Archive for the ‘writing’ Category

Looking Behind, Looking Ahead

Posted: January 10, 2014 in life, writing

I’m reading the last entry on this blog, almost half a year old, and I just shake my head at the world of difference between then and now.

It’s dated July 25, and it’s now January 8, a week into the new year that is 2014. Seems that I just have a terrible time updating this space. But it’s not like my life is so exciting that there are scores of people glued to their screens waiting to hear of my daily goings-on to begin with.

The last few paragraphs of that post are what really get to me though, because they describe my family going through a time of change and adapting to my father, Jack Ruttle, starting a ‘new phase’ of his life by moving into a personal care home. It gets to me because my Dad passed away just a month later on the morning of Monday, August 26. As things sadly turned out, that new phase of Dad’s life was also a very short one. He was 80 years old.

These days, things like emotions can change in what seems to be such a brief instant. That last blog entry speaks about my then-upcoming summer break from work, in which I flew to Las Vegas for a few days of fun and sight-seeing. I had a blast on that trip, no doubt the biggest highlight of 2013 for me, but Dad’s passing just weeks later brought a very somber end to not just my own, but everyone’s summer. Adding to the sadness was the fact that Dad died on his youngest son Brendon’s birthday. It goes without saying that my brother will undoubtedly be filled with a lot of conflicting emotions every time his birthday rolls around every year from now on. And actually, it was only three days removed from my own birthday on the 23rd.

In the immediate aftermath of my father’s passing, one of my first thoughts was the realization that I was the last person in my family to have seen him alive. I take a world of pride in that. It was two days earlier on Saturday, August 24 and I drove down to the long-term care facility in Dinsmore for the afternoon to watch a football game with him. We just sat back, enjoyed watching the Riders take the lead, and we talked about a number of things, like my recent trip to Vegas, the harvest season, and the upcoming Labor Day long weekend anniversary celebrations for my sister Laurel and her husband Shawn. He seemed happy, like he always was whenever someone in the family stopped in to see him. After the Riders eventually won, I wheeled him into the dining room so he could have his supper and we said our goodbyes until next time. Of course, I had no idea that there wouldn’t be a next time.

When Dad died on Monday morning, I just remember that entire week flying by so damn fast because there was so much to do. There were only about a million phone calls to make, and then my family and I met with the funeral chapel on Tuesday morning, followed by more planning the rest of that day. Later that night, I fired up my laptop and eventually typed out my father’s eulogy, a task that I was seemingly the only one suited for, and one I was very honored to undertake. I’ll tell ya, even though it produced more than a fair share of fresh tears, writing a tribute to my father and his long life was a great exercise in grieving and keeping lifetime memories alive and well. I got the thumbs-up from my mother (and Jack’s wife of more than 30 years), and presented it to the minister who was set to perform the funeral service on Friday. In the meantime, there were other tasks ahead of my family, such as prepping the Conquest rink for the service and going through a mountain of photos to put on display.

It was Friday morning before any of us virtually had a chance to breathe, and I walked into the rink with my family in front of more than 200 people to help celebrate the life and mourn the passing of Dad. The turnout was really quite impressive, and it looked like it was standing room only. I know Dad would’ve been happy. I was relieved to hear that the eulogy I wrote went over very well with my family, as well as a ton of other relatives and those that knew my old man. A large group of us went down to the bar and had a few drinks in honor of Dad, my mother (and owner of the place) raising a teary-eyed toast to her husband.

Such was the week in August that encapsulated the passing of my Dad. His death was a shock to all of us, and yet it wasn’t at the same time, know what I mean? His health had begun taking a steep decline in recent times, especially those two months between June and August where the poor guy kept getting moved out of one home care space and into another. Dad went from Outlook to Dinsmore, back to Outlook, a brief stay in Elrose, and then finally back to Dinsmore in his final weeks. If there was any consolation during those moves, it’s that he got to enjoy plenty of car rides in some prime summer weather conditions out in rural Saskatchewan. His driving days were obviously long since finished, but he loved just getting to go for a drive around the countryside.

Today, we’re approaching nearly five months since Dad died, and I can’t believe this much time has already passed. Every time the 26th of every month arrives, it’s another reminder of the biggest loss in the Ruttle family. I especially missed my Dad during the Christmas season, since he loved that time of the year and getting to see all his kids and their growing families. My mom, brothers and I drove out to Calgary on the morning of Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with my oldest brother Jim, sister-in-law Daniela and their two kids. It was a quiet Christmas, an enjoyable one, but Dad’s absence was definitely felt. He should’ve been there, handing out presents and sitting at the head of the dinner table, as well as playing card games of Uno by his own rules. (“What? You can’t play a red 5 on a green 9? OK, fine…”)

As painful as losing my father was this year, and still is, 2013 did contain plenty of historic, much more positive and memorable highlights for me. The list basically comes down to three big things that stood out:

– My first Comic Con experience: Brendon and I drove out to Calgary to take in the city’s Comic and Entertainment Expo on the last weekend in April. I always had an idea of what to expect at comic and sci-fi conventions, but my first time at a Con blew those expectations away. There’s just a certain energy you experience at something like this, and I loved so many of the costumes that armies of people had on. Where else can you see Batman standing in line for a Coke, while the Terminator is using an ATM? It was almost overwhelming, but I played it smart and just took my sweet time trying to take it all in, from the trade show/exhibit booth aspects of it to checking out awesome things like the DeLorean from ‘Back to the Future’ or Han Solo encased in carbonite from ‘The Empire Strikes Back’. From there it was time to check out the autograph tables and have photos taken with a multitude of stars over the course of the weekend, like WWE Hall of Famers Bret Hart and Edge, Wil Wheaton, Stan Lee, John Carpenter, Misha Collins, Norman Reedus, the cast of The Walking Dead, Lena Headey and Peter Dinklage from ‘Game of Thrones’, and Nathan Fillion. Very cool, but also a very expensive weekend. Can’t wait to go back in a few months.

