As I get older, I feel itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s important to do things once in a while that make me feel like a kid again, that evoke the things I enjoyed back when my main responsibility was to have as much fun as possible while still learning my multiplication tables.
ThatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll find me eagerly anticipating every new Spider-Man and Batman movie, why I remain a Big Bird apologist, and why youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ll never hear me say a bad word about brooding Mets flameout Gregg Jefferies, whom the fifth-grade version of me adored.
And thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s why I found myself — albeit in a slight state of disbelief — among 71,000 screaming enthusiasts at the Georgia Dome for WrestleMania 27 on Sunday night.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not nearly as into professional wrestling as I once was — truth be told, I was a fanatic as a kid and still a pretty big fan until a few years after college. But I also attended last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Royal Rumble in Atlanta and had a great time, so a few of us decided a few months ago that it was time to head back down to cross the big one off our respective bucket lists.
Some people want to go to the Super Bowl once in their life. Me, IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m fine watching a bunch of sweaty dudes pretend to fight each other while fireworks go off.
WrestleMania is the centerpiece of a week-long celebration of professional wrestling, present and past. You can attend an event called Ã¢â‚¬Å“Axxess,Ã¢â‚¬Â where they give you your own personal theme music as you enter the building, and you rub elbows with your favorite well-rehearsed gladiators. They also staged some sort of Ã¢â‚¬Å“art show,Ã¢â‚¬Â held the annual WWE Hall of Fame induction, and had wrestlers make appearances all over town, including before a Braves exhibition game at Turner Field.
Granted, we didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t go to any of this — we unanimously decided the four-hour WrestleMania itself was more than enough — but I still enjoyed the concept of a whole week for wrestling fans to mark out with their own kind.
On Sunday afternoon, we headed downtown a couple hours early to check out the atmosphere — and were pretty much overwhelmed. There were two events going on downtown, WrestleMania and some womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s volleyball championship, creating the surreal mix of long-legged and demure student-athletes intermingled with a horde of Dungeon-and-Dragon-looking dudes proudly sporting D-Generation X Ã¢â‚¬Å“Suck ItÃ¢â‚¬Â t-shirts.
YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d expect with that much testosterone in one place, youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d have at least some minor disagreements, but people from all locations and backgrounds — including the guy who very creepily resembled Shawn Michaels — recognized the inherent common ground they possessed just by virtue of their mutual attendance.
There was a long line of people waiting to get in to the arena way before they needed to, another large crowd waiting to see wrestlers trudge from the parking lot to the arena, and dozens of people at each concession stand buying souvenirs from glorified carnival barkers. (I think my personal favorite was the guy hawking programs from the Hall of Fame induction, calling to passersby, Ã¢â‚¬Å“Who needs memory, when you can haveÃ¢â‚¬Â¦ books?Ã¢â‚¬Â)
Honestly, the whole thing was pretty cool. Watching people swap stories and joke around with each other, it amounted to a true day in the sun for every last person whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d ever sat there alone on a Saturday morning and watched a guy in a clown suit roll around with some other guy who claims to practice voodoo.
I did hear some mixed reviews for WrestleMania online, which I can understand. Most of the guys from the WWEÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s boom period in the late 90Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s/early 2000Ã¢â‚¬â„¢s are gone, the ones that remain probably wonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t be around for long, and they havenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t done a great job investing in and developing new stars.
But if youÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re actually there, WrestleMania canÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t possibly disappoint. Besides the carnival atmosphere, the presentation is simply top notch, with amazing fireworks displays and such. The large screens in the back made the wrestlersÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ entrances epic, sort of like how Jay-Z did the same thing in his Yankee Stadium concert. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a four-hour sensory overload, complete with noted thespian the Rock slumming in his old stomping grounds, and Snooki busting out a couple of surprisingly graceful cartwheels.
In particular, I very much enjoyed the opportunity to watch the Undertaker extend his WrestleMania winning streak to 19 in a wonderfully dramatic match that sent the Triple-H fan sitting in front of us into hilariously earnest hysterics.
Strangely though, amid all the fireworks and hoopla, my eyes kept being drawn to the little kid in the row in front of me, clutching his action figures of Seamus and Rey Mysterio.
Outfitted in a brand new WWE Hall of Fame shirt provided by his enthusiastic father, the boy cast an intrigued and slightly weary eye at the show in front of him, but then was more than happy to look down at his toys and create his own personal WrestleMania right in his own lap.
It kind of brought me back a bit to 20 years ago, sitting on the floor of my den, booking my own matches with my wrestling ring with the real ropes.
My mind wandered a little more to the UndertakerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s first title victory against Hulk Hogan at the Survivor Series in 1991, which my parents let me order and watch with my best friend as a reward for getting straight AÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on my seventh-grade report card. Obviously, this anecdote indicates to me that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m kind of getting up there in years — to say nothing of the Undertaker!
And I thought about the gala WrestleMania 7 party my parents helped me throw, the social event of the year in middle school. That night, we got so worked up about Hulk HoganÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s victory over the WWFÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s honorary Iraqi, Sgt. Slaughter, that our curmudgeonly neighbors called the cops — who upon arrival, half-jokingly asked my mom if they could come up and watch with us.
Your understanding of wrestling changes and evolves as you grow older, cheering for wrestlers for far different reasons than you used to. And when your favorite wins a championship, perhaps you celebrate because you met him once and he was a good guy.
Or maybe itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s because you can relate to the hard work and dedication it takes to reach the pinnacle of their profession, regardless of whether those victories are scripted ahead of time.
The following evening, we unwound by watching Monday Night Raw on television, a far more entertaining option than the worst NCAA National Title game in history, and commented in particular on Rey Mysterio Ã¢â‚¬Å“making some kidÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s yearÃ¢â‚¬Â by giving him the shirt off his back.
The next day on the plane back to New Jersey, I struck up a conversation with the guy in a WrestleMania sweatshirt sitting across the aisle from me, who told me he also had really good seats for Raw, and that his friend had somewhat miraculously been the one weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d seen receive ReyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s t-shirt the night before, and that it indeed had made his year.
His friend with Down Syndrome.
Through all the nonsense IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ve seen over the years with wrestling — the steroids, the painkillers, the glorification of wanton violence, homophobia and chauvinism — the fact remains that there are plenty of people whose lives are made better by vicariously sharing in their favorite wrestlerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s triumphs.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d say thatÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a very real reason, after all years, that IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m proud to be a fan of fake fighting.