WrestleMania III remembered - part 2
Basil V. Devito Jr. is a long-time employee of WWE who has been backstage or ring-side at every WrestleMania. This year, WrestleMania will be held in the Detroit, Mich. area for the first time since the epic WrestleMania III broke indoor attendance records (93,173 fans) in the Motor City region in 1987. Here is Basil's first-hand account of the incredible event, as documented in his 2001 book WrestleMania: The Official Insider's Story.
Praying for Rain
We had sold more than 50,000 tickets when our television people came back to the office with a bit of distressing news: Because of the natural lighting in the Silverdome, the images on the giant screen wouldn't be visible until well after sundown, which was approximately 5:30 P.M., some ninety minutes after the start of WrestleMania III. There was, naturally, a great deal of concern about this, because we had always prided ourselves on being completely honest and straightforward with our fans, especially in terms of marketing and promotion. The idea that more than half the crowd wouldn't be able to tell what was going on in the ring was a major source of anxiety within the company in the weeks leading up to WrestleMania III. We talked about moving the start time, but we were too far into the promotion for that. We talked about trying to place a giant tarpaulin -- or hundreds of giant tarpaulins -- over the roof of the Silverdome. We even talked about painting the roof of the Silverdome. None of that was going to happen.
Eventually we had a prolonged brainstorming session. There were more than a dozen people in the room -- television executives, pay-per-view executives, operations staff. We went back and forth, throwing out ideas and suggestions that couldn't possibly work. Finally, somebody said, "What's the earliest time of day that the images will be clearly visible?" And the answer was, "Well that depends on the day. If it's a dark, cloudy day, we'll be fine."
With that, Vince McMahon sat up in his seat, slapped the table with the palm of his hand, and said, "Done! It'll rain. End of discussion. Let's go."
We all sort of sat there for a moment, and after a short pause we realized that the meeting was in fact over. If you look back at the weather reports from that day, you'll see that it was cloudy with rain in Pontiac, Mich. Not only were you able to see the early portion of the show on the big screens, but by starting in the gloaming and ending in the dark, a tremendous effect was created. In terms of staging, it was easily the most dramatic of all WrestleManias.
We did have one other challenge. The distance from the dressing room to the ring was more than fifty-five yards. Wrestlers are notorious for taking their time, especially once they're in front of the crowd, but even if they hurried to and from the ring, we'd have a five-hour event on entrances and exits alone. So we decided to transport the wrestlers to and from the ring in "scissor cars," four-wheel-drive vehicles that workers used to get around the Silverdome. It was quite a spectacle, really, these massive men hoisted above the height of the crowd as they glided toward the ring, like gladiators being carried into battle. The crowd absolutely loved it.
A Big Heart
Prior to WrestleMania III, Andre the Giant had undergone back surgery in England. During his rehabilitation, he lived with Vince in Greenwich, Conn. Andre had been in rough shape. He loved wrestling and performing perhaps more than anyone else in the business. And the thought that wrestling might be taken away from him cause him to become depressed. But when Vince told him of the main-event idea for WrestleMania III, Andre was energized. He worked hard to strengthen his back. By the end of March he was far from healthy and still obviously in pain, but his spirits had improved substantially.
Andre, by this time, was being portrayed as evil personified. He was the seven-foot-four, five-hundred-pound bad guy threatening the ultimate good guy: Hulk Hogan. That, in essence, was the story line. The day before the event we had our regular production meeting, and at the end of the meeting Vince paused and said, "One more thing. Tomorrow night I want everyone associated with World Wrestling Entertainment to be in the arena, watching this match. And anyone who leaves before the match is over might as well keep right on walking."
On the day of the event, everything worked out perfectly. The sky was cloudy and the screens were clear. In addition to the more than 90,000 fans in the Silverdome, several million more watched at home on pay-per-view or at closed-circuit outlets. Aretha Franklin sang a beautiful version of "America the Beautiful" in front of her largest audience. As the first match began and the crowd cheered so loudly that the Silverdome shook, Vince's step-mother looked skyward and said through tear-filled eyes, "Vincent, can you believe what the kid is doing? Can you believe it?"
Somewhere, of course, Vincent J. McMahon was surely smiling, for WrestleMania III was, by any standard, an overwhelming success. A record-setting crowd, an event worthy of the setting. In the main event, the match went back and forth as suspected, with Hulk twice trying unsuccessfully to lift Andre off the mat. The crowd, despite its size and distance from the ring, was as mesmerized as any crowd I had ever seen. Neither Hulk nor Andre possessed tremendous agility or technical wrestling skill. But they were showmen, and on this night they put on the show of their lives. When, finally, Hulk hoisted Andre into the air and over his head, the crowd fell briefly silent, as if not quite able to believe what was happening. As the giant crashed to the canvas with a great THUD! A roar went up from the crowd. It was pandemonium! Hulk covered Andre and walked off with the WWE Championship, and one of the greatest nights in the history of sports-entertainment came to an end.
The new WrestleMania III Championship DVD Collection is now available. The 2-DVD set comes complete with pop-ups of extra tidbits and factoids.
Read Part 1 of this article.