– Seeing WWE live once again: It’s always cool to see WWE action live and up close, especially when you score front row seats like I did (again). But this time was different because Brendon and I actually got to meet a few of them before the show in Regina on May 25 at a gym that was located right by the arena. Yeah, we unleashed our inner stalker and staked out the gym parking lot. Sure enough, we eventually see the likes of Sheamus, The Miz, Natalya, Wade Barrett, and Alberto Del Rio come out. We didn’t hound them or anything, and we were actually pretty polite as we asked each wrestler we saw for a quick photo, to which they all said yes. Very cool, and now I know where to go for more possible photos and autographs the next time WWE rolls into Regina for an event. Hey, some people go nuts over a favorite football player or musician; I get all ‘fanboy’ over my favorite wrestlers.

– Viva Las Vegas: My Las Vegas experience at the start of August. Memorable. Eye-opening. Life-altering. I’d waited to venture to this city for many years, a trip my friends and I talked about going on since high school. But there it was laying in front of me as my plane landed down – Sin City. I got there via direct flight from Calgary and grabbed my luggage, meeting up with my driver and heading over to the Platinum Hotel. I say ‘driver’ because that’s just what she was, as I kicked back in the plush seats of my private limousine and just took in the sights and sounds of this legendary city. My hotel suite on the top floor was amazing, with a king-size bed in the bedroom, two-person jet tub in the washroom, all the kitchen appliances I needed, in-room temperature control, and a balcony that provided me an incredible view of the Las Vegas Strip and landscape of the city. I couldn’t have been happier at that point, and I felt on top of the world. I love that feeling. But the vacation had even started yet. The next few days were filled with great food, even greater fun, and only about a billion photos snapped to try and capture it all. (Except for that one night out at the strip club. I figured they wouldn’t appreciate some jackass Canadian tourist in there snapping photos left and right.)

I think one of the best things to come out of that Vegas trip, aside from things like the Mob museum at the Tropicana Hotel or seeing Penn & Teller’s magic show (and meeting Penn) at the Rio, was that time each night when I’d pour myself a drink, step out onto my balcony, and just sit down with my own thoughts as the city of Las Vegas glistened with color and stood out before me. They were like moments of zen, and it was in those quieter moments that I did a lot of reflecting on life, both in general and my own, specifically. I got to thinking about the kind of person I want to be more, some things that I want to see change for me, and I thought a lot about the future. To be able to have that time to myself, relaxing on my balcony above one of the world’s most famous cities, is one of the reasons why I’m glad that I went solo on this trip.

Mixed in with a lot of smaller things, like lazy Friday afternoons at the office before a long weekend or just something like meeting some friends out for drinks, that’s pretty much been my 2013. There are things I have in mind for 2014, but I don’t wanna get into that right now. It’s just some personal stuff and professional goals kinda mashed together. I will share two things, though. In 2014:

– I will write a novel. I’ve got a notion to put together a string of short stories and compile them into one collection, but at the moment I have a very rough draft of a singular story idea that I don’t want to lose any momentum over.
– A second Vegas adventure will come to fruition, only this time with my friends. We’ve already started talking about it, and it’s just a question of when do we fly down there. Can’t wait.

And yeah, I’ll update this thing more often than once every six months or once a year. Promise.

Here For a Good Time

Posted: August 30, 2012 in events, life, writing

Night settles in on Sidney Island, BC.

Seems that it’s been awhile since I posted anything on the ol’ blog, so I may as well rant, rave and ramble about this past summer. What I did, where I went, you know the routine.

For the most part, I think this past summer was an improvement on last year, at least from my perspective. I mean, there were things last year that were cool and all, but in the bigger picture, I’d say the summer of 2012 provided a better highlight reel of long-lasting memories.

And when I say better than last year, I’m mainly talking about what I did on my two-week summer break from the office.

What I ran into last year was a lack of things to do and/or places to go, so my holiday time from work was largely spent kicking it around home and just enjoying being away from my professional life for two weeks. The one really cool thing I did was spent a night up at Candle Lake (recap located elsewhere on this blog), but everything else wasn’t quite memorable.

This year, I really wanted to make my mark with my summer vacation. I wanted to be constantly doing something, going somewhere, experiencing this and that, you know what I mean. I didn’t want to waste any days away just sitting around the house. Luckily, my schedule prevented me from doing so.

The following is a day-to-day log of my comings and goings on my summer holiday….

Tuesday, July 31: Uploading the last issue of the paper for three weeks, I’m elated as the clock strikes 4:30 and I cruise home, blasting CCR’s “Looking Out My Backdoor” (for some reason, a tradition I’ve had since 2010) and looking forward to that evening’s dinner. I have a head-start on my holiday due to the travel schedule over the next two days.

