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WrestleMania 31 brings pyrotechnics, head-rattling fights to Levi's Stadium

WrestleMania 31 brought skull-bashing fights and blinding pyrotechnics to Levi's Stadium.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—It was a clear, sunny day in Santa Clara, crisp with occasional wind. This could have been early autumn (football weather) as easily as early spring (Mania weather). Levi’s Memorial Stadium is only eight-and-a-half months old, so it stands to reason that folks around there have never seen anything quite like WrestleMania 31. The sunlight was lovely for the big crowd, though as the great Sgt. Slaughter, who was watching the proceedings from on high, pointed out: “It’s a little harder to see all these great pyrotechnics in the daylight.”

In general, a few members of Levi’s security personnel agreed, this was not your typical NFL crowd: Less alcohol-infused, they said, and more family oriented. “At the football games, people are all wearing 49ers jerseys, not tutus,” said Gus, who was working security out front.

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In fairness, it was not a tutu, but rather a mini-skirt, flaunted by a man otherwise outfitted as the Iron Sheik—headdress, moustache, glower and all. It was Sgt. Slaughter who feuded memorably with the Iron Sheik in the 1980s, but he is 66 now and, he said as he scanned the crowd, he wanted no part of the guy in the mini skirt.

The WWE is determinedly kid-friendly—depending, that is, upon your kid. There's no cursing in the afternoon’s wrestling program, and no full-frontal nudity. Just men biting other men, or swinging sledgehammers and baseball bats at one another. And if you were a football fan who made it to Levi’s Stadium through the long streams of grill-to-tailpipe traffic (the jam felt like a team of Toyota hybrids and a team of Chevy trucks locked in a cage match) hoping to see the kind of spirited skull-bashing that the NFL inevitably provides, you would have been rewarded at WrestleMania.

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In the event’s second official match, the beloved face Daniel Bryan and the almost equally beloved Dolph Ziggler closed a raucous multi-man battle by standing atop a 12-foot double-sided aluminum ladder wildly smacking their foreheads against one another’s until Bryan’s skull finally won out. In other words, don’t expect to see Chris Borland, the 24-year-old linebacker who just retired from the NFL because he didn’t want to “live my adult life banging my head,” to be angling for a ladder match anytime soon.

The fiery theatrics enlivened the afternoon and were in evidence as cannons went off to herald the entrance of Rusev for his match against Superstar John Cena. Rusev rolled in driving an honest-to-goodness army tank and waving a large Russian flag (he is a Bulgarian). This sent the workers up in the press box into happy hysterics, cheering and whooping. It was one of many such eruptions as the program folded.

“These press guys are not like the football press guys,” observed Al, who ran one of the concourse-to-press-box elevators. “At the Niners games they just sit there, all quiet, typing and whatever else. These WrestleMania press people came to have a good time!”

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There was another notable development at Levi’s on Sunday: an announced crowd of 76,976, a record for the young venue. The 49ers pull in just over 70,000, but the stadium had a larger capacity for WrestleMania, on account of seats being available, and sold, all over the field. According to the WWE, the massive turnout included ticket buyers from all 50 U.S. States and from 40 countries. Niners territory runs from about Mendocino County to Morro Bay.

It should be a big next 12 months for Levi’s Stadium as it grows past infancy and into toddlerhood. One Direction is coming in July (Niall, incidentally, resembles a babyfaced Dolph Ziggler) and Taylor Swift will perform in August and, next February, the mega event of all mega events: the 50th Super Bowl.

And yet, as the WWE’s marquee card climaxed on Sunday evening, with the preening heel Seth Rollins holding aloft his championship belt and the just-pinned wannabe Roman Reigns lying immobile on the mat and a stunned Brock Lesnar scowling and bloodied just outside the ring (Don’t ask. Please) it seemed clear that even after all those extravaganzas come and go, the folks around Levi’s Stadium will still be saying to one another that they haven’t seen anything quite like WrestleMania 31.