AS I SEE IT
This AS I SEE IT is a mini-diary of sorts for my experiences over the WrestleMania weekend in Philly; a kind of a "human side" of the weekend as I experienced it and my opinions on it....
This town is live for this PPV. The attention in the mainstream press and TV has been amazing in Philadelphia, with three days worth of special articles in the Philadelphia Daily News, including a pull-out section on Friday. There are major local radio stations like WYSP dropping in references to Austin, Maivia, and to the PPV in the middle of routine DJ talk.
I went over to the DoubleTree Hotel, where the workers and the office from Titan are staying this weekend. A good number of the workers and office people were already in on late Friday afternoon/evening, including: Adam Copeland, Christian Cage, Matt and Jeff Hardy, Paul Wight, Paul (Hunter Hearst Helmsley) Levesque, Steve Blackman, "Jackie", Al Snow and family, Ken Shamrock, Earl and Dave Hebner, and Tony Garea.
I wonder if the DoubleTree Hotel has any idea what they have in store for them. Philadelphia fans are a rather unique breed, to put it mildly. Philly was the original "heel fans" town back in the 1980s, years before it became in fashion with Steve Austin and his traveling merchandise and money machine.
Around the lobby and bar, the local regulars who hang out at the Airport Hilton, Stadium Holiday Inn and other pre- and post- show wrestling hangouts were nowhere to be seen, but there were a ton of people from Titan's "WWF Travel Club" checked in and hanging out. I do anticipate them being in town tomorrow night.
I've no plans to go to the Rage Party. It's overpriced, and from a marketing standpoint is a horrible idea to have as the SOLE public event for the weekend, other than a luncheon for the WWF Travel Club people. I'll hang at the DoubleTree, or perhaps the Stadium Holiday Inn. That way, I'm hanging out with people I want to hang with, and not paying a ridiculous price for the privilege (except for the beer prices at the DoubleTree....urgggghhhh.).
Got to speak to some of these people, including 2 parents who traveled with this "Travel Club" to a number of PPVs. Their son, who is a martial arts student had a good experience, with meeting Steve Blackman and Ken Shamrock. Shamrock had gone so far as to send someone from the Lions' Den to speak at this kid's dojo. It's good to be reminded that there are some workers that don't forget to be people along the way.
I met another family, these folks from Lima, OH who came out for the weekend. We talked about the atmosphere at the hotels at PPVs. The mother laughed about someone claiming he was "an insider" giving them a hard time at last year's King of the Ring PPV, claiming they were "nothing but groupies".
I said to her "First of all, he'd have called you a ring rat....if he was 'an insider'...since that's what he was trying to say". At the mention of the phrase "ring rat", two women looked up, annoyed, as if being insulted. The Lima family and I all burst into laughter together. No further comment was necessary.
Heaven knows the "arenacus rodenticus" species will be invading the DoubleTree Hotel this weekend. Wonder if there's time for the DoubleTree to call for an exterminator before the weekend?
Went to the DoubleTree Hotel with my brother to meet (former PWBTS columnist) Kathy Fitzpatrick and Denise Hoopes, who work for Dennis Coraluzzo's NWA. From what we heard later about the Rage Party, it turned out to be a good call.
I also ran into Peter Poulson, a friend from Canada who I met back in the days of going to the Smoky Mountain Wrestling Fanweeks in 1993 through 1995. Small world.
Vince McMahon's $80 party had guards at the door telling people they couldn't bring in standard cameras to the party. Nice work, Vince, you cheap bastard. Gouge people for $80, brag that you're serving them free Chef Boy-Ar-Dee, and tell them they can't get a shot or two of the action. Picture a mother or father who broke the family budget and have to tell their child they can't get a photo of the people they're meeting. Nice way to encourage repeat business.
I mean, hey, one of the workers at the Hotel said that you did a $200,000 gate on the Rage Party alone...about 2,500 people at $80 per person, plus a considerable sum made on merchandise. But I guess Titan Sports wouldn't want to give a kid a memory or anything. At least some of your workers have better manners than their boss, Vince.
Oh yeah, and for $80, run the damned Party as long as you've advertised. At 11:05 pm, after the Rage Party went dark on USA Network, things started shutting down. The entertainment wound down, lights started going out, and so forth.
Back at the Hotel, one of the most unintentionally funny moments was during the televised portion of the Rage Party. The storyline on the USA telecast was that Pat Patterson and Jack Brisco "couldn't get in to the Rage Party". So they tried various disguises, including dressing in drag. Watching Steve Lombardi laughing at Patterson in drag was ironic, to say the least.
Early in the evening through about 11 pm, it was actually reasonably normal at the bar. Then as the Rage Party was letting out, and Steve Austin and Jim Ross walked in, the the mob descended. And then some.