My “I’m on summer break and it’s time to spoil myself” meal consists of two (TWO) lobster tails, a juicy rib eye steak, fries and baby carrots. I am pleased.

Wednesday, August 1: I wake up at 7:30 and pack up my car, and by 8:00 my mother and I are on the road. The destination? Calgary, at least for today. The REAL destination? Victoria, BC, where we’ll meet up with my cousin Murray and cruise by boat to his home on Sidney Island.

The road trip is relaxed with sunny weather the entire way. Not many people are fans of driving for 6-7 hours, but I enjoy it. We get to my brother Jim’s in the late afternoon, and enjoy a BBQ supper after my other brother John arrives. We sit out on the patio for hours. It’s kinda nice.

Thursday, August 2: Getting up even earlier than the day before, we’re on the road before 6:30 to get to the Calgary airport in order to make our 8:10 am flight to Victoria. After going through the usual airport stuff, we’re eventually sitting on the plane, although Ma and I are split up; she’s in row 7 and I’m in row 12. Coincidentally, my uncle Vic and aunt Shirley are on the same flight as us. To pass the time, I watch some Olympics coverage on the small screen on the seat in front of me.

Landing in Victoria at 8:30 local time (like as if the flight was only 20 minutes), I grab our luggage and we meet up with Murray and Linda, who’ll return to the airport the next day to pick us up as Ma and I are spending the day and night in Victoria. I get the key to our car rental and this thing is a beauty – a 2013 Ford Escape with all the options. Like something Bruce Wayne would drive if he wanted to appear normal.

Cruising around, we get to The Butchart Gardens, a worldly known attraction that sees over a million visitors per year. Unique flowers, lots of pretty colors, tons to see, you get the deal. I knew Ma had always wanted to see it, so I made it a part of our itinerary.

After a stop at Walmart for a pair of sandals, we get to our room at the Travelodge and are quite impressed; cool view of the harbour and the room is large and spacious. After dinner (Chinese buffet), I drop her off back at the room and I venture out to a multiplex theater to finally see ‘The Dark Knight Rises’. What’s extra groovy? It’s in IMAX format. The film is incredible, and I mentally make another appointment to see it again after my return from the West Coast.

Friday, August 3 – Monday, August 6: These four days are the obvious ‘meat’ of the vacation, as Murray boats us out to Sidney Island on Friday, which is a cool trip by itself. Over the next few days, the island is a fantastic getaway from anything even related to back home. No internet, no cell service, and very limited TV options. Murray and Linda’s home is immense; something like 7 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, and it’s built sorta like two living spaces in one home. My bedroom at the top of the stairs has an incredible panoramic view of the backyard.

And that backyard. Amazing. It ends with a cliff-like drop leading to the ocean, with chairs located just before the drop. Incredible view, and I find myself in this spot more than a few times over the next few days.

The rest of our time there is spent checking out the rest of the island, including a fellow homeowner’s stupidly extravagant home – all 11,600 feet of it (the guy wasn’t home, and we just checked out the exterior), as well as visiting and just enjoying the peace and quiet. Yes, I would’ve loved to go fishing, but Murray didn’t have his gear on the boat.

The most kick-ass consolation prize comes on Monday morning, when we all board Murray’s yacht for a daylong cruise. The thing is a work of pure art; with a decent haul of groceries, I’d gladly live on it for a month.

We cruise to Maple Bay and dock for lunch before coming back in the late afternoon. By that point, Ma and I are headed back into Victoria with Murray and Vic, who are meeting up with someone the next morning to go on a fishing expedition of their own. I would’ve killed to go, but Tuesday is the day we fly back and we couldn’t risk the chance of not getting back before our flight. Monday night is spent at a Days Inn right by the harbour. I catch up on emails and everything Web-related and reflect on the last few days. I’m happy.

Tuesday, August 7: After Murray picks us up, Vic treats us to lunch in the town of Sidney. Murray and I have some kind of seafood soup that can only be described as vegetable soup, but just a shitload of things from the ocean (prawns, mussels, clams, halibut, salmon). Good eating.

Dropping us off at the airport, hugs and handshakes are exchanged and now it’s back to just Ma and I. She kills time reading a book, I kill time online as we count down the time to our flight. When the dinner hour approaches, we enjoy ribs at the White Spot restaurant right in the airport and look at incoming/departing flights. We then see that our flight is delayed. This is apparently because of some stormy weather in Alberta, and almost right on cue, it starts raining where we are, too.

More time is killed browsing around the duty free shop, which really is a damn scam when it comes to BC, since the PST and HST is outrageous, lending credence to the acronym BC – Bring Cash.

We finally get on our plane, and Ma and I get a nice buffer zone between us when the young lady seated beside her offers to move to a different seat after noticing the sling on Ma’s right arm. It really isn’t any trouble, but I admit that it’s nice having as much room as I want to kick back and relax on the flight. I also have a window seat, which always provides some neat visuals at 35,000 feet. But for the duration of this hour-long ride, I’m reading ‘The Book of Awesome’. Cool read, and I find myself nodding and grinning in agreement with many of this author’s choices. The flight back to Calgary is relaxed, which is nice.

