Practically every wrestling fan has taken in the pomp and circumstance of WrestleMania in person or through television.
But a select few have had the privilege that I've had the last three years: covering the event as a member of the media.
Do you want to know the mania behind WrestleMania? This is what it was like covering WrestleMania 31 in San Jose and Santa Clara.
Saturday, March 28
I landed in San Jose at 2:50 p.m. PST and was greeted with bright, sunny skies and warm temperatures. It was a great departure from the gray skies I left behind in Philadelphia.
My hotel was a short ride from the airport, which made for an easy time getting there. While in the taxi, I asked the driver if he had a busy weekend. He quickly replied, "Hell yeah!" Since many people attending WrestleMania and all its festivities flew into San Jose, the weekend was quite hectic for him. It was something he wasn't expecting.
"I didn't know that many people still watched wrestling," he said.
Yeah, that many people still watch wrestling. About 100,000 of them were in town for WrestleMania, which had an attendance of more than 76,000.
The trip couldn't have been smoother. I was making very good time, and my hotel was mere blocks from the SAP Center, which was where the WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony was taking place.
Unlike with most sporting events, the WWE doesn't use the press box for most of its shows. The only exception is WrestleMania. For all other events, they simply give media members tickets to sit in the stands. As silly as that might sound, I don't have too many complaints about it. I like sitting among fans, as it helps me get a better feel of the ambiance in the building, and that makes for a better story.
The Hall of Fame speeches gave me plenty of material for my recap, as they were all heartfelt and entertaining. What weren't entertaining were the disrespectful fans who felt the need to start meaningless chants during the speeches. An occasional chant is OK here and there, but the "Thank you [insert person's name]" 30,000 times is excessive.
I'm all for chants during live events. They add to the experience, and if you pay for a ticket, you should say whatever you want. But the Hall of Fame is not a typical live wrestling event. It is a ceremony in which people who have sacrificed much of their lives for wrestling get their chance to pour their hearts out in front of thousands of people. I just think that type of stuff is disrespectful and doesn't fit what the ceremony is all about.
After a very long night at the Hall of Fame, I met up with a couple of buddies, including Jerry Gaul of philly.com, and took in what San Jose had to offer. We first went to a restaurant a couple of blocks from my hotel. There, I spotted WWE Hall of Famer Bob Backlund, whom I would encounter in much more entertaining fashion the next day. But here, Backlund was subdued. He greeted us while he was leaving with two other men, shook our hands, and went on. Not long after, I spotted fellow WWE Hall of Famers Roddy Piper and Jim Duggan.
That right there is WrestleMania in a nutshell. It is the only place where you can go from meeting Backlund to seeing Piper and Duggan simply by walking down a street.
After leaving the restaurant, my friends and I walked around San Jose looking for a place to enjoy the rest of the night. San Jose is relatively small, which meant there weren't a lot of options. During our search, I spotted a number of wrestlers and wrestling personalities who were also enjoying what San Jose had to offer.
Eventually, San Jose shut itself down and my friends and I went our separate ways. I went back to my hotel and did some more writing before calling it a night.
Sunday, March 29
This was the day every wrestling fan had waited for. It was WrestleMania.
I can't explain the feeling of waking up knowing that. For us wrestling fans, WrestleMania is an unofficial holiday. It's almost like Christmas morning. It's just exciting to know that we're merely hours from the biggest show of the year.
Adding to the good feelings was yet another beautiful day in San Jose. I stepped out at around 9 a.m. and headed to WrestleMania Axxess at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center, only a few blocks from my hotel.
WrestleMania Axxess is essentially the WWE's version of Comic-Con. Every year at WrestleMania, the WWE puts on a massive fan festival in the days leading up to the show complete with autograph signings, a superstore, historic memorabilia and more.
I attended Axxess to get some video interviews for the blog you're reading right now. Upon walking into the convention center, I made my way to the media check-in, where I would receive my credential. A member of WWE's public relations staff walked the members of the media through Axxess and helped us interview whoever was on the floor signing autographs.
Since this was the morning of WrestleMania, there weren't a bunch of current wrestlers available. Instead, there were legends, including Piper, Jake "The Snake" Roberts and Nikolai Volkoff. I talked to the latter two. I also spoke to Goldust, but the video did not record properly.
