Having never had much of an interest in actual sports, most of my exposure to “real” sports usually came from being forced to watch with a group of friends, or by way of pro wrestling. Yes, as much as Vince McMahon hates the NFL for causing WWE to continually losing a different kind of Monday Night War that occurs every football season, WWE and other promotions have never shied away from the publicity that comes with piggybacking on the NFL’s popularity. So, I figured I’d share just how much the NFL has influenced professional wrestling over the years.
Which would’ve made more sense if I had posted this the day of Super Bowl XLIX, but oh well.
10. Adam “Pacman” Jones
While suspended from playing football, Tenessee Titans cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones decided to do what most old school football players did back in the day during their down time: wrestle. Problem was Pacman wasn’t allowed to physically compete due to his contract. In their infinite wisdom, TNA decided to follow through with this deal and rewarded Jones with the tag team titles without ever having to wrestle. Sadly, it’s still not the dumbest thing TNA has done. Who was Pacman’s partner who did all the heavy lifting? Ron Killings, AKA R-Truth. The team they beat? Sting and Kurt Angle. Yeah, let that sink in.
9. The Raw Bowl
This gimmicky show just reeked of the desperation that I’m sure was a consistent odor during this maligned period of the WWE. The even sadder thing was that they were referencing every damn high-stakes college bowl other than the actual Super Bowl. The college marching band playing in the stands really drove that notion home. Yet, with the Super Bowl only a few weeks away, it was obvious what the WWE was going for. The teams of Sycho Sid & The Kid, Savio Vega & Razor Ramon, Yokozuna & Owen Hart, and the Smokin’ Gunns joined in the festivities by wearing football jerseys. Even the ring canvas was made to look like a 20′ x 20′ football field.
But the best part was Vince McMahon and Jerry Lawler using every goddamn football reference/pun they can think of. As a Cleveland Browns fan, Lawler could of course hold his own, but props to the guy in McMahon’s ear feeding him all those lines (which was probably Jim Ross, the actual diehard football fan who was relegated to doing a backstage bit). The actual Raw Bowl itself was essentially the WWE’s first four-way tag team match with slightly stupid different rules. Like, each team was able to call one time out, and if two members of the same team were tagged in they had to make “physical contact” before they could tag out, in which Lawler explained that a team could eliminate themselves. Which defeats the purpose of being in the match in the first place. It was stupid. And in hindsight the WWE probably thought so too because this isn’t available on the WWE Network even though every other Raw from 1996 is.
8. Terrell Owens & Nicollette Sheridan Monday Night Football Spoof
The NFL decided to ride the major wave of success that Desperate Housewives was on by having a risque promo featuring Terrell Owens and Nicollette Sheridan that apparently America wasn’t ready for. Not so much for the sexual implications, but rather the implication that black men can get sexual with white women. So, the very progressive WWE decided to spoof it by using Shelton Benjamin in place of Terrell Owens and Trish Stratus in her default role as slutty WWE diva. Of course, Vince McMahon intrudes and cockblocks Benjamin in the process all while over-explaining the joke that wasn’t much of a joke to begin with, eventually killing the entire sketch altogether. But in the end it didn’t matter because it was all an excuse for McMahon to grope Trish.
7. WCW’s NFL Invasion
Despite what the Monday Night War special on the WWE Network has shown us, WCW’s penchant for celebrity athlete cameos didn’t stop at basketball. They sorely overlooked the less successful crossover matches and feuds involving the Carolina Panthers’ Kevin Greene and the Green Bay Packers’ Reggie White. When WCW decided to make Nitro Commentator and former Chicago Bear Steve “Mongo” McMichael a wrestler, they also let Reggie and Greene play along with him. Greene’s feud made sense seeing as Mongo had turned on him during their match against Ric Flair and Arn Anderson. So, of course that had to culminate in the big blow-off match everyone had been waiting a year for. But adding Reggie White to the mix just seemed unnecessary, as if to show us how much better at wrestling Mongo was than Reggie White. Which should’ve been the case seeing as Mongo had now been a full-time wrestler for about a year. Yet, it barely came across.
6. Steve “Mongo” McMichael
This isn’t a list of the best former football players turned wrestlers. And if it was, Steve “Mongo” McMichael wouldn’t be on it. But Mongo is included in this list because, unlike the rest of them, he relied on his football background as his gimmick. For whatever reason, WCW decided Steve “Mongo” McMichael was better suited as an actual wrestler than a wrestling commentator, and really it’s hard to decide which one is the lesser of two evils. On the one hand, he butchered the English language on a weekly basis, and on the other he desecrated the legacy of one of history’s greatest wrestling stables. Although, to be fair, it was never the same after Paul Roma had been a Horsemen. Anyway, Mongo was also the major reason for the #7 entry on this list. The best thing about Mongo getting involved in wrestling was his wife, Debra, who really had nothing to contribute other than being the reason why the term “puppies” was coined. And 16-year-old me will always remember her fondly for that.