Wednesday, August 8: Leaving Calgary and making the trek back home, we stop at a Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs chain in Airdrie. I remembered reading a while ago about that particular location, and when we passed it on our way to Calgary a week earlier, I made a mental note to stop in on our way home to try it out. I like it.

We get home at around 7:00, having picked up some KFC in Kindersley. We greet everyone back home, we unpack, and the trip is over.

The End.

Well, not quite. See, that was just the first week of my summer break. And I’m glad that’s how the BC trip worked out because I liked the idea of going away for a week, coming home and STILL having a week left to do whatever else I wanted. So the rest of my holiday was spent….

Thursday, August 9: Seeing ‘Dark Knight Rises’ a second time, but making it my brother Brendon’s first. Told you I’d see it again.
Saturday, August 11: Going to the Ex in Saskatoon, which I hadn’t done in five years. It was oddly relaxed, if you can call a massively crowded outdoor fair event like that relaxed. Brendon and I weren’t operating on any schedule, except for the wildlife show and the Collective Soul concert. Outside of that, we just took in the sights, probably ate way too much carnival food (gotta love them spud nuts), and the shows were awesome.
Sunday, August 12: Returning to Candle Lake for the day and night. I fished, I swam, and I took in the surroundings. Still gorgeous up there, and the only difference is now the old cabin is on the market, with a nice big ReMAX sign out front.
Tuesday, August 14: Cruising up to the city to pick up some Blu-ray releases, including ‘JAWS’ and season six of ‘Dexter’. That night, I slowly got myself back into reporter mode as I checked out the circus in Outlook held outside the Rec Plex. That night, I begin blazing my way through ‘Dexter’, episode by episode.
Wednesday, August 15: I finish ‘Dexter’ and begin the wait until season seven. Seeing how it’s my last night before returning back to the office the next morning, I just relax and reflect on an amazing two weeks.

THERE’S your ending.

So in short, a very groovy summer. I also turned 27 a week ago, so that’s cool, I guess. Plus the Labor Day long weekend is upon us, which I’ve always considered the last big hurrah for summer. Certainly not a shabby past month.

OK, I’ll shut up now.

Peace!

Hard to believe that it was 13 years ago today that WWF wrestler Owen Hart tragically died in a horrible stunt gone wrong. Owen was being lowered to the ring in what was supposed to be a spectacular entrance from the arena’s catwalk way above during a live pay-per-view in Kansas City, until the harness clip snapped and he fell to his death, smashing chest-first into the top rope, which hurtled him into the ring.

I remember that night vividly, because it was the May long weekend and I was walking back from a friend’s house after having a bonfire and I turned on the TV. The local news was on, and when I saw Owen’s photo in the top right corner, I immediately knew something very bad had happened. And obviously, it did.

Monday Night Raw the following night was a tribute show to Owen, with matches interwoven with comments from guys on the WWF roster about their fallen brother. I watched with a lot of sadness that night, just like the millions of other fans around the world.

The aftermath was ugly as Owen’s widow, Martha, sued the WWF in a legal battle that finally ended near the end of 2000, when the company paid her just over $18 million. To this day, Martha has never agreed to sign over Owen’s likeness or give permission for him to be used in home video releases, video games, or even inducted into the Hall Of Fame.

Through it all, it’s always been a great shame that somebody with as much talent as Owen had died in the way he did. To my understanding, he was planning on wrestling for maybe another two or three years before calling it a career. He should’ve had that chance.

Owen’s funeral was on May 31, 1999. Almost 13 years to the day, I still have the funeral card handed out at the service.

So last weekend was the annual convention for the SWNA (Saskatchewan Weekly Newspapers Association) down in Regina, and as a finalist up for an award in the Better Newspapers Competition, held in conjunction with the convention, I was headed south for the weekend and put up in a free hotel room at the Delta, where everything was held.

To make a long story short, which isn’t my style if you know my writing, I actually won the freaking thing! I landed the Best Feature Story Award for my article on the late Lisa Rendall, a woman who was born and raised in this area and nominated as the Saskatoon Citizen of the Year on December 31, 2010. At the time, Rendall was going through Hell with the breast cancer she’d been fighting for over a decade, and sadly, it was winning. My article appeared in our January 13, 2011 issue, and although Lisa found herself physically able to attend her own award banquet two months later in March, she passed away in April.

Looking back now, I’m incredibly grateful that she gave me her time, and provided me with a look into her world as the disease ravaged her from the inside. I had no idea that the story I was writing would come back and benefit me with such a groovy accolade well over a year later.

I’m all for entertaining my readers, so I thought I’d throw together the entire weekend scenario as a journal-like series of events.

SATURDAY, APRIL 21

– I set the alarm on my cell phone to go off at 9 am, which it does with no problems, except for the craving I have for just a little more sleep. I set it for a half hour later, surmising that I’ll still have plenty of time to pack up, get ready and hit the road by roughly 11. Still, even though I’m really not asleep and just want the luxury of staying curled up in the warmth of my bed with my thoughts, I can hear Dad yelling from his chair in the living room that I “better get a move on”. Although cocktails aren’t until 5, dinner until 6, and the awards ceremony until 7, he must think my getting down to Regina will require a team of Clydesdales, plowing and pulling their way through thick forest while I engage in fisticuffs with the most diabolical of thieves, braggarts and shady individuals. Dad is just gonna keep hollering every few minutes until he hears my bedroom door open, so I just get up.