Every time I walk into Axxess, however, it amazes me. When you walk around Axxess, it is a constant reminder that the WWE is more than just a wrestling company. It is a promotional machine that can somehow pull off events such as Axxess without a hitch — or at least without hitches noticeable to the general fan or media member.
The level of detail the WWE has is astonishing. There were videos being played, memorabilia on display, NXT wrestling rings set up, and this year, the Elimination Chamber for fans to take pictures in.
When I see all that, I just don't look at it in awe. I think about the entire process it took to make all that happen. That stuff doesn't just pop up in California. It has to be transported from WWE's warehouse in Stamford, Conn. all the way to San Jose. That must cost a ton of money, and it's something that Vince McMahon isn't even organizing. There are people within that company tasked with making that happen. The logistics of an event like that is staggering, and it's not even the main course. It's merely a side dish.
Then it was time to head to WrestleMania. Since we were on the West Coast, everything started really early, which meant I had to be on my way to Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara by about 12:30 p.m. Pacific time.
After making a stop back at my hotel, I walked a couple of blocks to the light rail station. While convenient and inexpensive, the light rail isn't all that big and filled up rather quickly en route to the stadium. I had to believe that this wouldn't be the case if Philadelphia were to land a WrestleMania in the future (keep your fingers crossed), but in San Jose/Santa Clara, it was sort of an issue.
After traveling like a bunch of sardines for about 45 minutes, most people riding the rail got off at Levi's Stadium. I've been to WrestleMania three years in a row, but the feeling of walking up to a football stadium knowing you're about to witness a wrestling show never gets old. It's an incredible feeling.
Then you look around and see a sea of people waiting to do the same exact thing and it's pretty amazing. Unfortunately for me, I had to deal with Levi's Stadium security after that.
Levi's is still relatively new and has probably the most strict security policy I've seen in a while. If you're a fan, you cannot enter that stadium with a bag that isn't clear. If it's not clear, you have to check it at a big booth outside the stadium, and this booth had a ton of bags in it.
I thought I had to follow the same procedure, which puzzled me because I wondered how 49ers writers cover the games without having some type of computer with them. I know they're not carrying the computers in clear bags. But after realizing I didn't have to go through the same protocols as most everyone else, I walked over to the media entrance to get my final credential of the weekend.
A WWE PR rep then escorted media members into the stadium, and what a beautiful stadium it was. Once inside, we were escorted straight to the press box and left on our own, which was a welcome change.
In the two years prior, WWE ushered the media into a pre-show press conference with some pretty big names such as John Cena, Hulk Hogan and CM Punk. But to me, those events aren't necessary. They're two hours before the show, and the wrestlers aren't going to say a whole lot that's going to be story-worthy.
I prefer getting in my spot early and getting situated. So the fact that the WWE went away from the press conference this year was a welcome change for me.
Once I stepped off the elevator and into the press box, I finally got a proper view of WrestleMania 31, and what a sight it was. I, along with Bill Hanstock of SB Nation, complimented the view we had from out seats, which was also wonderful. In Levi's, the press box is pretty high up, but it's not so high that everyone looks like ants. You can still see all of the action clearly, especially since most of the show takes place under natural light. Strobe lights and other bells and whistles can obstruct your view, but that wasn't the case in sunny California.
Any media member knows that free food is a part of the job, and the WWE and whatever stadium it is running is never short on that. I went up to the buffet line for some grilled chicken, beef ribs and roasted potatoes and figured that since it was two hours before the show, I would have plenty of time to get settled and enjoy a good meal.
But in my haste, I forgot that the kickoff show for WrestleMania was two hours long and featured two matches, the first of which started right after I got my plate of food. So while trying to keep my grilled chicken and beef ribs from falling off the plate, I quickly made my way back to my seat to watch the WWE tag-team championship match.
I've heard some complaints that the sunlight took away from the experience of WrestleMania. In my opinion, it only added to the uniqueness of the event. The reason WrestleMania IX is such a memorable event, despite it being a lackluster show, is that it took place in nothing but sunlight and had the Roman theme of Caesars Palace. This year's WrestleMania will have that same lasting effect, and it was a great show as well. The sun was at its brightest during the pre-show.
The press box for WrestleMania is unlike any other press box I've been in. If you're covering a traditional sporting event, openly cheering for one side or another is frowned upon. So is being overly loud. That is not the case at WrestleMania.
