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Family values at WrestleMania 21, compliments of Piper
Rowdy Roddy Piper still had the quivering laugh of a man insane, but at times during his Hall of Fame induction this past Saturday, he sounded quite reasonable. In one of the most touching moments of his speech, he remembered how he entered the wrestling fraternity as a discarded teenager, only to be embraced by the gruff men in the dressing room as family.
Now, so many years later, he was still around his kin. Piper hasn't' always gotten along with these siblings -- I'm sure that there are a few who'd try to slap him, if he didn't get the jump on them first. But through all the peaks and valleys of his career, he'd earned the respect of his brothers.
As I took in Piper's words, I felt like a member of the family, too. Now, I know that -- despite one's enthusiasm for the sport of kings -- if you've never been slammed against the canvas, you shouldn't grant yourself equal status to the gladiators who sacrifice their bodies and their personal relationships for the fans. Nonetheless, we're still out there in the audience, energizing the titans -- our titans -- to push themselves past pain, fatigue and backstage political squabbles. So when Piper made that family reference, I shook my head approvingly, like a cousin who might not have grown up in his crazy household, but understands what it was all about.
I watched the Hall of Fame ceremony on television in New York, went to sleep, woke up on Sunday, took my kids to the pizzeria, and read about the Yankees, the mayor and the Vatican Conclave in the Daily News. But Sunday night, during WrestleMania 21, the Rowdy Scot took me right back to the feeling I had the night before.
"I was here when WrestleMania didn't have a number," he told Stone Cold Steve Austin during their debate on Piper's Pit.
So was I. Not in the ring, of course. But as a fan, I feel entitled to believe that, in some way, Roddy and I have traveled the same road together. Therefore, I looked at WrestleMania 21 as a tribute to the past, the future -- and the fans.
The show opened with Rey Mysterio and Guerrero -- two individuals for whom the concepts of wrestling and family have always been intertwined. Eddie is the son of Mexican icon Gory Guerrero, and Rey the nephew of Tijuana legend Rey Mysterio, Sr. Their clash was as much a tribute to their forebears as those who cheered them -- not to mention the Superstars and spectators responsible for the vibrancy of the current incarnation of sports-entertainment.
Mysterio scored the victory, then the adversaries shook hands -- in deference not just to each other, but the heritage of the industry.
The Ladder Match involving Chris Jericho, Christian, Edge, Chris Benoit, Shelton Benjamin and Kane was so intense that it possibly made the original WrestleMania Ladder Match -- between Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon at WrestleMania X -- look quaint.
The Undertaker shattered some of that history when he improved his record to 13-0, after reversing a Tombstone effort by Randy Orton. Despite his brashness, I don't think that it was a coincidence that Orton used WrestleMania 21 as a platform to attempt a Tombstone. In his own way, he was honoring the legacy of the Undertaker -- just as Kurt Angle paid homage to opponent Shawn Michaels later in the night by attempting a moonsault reminiscent of the Heartbreak Kid.
I was surprised to see lightning strike twice at WrestleMania 21. Both JBL and Triple H were dethroned, yet I still regard each as a champion who -- like Bruno Sammartino and Hulk Hogan before them -- may arise at any time to take back the gold. However, they would both be in for the battle of their careers, as Cena and Batista look unstoppable right now.
I'm proud to say that I am on the WWE train for life, along with guys like Christian and Michaels and John Cena, who first became hooked the way we did -- from the other side of a television screen -- and decided to devote themselves to challenging their personal limits, and making the rest of us happy.
At WrestleMania 21, we were all in it together.