– I’m on the road to Regina by exactly noon, after a few errands in Outlook. These include hitting up the ATM, fueling up, and stopping at the Bargain Shop for a couple things. I’m looking for Brylcreem, but instead settle for some AXE version of pomade called ‘Clean-cut Look’. Whatever. I’m Regina-bound.

– Hitting the highway and throwing my Ford into cruise, my entertainment for this 2.5 hour drive is a blend of an mp3 disc I recently made and the best of the Howard Stern Show from the past week on Sirius. As I arrive in Davidson and hit up the A&W restaurant, I chow down as Howard wraps up an interview with John Cusack. The show never ceases to be that reliable driving partner, keeping me alert, making me laugh and passing the time when my job or other activities require me to hit the road.

– I’m in Regina by roughly 3 that afternoon, and after finally getting to my hotel and obtaining a parking pass while experiencing the superb downtown traffic the city has to offer (damn one-way streets), I’m on my way up to the 24th floor and open the door to my room. A Kong-sized bed and a cool view of the city are among the highlights of it, and even cooler is the fact that I’m not paying one dime for any of it – thanks, SWNA!

– Settling down from the day’s travel and after laying out my clothes for the night, I flop down on the bed and watch Storage Wars on A&E. At around 5:30, I start putting on my fancy evening wear – dark purple dress shirt, black pants, black dress shoes, a black/silver/red tie, and then I top it all off with a black zip-up vest. Hardly fancy when I think about it, but certainly better than sweatpants and a wrestling t-shirt, which was, obviously, my first choice.

– I find all the goings-on on the second floor of the Delta and begin the mingling process, shaking so many hands that they all seem to blend together. This is my first time at the yearly convention, so I figure a little networking is in order. There are faces I instantly recognize and new ones that I eventually meet, and then I find my table where Delwyn (my boss) is sitting and dinner begins shortly.

– What a feast! Roast beef, BBQ ribs, chicken breasts, fish, potatoes, veggies, the whole nine yards. Everything kicks ass.

– After dinner, the awards ceremony begins and my eyes are trained on the white board in the northwest corner of the room, which is showing the nominees in each category as MC Chris Ashfield (of the Whitewood Herald) reads them out. Winners come and go with each category that comes up, and the ‘Best Feature Story’ one is inching closer and closer as others collect their plaques for the best in advertising, photography, and so forth.

*Daniel Bryan mode* YES! YES! YES! YES! YES!

– Here it comes. Ashfield begins reading out the nominees for ‘Best Feature Story’ and I see the front page of my article come up on the white board. The hair on my arms raises just a little at the sound of my name, and I turn my gaze down to my table, preparing myself not to win and trying to look gracious in defeat. The only problem with that is that Ashfield says my name a second time, just after he says ‘And the winner is…’. I win. My eyebrows raise, I silently mouth ‘Holy shit!’ and I make my way to the side of the stage, where SWNA President Alison Squires greets me with a smile, hearty handshake, and a photo is snapped. “Ended up being worth the drive, huh?” she asks. Indeed it has been.

– Handshakes around my table, and Delwyn is beaming. Obviously, I am too. I never expected to win, and designated myself to that comfy “Just cool to be nominated” position in the weeks leading up to this event. Actually taking home the plaque was by no means a certainty in my mind, so this is very, very cool.

– I’m a happy man. So happy that after the evening comes to a close, I go back up to my room, grab my little Canon Powershot and shoot a number of photos, including one of the plaque resting against a window that looks out onto the city of Regina at night. But not before I make the obligatory phone call home to announce my hearty triumph to the family. Ma sounds a little choked up after I tell her that I’m “coming home with more than what I left with”. Crazy dames, with their feelings and whatnot. All kidding aside, I’m more than a little proud to tell the woman who is arguably the biggest fan of my work that my peers in the paper business seem to share the same sentiment.

– I throw the photo of the plaque on Facebook and within mere seconds (not an exaggeration), I start getting a flood of “likes” and words of congratulations from friends, family and assorted acquaintances. Ah, the power of social media.

– Having had some time to celebrate by myself and put it out into cyberspace, I head back downstairs to the ‘hospitality suite’, which is a politically correct way of saying, “Hey, you in the purple shirt! Get in here and drink with us, cuz it’s open bar and we don’t work tomorrow!” Sounds good to me. I indulge in a few rum and Cokes, shake even more hands and find myself going over the Lisa Rendall article all over again. A lot knew her name because she was a longtime radio personality on C95 in Saskatoon, or else they knew her from the endless breast cancer fundraisers she organized over the years.

– One more rum and Coke (didn’t I say that two of them ago?) and I head back up to my room, where more comments have hit my Facebook page. I’m feeling good, but now a little hungry, so I order some wings and pizza from Domino’s. I devour the wings while watching Corner Gas, but I guess that’s all I needed, because the pizza goes untouched. It’ll have to make the trip home with me. In hindsight, I probably should’ve just gotten room service.