First, this is not your traditional sporting event. There are moments when amazing things take place and you have no choice but to go, "Wow!" I will admit that openly cheering for one side is still unprofessional even for a wrestling show, but appreciating what is being offered by clapping should be OK.
When Randy Orton and Seth Rollins pulled off the most incredible RKO you will ever see, the press box went crazy. That was amazing. (Now, if the press box started an RKO chant, then I would draw the line.)
Another reason the WrestleMania press box is unique is that it includes a lot of people who had never been in a press box before and are unaware of the etiquette. You'd be surprised how many people in the wrestling media have never covered any type of sporting event that called for them to sit in a press box at a stadium or in an arena. They're just wrestling fans who react in the press box just as they would anywhere else.
There were 175 individuals credentialed for the event. Some were there to write about it, while others were just there. It's not a good or a bad thing in my eyes. It only adds to the uniqueness of an event such as WrestleMania.
The last two years, the WWE has taken a legend and had him greet the media in the press box. Last year, it was Sgt. Slaughter, and he did it again this year. But the WWE also added Backlund to that. Here, it's hard not to be a fan.
Backlund, in his usual excitement, offered to take pictures with the media. I took him up on his offer. He immediately grabbed me and put me in a headlock. So, I did what any good worker would do: I sold it. The result was a great picture of Backlund and me. He complimented me on my selling ability, and it was very cool.
What also was cool was seeing the New World Order and D-Generation X have a brawl 15 years in the making during the Triple H-Sting match. Here was another moment when the press box cheered.
Then it came time for The Undertaker to make his entrance at WrestleMania. If you've never experienced seeing The Undertaker enter the building at a WrestleMania, you should try to do it because it is awe-inspiring. Yeah, the daylight sort of took away from it, but it's still awesome to me because you get to see it only once a year.
The Undertaker's victory then gave way to the main event, which definitely had the media members sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation. Say what you want about the build to the match, but it still packed a ton of intrigue.
As expected, Roman Reigns was booed and Brock Lesnar was the conquering hero, who entered the ring just as the sun was setting.
The moon was visible in the sky by the time Rollins' music hit, signaling that he was cashing in his Money in the Bank contract. His entrance left the media members' collective jaws on the floor. It wasn't totally surprising, but to see it actually play out and then realize it was a first for WrestleMania was still shocking. We were witnessing history and knew it.
For those unfamiliar, Rollins won the Money in the Bank briefcase last summer. In that briefcase was a contract for a world-title match at any time over the next year. He could cash in that opportunity whenever he wanted, even during a match that was already in progress, which was the case at WrestleMania. While Rollins is not the first man to take advantage of that opportunity, he was the first to do so at WrestleMania. Rollins, a bad guy, won, but still sent people home with smiles on their faces.
After the last firework was shot into the air, WrestleMania was over, but my night was only beginning. While others were clearing out of the press box, I was busy typing a couple of quick recaps to get on the blog. That's the life of a reporter — feverishly typing away, hoping to hit deadline, except in this case I didn't have one. I just like the adrenaline rush of thinking that I do.
I eventually gathered my belongings, said my final goodbyes, and left Levi's Stadium after yet another exciting time at WrestleMania.
Next I had to get through the mass of humanity and get on the light rail and back to San Jose. As you would expect, the lines were long and dense. Despite the hectic nature of exiting the stadium and Santa Clara, I returned to San Jose without a hitch.
Once I re-entered my hotel room, I popped open my laptop and began to write some more. While I was doing that, however, I noticed Rollins on my TV screen. Then I realized that I had left the TV on ESPN and that highlights of not only Ronda Rousey but also of Rollins winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship were shown on SportsCenter.
I couldn't have felt more proud that wrestling was being presented seriously on the "worldwide leader." The highlights even included a graphic saying Rollins had become the new WWE world heavyweight champion. It was a very proud moment, indeed.
Monday, March 30
After yet another sleepless night, I packed my belongings, checked out of my hotel, hopped in a taxi, and headed back to the San Jose airport for my 6:30 a.m. flight back to Philadelphia. Since I wasn't the only one heading out of San Jose, the airport was a little crowded, which made for a long line through security.
After a short layover in Denver, I finally touched down back in Philadelphia at 4:45 p.m. EDT.
It was an exhausting yet exciting weekend that I will not soon forget.