I offered the wheelchair-bound legend a Budweiser after stumbling upon the hotel where most of the wrestlers stayed.
Sheamus posed for photos, Alberto Del Rio did the same even though he was accompanied by his children way past their bedtime and Jerry Lawler donned sunglasses past midnight.
At the bar across the street, I asked if Pat Patterson wanted a brew since I was paying for Race’s.
“You’re paying for Harley? Boy, he’s a cheap son of a b—-,” the original Intercontinental Champion joked.
Race said he would share a cold one when he returned from changing out of his Hall of Fame attire, but my friend and I bailed around 2 a.m. because we needed to rest up for WrestleMania XXX.
The greatest Mania of all time.
Hearing “Real American” in person sent goose bumps down my nine-inch pythons as Hulk Hogan kicked off the highest grossing entertainment event in the history of the Mercedes-Benz Silver, er Superdome.
And then Stone Cold appeared. And then The Rock. And then blood trickled as I pinched myself harder and harder over this historic summit between the three biggest stars in wrasslin’ history.
I was disappointed about zero returns and only two entrances in the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal, but Cesaro slamming Big Show over the top rope dispelled my apathy.
Personally, Del Rio left the strongest impression of the 30 grapplers. I’ve always enjoyed his ring work, but his character has been stale for a couple years.
However, after watching him take time for the fans while caring for his kids, I found myself rooting for the Mexican aristocrat. I don’t care if he portrays a villain, at least I’m emotionally invested.
In the most upsetting outcome of the event, John Cena defeated Bray Wyatt. Sure, it was refreshing to see Cena outside of the main event and the title picture, but the “Eater of Worlds” deserved to feast on the Cenation.
AJ retained her Divas Championship against the Bellas, Natalya and every other woman in the WWE Universe.
It was pretty cool for Roddy Piper and Paul Orndorff to share the screen with Hogan and Mr. T, three decades after their tag team main event at the inaugural WrestleMania.
On the 17-hour drive to New Orleans, I thought about those old-timers and all the miles they covered in the territory days before the luxury suites and tour buses.
WrestleMania transcended the public’s perception of professional wrestling and wove it into the fabric of American pop culture.
For instance, my friends and I weren’t just staying at the Holiday Inn – we were crashing DDP Yoga’s headquarters. With success stories Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Scott Hall entering the WWE Hall of Fame, Diamond Dallas Page and his yoga empire took over the hotel. For $80, you could eat a healthy breakfast and partake in a Q-and-A with Page.
Sorry, bro – if I’m dropping that much dough, you better leave the gluten in the waffles. Parading along Bourbon Street, we saw every wrestling shirt ever sewed and heard echoing “Yes” chants and “Woos.” We even bumped into our friend Gabriel, who we met after WrestleMania 28 in the “bad part of town” as our terrified Miami taxi driver revealed. Ignoring the adage about never talking to strangers, my friends agreed to split a cab with this lonely Canadian man despite my apprehension.
Two years later, I keep in touch with him the most.
That’s the essence of WrestleMania weekend.
Wrestling fans commandeering a city, befriending each other over favorite characters and matches.
It’s the one time of the year our guilty pleasure becomes a mainstream phenomenon.
Like the “#YESMovement.”
In 2012, Sheamus kicked off my first WrestleMania experience by pinning Daniel Bryan in 18 seconds, enraging fans in Miami and then around the world which spawned the “YES” chant revolution.
This year I came full circle as Bryan defied the odds by beating the dictatorial Triple H, in perhaps the best match I’ve seen live, to advance to the main event – a triple threat with corporate darlings Batista and Randy Orton. When Batista tapped out to the “Yes Lock,” the past seven months of Bryan’s trials and tribulations finally paid off in one glorious moment: winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship in front of 75,000 arm-pumping “#YESMovement” diehards.
The jubilation of that crowd, strangers high-fiving over their hero’s triumph, illustrates why I watch pro wrestling.
Unfortunately, Bryan’s confetti-raining celebration won’t be the snapshot in fans’ minds when reminiscing about WrestleMania XXX. Ask my co-workers – I predicted Brock Lesnar would end the Undertaker’s undefeated streak.
Despite complaints that the 21-0 streak shouldn’t end especially at the hands of an already established star like Lesnar, the story makes sense.
The streak was the closest sports element left in sports entertainment.
It was the only win-loss record that mattered in WWE.
As a former UFC Champion, Lesnar has sports credibility. If anyone could defeat the Deadman on the Grandest Stage, it would be a legit fighter.
When the “Beast Incarnate” cleanly pinned Undertaker after a third F-5, it was like a gunshot went off in the Superdome – 75,000 people gasped, blinked and then booed.
I wasn’t aboard the Titanic, but I witnessed the streak end.
Now where’s Harley? I need a beer.
John Corrigan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.