyline, with each individual section being part of a giant TV screen. Yes, there were a lot of lights. Yes, there were a lot of fireworks. Yes, there was a lot of FIRE.

I could run down the entire card, but it won’t make much sense to the non-fans. However, I will I will say, I never will forget how the crowd was cheering for the bad guys and booing the good guys.

I will never forget the night I saw Edge spear Mick Foley through a flaming table.

I will never forget the night Shelton Benjamin did a springboard from the outside apron onto a ladder.

I will never forget Shawn Michaels (my favorite wrestler as a kid) doing a sixteen foot elbow drop off a ladder, onto 60-year-old WWE owner Vince McMahon, who was layed out on a table with a trashcan on his head.

I will never forget the Undertaker’s dive over the top rope, clearing a casket, and colliding with a 400 pound man.

I will never forget the 5’3, 165 pound Rey Mysterio winning the World Heavyweight Championship from guys a half foot taller than him.

I will never, ever forget Triple H, the company’s top ‘bad guy’ tapping out to the WWE Champion John Cena’s submission hold to end the show.

I’ll never forget being one of the 17,155 in attendance that night.

Yes, it’s fake, the outcomes predetermined, but the athleticism is not. To see the stories told in front of you is a lot of fun.

My brother and I always don’t get along. We’re pretty much exact opposites. But wrestling is something we’ve always had in common. I’m glad I got to experience this with him, as opposed to someone else who really wouldn’t care. It was nice to spend a couple of hours with him even though we are on very different paths in life.

As corny as it sounds, it was a dream come true for the both of us. Even though we’re pretty far removed from the extreme fandom we immersed ourselves in nearly ten years ago, it was pretty awesome to be able to just sit back, forget about all the complications of everyday life, and just be a kid again.