– I didn’t think of it when I was packing, but I’m now stuck with no form of white noise so that I can actually get to sleep. I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember – I just can’t sleep without some kind of background noise. I’ve used a fan in my bedroom for the longest time, but just this past week my sleep therapy machine arrived in the mail. I now get my beauty rest with the help of ocean waves, and sometimes the sound of a summer night. A word of warning to the future (ex)Mrs. Ruttle – you land me, you land my sleep machine.

SUNDAY, APRIL 22

– I ended up using the Food Network as background noise to lull me to sleep. Strangely enough, that didn’t make me dream of steak, pasta or seafood, though it’s not like I didn’t want it to. Even though I set my cell phone alarm for around 10, I’m up by 8. Weird how that happens. Must be the unfamiliar sleeping environment. Also funny is the fact that despite this bed being stupidly large, I stayed on only one side of it all night. Hmmm. Guess I could’ve invited one of the many lovely ladies clamoring to be my date for this gig. Ha ha ha…………..is he joking?

– I’m packed up again, checked out of the Delta and back in my car by a little after 11 am. But I’m not headed home yet, as I told myself that once everything in Regina was over with, I was gonna take a trip down to Rouleau, where Corner Gas was filmed. I make my way out of the city and arrive in ‘Dog River’ after a half-hour drive.

– This is pretty cool, now that I’m here. I’m staring at the Dog River police station, as well as the bar, and I snap photos. Finally, I make the actual Corner Gas station and Ruby Cafe set the main event of the early afternoon, getting many more snapshots. As it turns out, the inside of the gas station is being renovated because that’s where the memorabilia and gift shop is being moved to as of May 1. It was in the Dog River police station, but now people will actually drive out to Corner Gas to buy something related to Corner Gas, all because of their fondness for the TV show………Corner Gas. CORNER GAS!!!

– Back in the car, and I make my way back home. Again, Howard Stern and the gang keep me company, save for an hour or so when I’m blasting tunes good and loud. I arrive home a little past 4:30, and walk into a house full of people congratulating me once again, this time in person. Feels good. They hear all about the convention, the awards ceremony and my trip down to Rouleau, and it turns out they’ve been preparing a congratulatory supper. We sit down to steak right off the BBQ, seasoned potatoes, asparagus, and then a choice of either chocolate or butter pecan cake for dessert. Good eatin’.

Such was my entire Regina experience. I went, I saw, I ate, I won, I drank, I drank some more, I ate again, I slept, and I left. All in all, a great weekend. I suppose time will only tell if I am summoned to next year’s convention to defend my title. We’ll see.

For now though, I’m happy.

For my money, WrestleMania 28 this past Sunday more than lived up to all the hype, promotion, pomp & circumstance when all was said and done.

Shawn Michaels, Triple H and The Undertaker look to the crowd following an awe-inspiring clash. (Photo WWE.COM)

I would easily slot this in as one of the all-time best ‘Manias in history. No joke. If I had to give you my Top 5, I’d have to say that ranking goes 17, 19, 20, 24 and then 28, but that’s just the chronological order. If I rearranged them to go from absolute best to, well, the fifth best, then those ‘Mania editions are scattered in the form of 17, 20, 28, 19 and 24. So this year’s event is sitting pretty right in the middle of the greatest editions ever. Well, at least in my humble opinion.

I rank ‘Mania 28 as high as I do because, as I said, it more than delivered on all the hype. It exceeded my expectations and as a lifelong fan, I was incredibly satisfied with the overall show when it was all over.

I’ll put it another way. This is the first ‘Mania in years (since 24 in 2008) that I could sit down right now and watch all over again, from start to finish. That hasn’t been the case with the last few ‘Manias. There may be a great match here and there (in the case of 25, the greatest one ever), but the last few ‘Manias suffered from a lot of misses on top of the few hits. Last year is probably the greatest example of that, when the main event match for the WWE Championship – The Miz vs John Cena – was bland, off the mark, and more about what someone else NOT WRESTLING was gonna do other than the actual match inside the ring.

Was ‘Mania 28 perfect? No, but again, in my book it was the closest thing to it in a long time. But the matches that needed to deliver – CM Punk vs Chris Jericho for the WWE Title, The Undertaker vs Triple H in a Hell in a Cell match, and of course, The Rock vs John Cena – did just that, and then some. In an era where fans are lucky if a big-time match goes over 20 minutes, those three bouts consisted of nearly 85 minutes of bell-to-bell wrestling. Money well spent, in my book.

But enough marking out over the show in general. My thoughts on each of the matches….

1. World Heavyweight Title, Daniel Bryan (C) vs Sheamus: Here’s where the Internet is going ballistic. The match was over before it even began, because what WWE did was have Sheamus kick Bryan’s face off as soon as the bell rang and after Bryan was done kissing girlfriend AJ for good luck. The angle is that Bryan either didn’t hear the bell, or just didn’t care that it rang, and it cost him the World Title. It was over in 18 seconds. Of course, I was instantly disappointed to begin with, but as it sunk in more I realized that perhaps people would remember that moment MORE than they would an actual match that went maybe ten minutes at best. It kicked off ‘Mania with a bang and popped the crowd huge. Did I want to see Bryan and Sheamus have the match they should’ve had last year? Sure. But in the end, it was more about creating a moment than a match. And I think with how well he’s gotten over as a heel, Bryan isn’t leaving the Title picture anytime soon.

