Debut Column: WrestleMania 27 Fan Diary

David L. Craddock

 

WrestleMania 27 Fan Diary
by David L. Craddock

Can You Smell It?

Sunday, April 3, positively crackled with electricity. I could smell it; I could feel it, and so could more than 70,000 other passionate wrestling fans. But I’m not talking about the energy that emanated from the Georgia Dome that same evening. No, this particular electricity positively sparked and sizzled all over Atlanta as thousands of WWE WrestleMania 27 ticket-holders converged on the city for the granddaddy of ‘em all.

The WWE’s influence on the city was evident from the moment my flight touched down on Saturday afternoon. Clad in an Undertaker t-shirt, I hoisted my carry-on from the overhead bin, sidled off the plane, and was stopped by an airline attendant who had noticed my shirt and proceeded to gush about the Dead Man. Aboard the airport shuttle that trundled my wife and me to our hotel, our driver chatted enthusiastically about the upcoming show of shows, and of his firm belief that Edge–"The great champion of our generation," according to him–would retain his World Heavyweight Championship.

Later that evening, one of my best friends arrived at the hotel after a 12-hour road trip, completing our party of three. We spent the remainder of the evening doing our best Rock impressions, slamming each other onto our room’s queen-sized bed with Rock Bottoms and electrifying the millions–and millions–of invisible spectators with People’s Elbows.

That’s right, WWE. We did try this at home. Sort of.

After a good night’s sleep, we awoke refreshed from our travels and eager to enjoy the sights and sounds of Hot-lanta. But this would not be just any day in the ATL. No, this was WrestleMania day, and we deemed it appropriate to dress for the occasion. Off went my Undertaker t-shirt, on went the "I Bring It" black and red. My wife donned a Rey Mysterio wristband, RKO t-shirt, and Divas hoodie; and our friend sported a Rated-R Superstar shirt–much to the delight of our shuttle driver, who transported us to the train station where we made our way into the city.

Wrestling fans were everywhere: walking the streets in groups, most in identifying t-shirts, many with replica belts over their shoulders; piled into cars and whooping with enthusiasm as they entered the last leg of their road trip to witness the sports entertainment spectacle; mourning their lack of tickets as they filed into bars to watch the action on TV. After a buffet lunch, we walked around the city until the time came to join the snaking line of WWE fans queued up outside the Georgia Dome. The line moved in spurts as security guards scanned tickets until FINALLY–your author… had come back… to WrestleMania! Stepping into the cavernous Dome, I released my pent-up excitement in the form of euphoric "WOOOOOO!"s that joined the thousands of other ululating Flair tributes echoing throughout the building. Down and down we went, further into the belly of the dome until we reached our destination: section 119, the lowest level of the three-tiered stadium seats. Flashing our tickets to the event security staff, we stepped through a curtain and took in the arena.

Everywhere I looked, fellow fans trickled down aisles to their seats. Most were bedecked in t-shirts, ball caps, and other merchandise, and still others clutched programs, foam hands, and refreshments–including ice-cold Steveweisers, of course. We picked our way down the stairs to the third row, watching WWE crew members hustle back and forth as they wrapped up last-minute preparations. I let out a few more "WOOOOO’s" as I settled into my chair, marveling at the view. We sat directly across from the middle of the ramp, allowing us to easily see both stage and ring with only the slightest turns of our heads.

Over the next hour, empty seats gradually filled as everyone settled in for the pre-show matches to start. When the announcer welcomed us to WrestleMania, wild cheers rang out from the electrified audience, and the traditional pre-show dark matches began.

Making His Way to the Ring…

First up: Daniel Bryan challenging Sheamus for the U.S. Championship. Imagine my surprise when the announcer revealed that this match, a title match, had become a lumberjack match, and would occur before the pay-per-view (PPV) went live to the rest of the world. It seemed improbable. The match, put on by two excellent workers, could have been one of the best of the night. Instead it had been bumped to an untelevised attraction, which degenerated into a brawl between the lumberjacks, which became a battle royal, which ended with The Great Khali’s hand raised in victory as he danced to the delight of the crowd.