Even by Philadelphia wrestling standards, this was a mob. The hotel security did keep them fairly controlled for most of the night, at least around us. The same can't be said for the workers. Austin and Ross tried to hide out and sit down for some beers. After a while, Ross came out to do autographs.
But one of the fun stories of the night was Dwayne Gill (a.k.a. "Gillberg"). Gill was clearly having the night of his life. He was there when we arrived at 7:30 pm, and was there (we think) at 1:00 am when we escaped the mob. He basically had a smile on his face all night, and got mobbed for autographs. He's gotten the same reception at NWA shows, and made a good bit of gimmick money out of it. After years of being "enhancement talent", Dwayne Gill's getting his moment in the sun. There must be some justice in the world, after all.
Then there was "Ryan Shamrock". TV doesn't do her justice. She's a damned attractive woman. She was also really nice to a number of kids who came by. Either the real life person is simply a nice person, or someone taught her well how to deal with wrestling fans.
Oh, guess the hotel never got the time to call the exterminator. The "arenacus rodenticus" infestation was in full swing at the DoubleTree Hotel. At some points in the evening, I damned near felt the need to put on a full body condom. It was also easy to see that some people were NEVER meant to wear Spandex.
I should make a note to remember to bring the swiss and gruyere tomorrow. Maybe then we'll have some room at the bar tomorrow night.
There's even more mainstream media attention to begin the day of WrestleMania; with WPVI (the local ABC affiliate and highest-rated station in Philadelphia) doing several pieces on the PPV and on personal appearances to promote the PPV. There was also a piece on the front page of the Philadelphia Inquirer to promote the show.
Then to the First Union Center... fans are actually doing tailgate parties all over the First Union Center parking lot six and seven hours before the show starts. Tailgating is normally reserved in Philadelphia for Eagles games, or rock concerts...
I've been to PPVs before: two Halloween Havocs, one In Your House, one SuperBrawl, and ECW's Barely Legal. But this afternoon's atmosphere goes FAR beyond any of those. The "big event" feeling outside this WrestleMania is right up there with a Super Bowl, with people having traveled from all over the United States, from Europe, and Japan.
People pile into the Red Bell Brewery, housed inside the First Union Center and watch a Flyers game. But it doesn't seem like people are really watching the game...they're just killing time until the doors open. As the doors opened at 5:30 pm, people ran for their seats like they were at a metal concert. I don't mean just kids, either, but seemingly everyone did.
People will have their various opinions on the show itself. But I can safely say I've never been in a hotter live crowd than tonight. Not for the ECW Arena in its glory days....not at any wrestling PPVs...not at professional sporting events. Since I won't see how the PPV came off on television until late Tuesday, I've no idea how the electricity in that crowd projected to PPV.
It was especially nice to see Jim Ross get the response that he did from the Philly crowd. I'm a Ross mark, and happy to admit it. If I weren't before, I would have been after last fall's NWA 50th Anniversary Cauliflower Alley Club function when Ross talked with such unpolished, real emotion about his hero Danny Hodge...how he was a hero as a kid, and was one now.
It was also cool to see some of the NWA-NJ people I know playing "police" in the skit where Paul Wight was "arrested", among them Fred Rubenstein (NWA-NJ referee), and announcer "Cowboy Carlson". Other NWA-NJ workers were used in the Baltimore bar skit months ago where Chyna and Mark Henry "had their blind date". Kind of fun to see people you know get their "15 minutes" of fame.
Back to the DoubleTree and lo and behold....they forgot the exterminator again. Spandex, war paint, and cheap cologne was everywhere to be seen. The "ladies supportive of the business" (thanks for the line, Dory!) were disappointed as the Titan workers, office and families had a private party upstairs, leaving fans to their own devices. A handful of workers came down briefly, including Sean Waltman who came down to watch his match with Shane McMahon (the hotel aired the replay). He was an incredibly polite guy considering the mob around the TV set.
In summary, WrestleMania weekend was a uniquely Philadelphia weekend. It was full of all the excesses Philly wrestling fans are known for, and aggressively shared with people from all over the United States, Canada, Japan, Sweden, and elsewhere over the last three days. The great building of storylines by the WWF over the last year, winding up in a great PPV; combined with our crazy city made it a fun, special weekend for all concerned.
This weekend showed why it's important to remember never to totally stop being a mark FOR the business. The workers I've admired the most over the years... Mick Foley, Eddie Gilbert, Terry Funk, and Jim Cornette never forgot that lesson, and never stopped telling fans not to, either. This weekend was a reminder that they are right. March 26-28, I got to do just that...mark out for a business I love to watch, read about, and write about....a business that's made me friends in 10 countries and three continents.
Until next time....
If you have comments or questions, I can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org