2. Randy Orton vs Kane: It had next to no heat or momentum going into the PPV, but on paper it’s still a match between two main event superstars. I liked this match and thought it was in the right position on the card. A solid undercard bout that got very physical, very quick. I was surprised that Kane got the win, because if I had to guess I wouldn’t have pictured this feud continuing. Looks that way, anyway. Far from Orton’s best ‘Mania outing, but it’s the best we’ve seen from Kane in a long while.

3. Intercontinental Title match, Cody Rhodes (C) vs Big Show: This one was short and sweet, for good reason. Cody looked good against the mammoth Show, who gave him more than his fair share. I didn’t see Show actually winning the gold, but I don’t hate it either. That was a cool tackle in mid-air when Rhodes went for the kick off the top rope. I wonder if Cody finally losing the Intercontinental Title after eight months is a sign he may be moving up the ranks to the World Title picture? I’m not sure about WWE pulling that trigger yet, but there’s nothing wrong with at least teasing it.

4. Kelly Kelly & Maria Menounos vs Eve & Beth Phoenix: Yay, it’s the annual Divas match at ‘Mania that no one cares about! Just kidding, but sadly it’s not really a joke. The last time the Divas division got any proper attention at the biggest show of the year was six years ago at ‘Mania 22, when Trish Stratus fought Mickie James in the payoff match to that really well done stalker angle. That being said, I didn’t hate this match. Listen, it was what it was – another match where a celebrity goes over an actual WWE star to gain even a morsel of mainstream publicity. That’s just the reality of it. The match itself was fair, and I actually applaud Maria for trying to work a match like an actual wrestler, even getting worked over at times and selling like a champ. That dumb bitch Snooki did jack shit in that farce of a match last year.

5. Hell in a Cell, The Undertaker vs Triple H (guest referee Shawn Michaels): Absolutely amazing. The whole presentation of this match fired on all cylinders; great entrances, awesome face-off, Taker finally revealing what his new hairdo looks like (a cool mohawk), and even playing Metallica’s “The Memory Remains” as the Cell was being lowered to start the match. The action was intense and told a fantastic story. Well, it HAD to. This was the last chapter in what can really be called a four-part epic, starting all the way back to ‘Mania 25 with Taker’s first classic with Michaels. I thought it blew away the Taker/HHH match from last year, and really mimicked the second Taker/HBK clash from ‘Mania 26 as it reached the conclusion. Taker himself looked healthier and even quicker with the full year off he had from action. Triple H looked better than he did in his matches late last year with CM Punk and Kevin Nash. And HBK as the guest ref was great in his facial expressions to really sell the drama. And of course, with a final Tombstone, the Dead Man went 20-0 in his winning streak following a 30+ minute blockbuster. Cool as that is, the post-match image of Shawn and Taker helping a defeated HHH to his feet and then the three of them walking up the ramp is one hell of a WrestleMania moment. The emotion behind it made me question whether we’ve actually seen the last of The Undertaker at WrestleMania. I really, really hope not.

6. Team Teddy vs Team Johnny 12-man tag match: This was the right place for this match. People needed to rest after the HIAC epic and there needed to be a good ‘buffer’ between it and the other two main events, so this was appropriate. By itself, I thought it was a fine mess of a multi-man match. Everyone got a chance to perform in the ring, and it even managed to pop the tired crowd once or twice. The right team won, that being Team Johnny representing John Laurinaitis, because it opens up a lot more storyline opportunities for the foreseeable future.

Punk calls for the GTS to end the match. It wouldn't work. (Photo WWE.COM)

7. WWE Championship, CM Punk (C) vs Chris Jericho: Excellent match. What I salivated over was the prospect of this being the best pure wrestling contest, and that’s exactly what we got. For over 20 minutes, Punk and Jericho tore into each other with various moves, strikes, holds and submissions in a match that started off slow, but gradually snatched the crowd’s attention and had them on their feet in the final moments. Just a great chemistry between these two, and I loved the several submissions attempts by both of them to try and end the match. It pulled the crowd in with every anguished yell and scream, as Punk or Jericho tried making the other tap out. Punk finally managed to get the win by submission, and I cannot wait to see how this story moves forward. If I had my way, I’d have Jericho win the gold at the next PPV, Extreme Rules, which is in Punk’s hometown of Chicago. Then a third match, the rubber match, somewhere else down the line. And I’d make it an Iron Man match. Book it, Vince.

8. The Rock vs John Cena: Epic. Historic. Once in a lifetime. That’s how WWE promoted this match, and the end result lived up to it. Great face-off when both guys got in the ring, which I was looking for to mimic that feeling of Rock/Hogan from a decade ago. Very back and forth in the beginning, which was the right move in order to show the fans that it could go either way and was too hard to predict yet. Rock was the absolute babyface throughout and Cena the heel, which surprised me because I thought that, like at ‘Mania 18 when Rock fought Hogan, a large portion of the fans would switch over to Cena and split the stadium almost 50/50. That wasn’t the case here. I thought Rock looked great in his first singles match in nine years; very fluid and bumping really well for Cena. And people can say what they want about John, but he brings his A game in big match situations. For a match that’s designed to only happen once, I liked the chemistry between them. It had some great near-falls and great drama in the end. I loved that the WWE brought back that old bit of the ref checking on a wrestler by lifting his arm to see if he’s conscious. The ref did that to The Rock when Cena had the STF submission locked in, and just like it always does, Rock’s arm staying up on the third check blew up the Miami crowd. From there, it built to the end where Cena got too arrogant and attempted his own version of The People’s Elbow. It bit him in the ass though, as Rock exploded and nailed the Rock Bottom for the huge win. That, I didn’t expect. A pleasant surprise to see Rock win this half-hour battle, even if it does produce many calls for a rematch some day. But I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if it didn’t happen.