5. Halftime Heat
On January 31, 1999, the creative powers that be in WWE presented Halftime Heat during Super Bowl XXXIII’s halftime. It was a great idea as it earned the WWE a 6.6 rating, even though the execution of it was kinda shit. It being the Attitude Era and The Rock and Mankind apparently contractually obligated to wrestle each other in every type of gimmick match possible, this particular encounter called for an empty arena, anything goes, no disqualification, hardcore, street fight, falls count anywhere match. I was hoping the absence of a live crowd would present us the opportunity to hear The Rock and Mankind calling spots, but instead all you heard was Mankind being louder than usual when making his incoherent battle cries.
The match ends somewhere backstage where Mankind uses a forklift to pin The Rock under a pallet stacked with kegs. The weird part was the cinematic cutaway shot of The Rock looking up and doing the worst acting of his life as he feigns distress. Had this been a Lucha Underground backstage segment it would’ve made sense, but this camera angle just seemed out of character for WWE programming. Either way, it did a 6.6 rating. This is the kind of ingenuity the company operated on back then. Nowadays, the top brass of the WWE is content with actually showing up to the Super Bowl instead.
4. WrestleMania 2 Battle Royal
If you’re going to utilize football players and actually have them wrestle against other wrestlers, this is probably the best way to go. Have the actual wrestler win. Of course, the wrestler who won was Andre the Giant. Kayfabe or not, chances are he wasn’t going to lose any battle royals, particularly ones featuring NFL players. There’s no flip-floppy Kofi Kingston spot or some impressive feat of strength in which a wrestler eliminates a giant, especially when said giant is Andre. This was back when battle royals were devoid of any actual memorable moments, so adding NFL players was supposed to make it more special. It didn’t. William “The Refrigerator” Perry was the only NFL player the audience actually wanted to see in the match considering it took place in Chicago’s Rosemont Horizon and The Fridge was a Chicago Bear at the time. He was so over it cemented his legacy as a WWE Hall of Fame inductee.
3. WWE’s Super Bowl Commercial
Business was booming during the Attitude Era for the WWE, so why not spend a few million dollars on letting people know about how well they were doing during the most-watched sporting event of the year? The commercial wasn’t bad and employed the WWE’s typical brand of humor. And by that of course I mean free of all subtlety. You’d have to protect your head like Triple H taking a chair shot because that’s how hard it hits you over the head with its message. Get it?
2. Lawrence Taylor Headlines WrestleMania XI
As a wrestling fan I’ve come to accept celebrities and athletes from “real” sports making overpaid cameos to make wrestlers look inferior. It’s cool, the WWE’s been doing it since the first WrestleMania. However, unlike the first WrestleMania, WrestleMania XI didn’t have Lawrence Taylor tagging with Diesel to take on Bam Bam Bigelow and Tatanka. Instead, L.T. headlined WrestleMania on his own against Bam Bam Bigelow. And here fans are complaining about Roman Reigns (an actual full-time wrestler) not being ready to main event WrestleMania 31. And really, it wasn’t that bad. It could’ve been a lot worse. It could’ve been Steve “Mongo” McMichael in there. Luckily, he was only on the outside. Bam Bam Bigelow sold for Lawrence Taylor like he was Dolph Ziggler and Mr. Perfect’s love child and made the match watchable. It wasn’t exactly chicken salad, but it wasn’t entirely chicken shit either. But it was definitely not worth putting on last.
1. The XFL
This was bad. Really bad. The idea of making NFL Blitz into a real-life thing that would be more exciting than regular football proved to be spectacularly boring and low rent. Even as a diehard WWE fan I didn’t buy into it. But during the first week a lot of people wanted to see WWE’s version of football. More specifically, the Attitude Era’s version of football. Then, by the second week, most people remembered why they never watch wrestling and stick to sports like actual football. It was ridiculed and rightfully so. Its innovative concepts of airing locker room pep talks by coaches quoting lines from most football movies and encouraging their nude models-turned-cheerleaders to date the players didn’t really help legitimize their cause. Then again their cause wasn’t to take itself seriously, so I guess they succeeded in that regard.