Yes, the crowd actually popped for Khali’s dance. It was at this point that I called into question the intelligence of my fellow ‘Mania ticketholders.

Eventually the superstars made their way to the back, and the announcer informed us that WrestleMania 27 would soon go live. A countdown clock on the large screens hanging around the arena ticked down the seconds. When the clock struck zero, we were treated to a stirring rendition of America the Beautiful by artist Keri Hilson. Then a video package played to introduce The Rock, his music thundered through the arena, and I flipped out like a nine-year-old at a Justin Bieber concert.

Finally…

It was on February 15, one night after The Great One’s return to Raw to announce that he would host WrestleMania, that I pulled the trigger on tickets to the show. I had high hopes for the card before The Great One’s return, but if he was going to be there, I needed to be there, too.

Every wrestling fan can trace their love of the sport back to one particular wrestler, the guy or gal who introduced them to the circus that is professional wrestling. For me, that guy is The Rock.

In the beginning, I admit that I tuned in solely for Rocky. By the time he left for Hollywood–making only occasional returns to cut promos–I had become a wrestling fan: hunting down classic matches in the WWF/WWE, reading up on the history of the business, and branching out to familiarize myself with other federations and territories that had existed before Vince McMahon’s juggernaut company towered unopposed over the wrestling world.

But even as I grew to love wrestling for the business more than one man, I continued to follow Rock’s success. On every opening night for a new Rock movie, I was there, no matter how large or small his role. My adoration advanced to the point where, long before I became a regular reader of WrestleZone.com and other wrestling news sites, I could sense when he was going to return. I correctly predicted more than a few of those returns, leading my friends to defer to my Rock-Radar when rumors of a possible appearance began to swirl.

He doesn’t know my name, of course. But then, it doesn’t matter if he knows my name. I wanted to be in attendance at WrestleMania to lend my support to a man I admired not only as a wrestler, but as a celebrity and man who is as humble and grateful for his success as he is talented and charismatic. His "Bring It" mentality resonates with me, someone who believes in working hard and making things happen instead of waiting for fate to intervene and say, "You know that dream you’ve always wanted to come true? You seem like a nice enough guy, so here you guy. Enjoy."

And there was the sad, shameful fact that for all my years as a proud member of the millions, I’d never seen The Brahma Bull live, had never felt the electricity of a live crowd cupped in The Rock’s hands as he played them like a master violinist.

In short, allow me to summarize:

* Airfare for my wife and me: $650

* WrestleMania tickets: $400

* Room and board at a hotel near the Georgia Dome: $260

* Food and merchandise purchased during our two-day stay in Atlanta: $100

* Being in the live crowd when The Rock electrified the 70,000-plus fans in attendance at WrestleMania: Priceless.

As a kid, we all had superheroes through which we lived vicariously as they went about their fictional business in cartoons and comic books. We knew they weren’t real. They can’t be; they’re ink and voice actors and animations, nothing more. But when The Rock’s music hit and the man himself became a real, tangible presence instead of an image beamed through my television screen, a surreal feeling washed over me. There he was, one of my superheroes, a man I’d watched on movie screens and television sets for years–and he was real. He was there, with me, in the same building, live and in person.

That feeling of unreality persisted as Rock entertained the live crowd before walking back up the ramp and disappearing from view backstage. He hadn’t done much, really. He’d said his catchphrases, led the crowd in a WrestleMania chant-along, promised retribution on John Cena for his underhanded on The Rock a few days beforehand, then left the ring so the show could carry on. But for me, it was more than enough. At that moment, I was a wrestling fan who felt the money he’d spent to make the cross-country journey to the greatest spectacle in sports entertainment was the greatest and most electrifying investment of all time.

CONTINUE ON PAGE 2 FOR MATCH-BY-MATCH BREAKDOWN>>>

Have a news tip? Attended an event and want to send a live report? Submit it now!