Rock vs Cena provided as much drama as was expected for this year-long anticipated match. (Photo WWE.COM)

Again, overall, this was just a fantastic PPV. Great wrestling, emotional storytelling, and memorable moments. All ingredients that a WrestleMania should always have.

On to ‘Mania 29 in Jersey…..

The world will be watching this Sunday night, April 1 from Miami, when the WWE finally unleashes what’s being called history-making, once in a lifetime, and the biggest main event in pro wrestling history at WrestleMania 28.

The Rock vs John Cena.

There hasn’t been a match that has divided millions of wrestling fans this much since….well, ever.

In one corner, you’ve got The Rock; the People’s Champion, the Great One, a leader of yesteryear’s Attitude Era, and someone who made the decision to “return home” after making a name for himself in Hollywood to set the stage for what’ll be one of the industry’s biggest moments in history. In the other corner, you’ve got John Cena; the Cenation leader, the WWE’s resident top dog for the past seven years, and a guy who will go down in history as perhaps the company’s most polarizing superstar of all time.

Now put them in the same ring and ring the bell, and indeed, it should be a monumental moment in history.

But before the main event begins, the story behind this Sunday’s epic Rock/Cena battle requires a little explanation, and a look back at their respective roads to greatness that tell an interesting tale.

2002

Fresh off his blockbuster match at WrestleMania 18 against Hulk Hogan, at this point The Rock was weaving in and out of WWE storylines as he juggled main event commitments with a growing number of Hollywood projects. He left for the spring, with the plan being that he’d return in July to win the WWE Undisputed Title and begin his Summerslam program with Brock Lesnar.

Meanwhile, on the June 27 episode of Smackdown, Kurt Angle issued an open challenge to anyone in the back. Out came some cookie-cutter rookie named John Cena, who exploded against Angle and took him to the limit before the Olympic gold medalist was able to steal the win. Cena impressed many backstage, including WWE Champion The Undertaker, who shook his hand and said “Good job.”

2004

Fast forward almost two years later. By this time, Cena was a fast-rising babyface in the middle of a feud with the Big Show over the United States Championship. They fought in the opening match at WrestleMania 20, with Cena winning the gold to the delight of the MSG crowd in New York City. His star was only getting bigger.

Elsewhere on the show, The Rock had returned in time for ‘Mania, teaming with Mick Foley against the Evolution stable of Randy Orton, Ric Flair and Batista. The Rock n’ Sock Connection lost, in what would be Rock’s last match for well over seven years. Afterward, he simply vanished from WWE programming. No goodbye speech, no teary final promo – The Rock was just gone.

2008

By this point, The Rock was a full-fledged movie star and seemingly content to leave his WWE persona and career in the past. He’d seen it all and done it all, so conquering Hollywood was the next logical step in his life. However, with ‘Mania 24 on the horizon in Orlando, Florida, Rock was a presenter at the Hall Of Fame ceremony the night before the PPV, where he inducted his grandfather and father. Rock seemed genuinely happy to be “back home” in the WWE environment, doing some very fun mic work as only he could and even taking a few jabs at Cena in the process.

Cena himself was stirring up a lot of debate online after he shot on The Rock during an interview in February. He questioned why Rock “couldn’t come back” and took him to task for claiming he still loved the business when he wasn’t a part of it anymore.

A few quotes from the interview:

“He is a genuinely nice guy and a fantastic human being.”
“What I kind of get peeved about, and this is my Achilles heel, is that I’ve wanted to do this my whole life.”
“Rock falls into that category. At one point he loved wrestling and wanted to do this all his life.”
“So explain to me why he can’t come back.”
“Simply put, it’s because he wants to be an actor and there’s nothing wrong with that. He’s very good and very successful. Associating with sports entertainment doesn’t do much for his acting career. I get it.”
“Just don’t fuck me around and tell me that you love this.”
“That’s the only thing that gets me really pissed off.”
“Our fan base have so much admiration for him, he’s got to respect that. He doesn’t give anything back.”

Many took this as Cena and even Vince McMahon’s way of trying to make some kind of match between Rock and Cena take place back then, but obviously it wasn’t to be at that time.

2009

Heading into ‘Mania 25, Cena ran his mouth again about Rock in an interview, this time actually challenging him to a match. From his side, Rock seemed to shrug it all off as Cena trying to make an angle for himself.

“”I’ve seen and heard all the things he’s been saying about me in the press. It’s honestly laughable and baffling at the same time,” said Rock.

PRESENT DAY

And now, we’ve seen the rest of their story play out since The Rock returned in February of last year. We’ve seen all the promos, we’ve witnessed a taste of the physicality, and it all comes to a head this Sunday night at WrestleMania 28.

So then, how do you pick a winner?

I think there are a ton of factors to consider no matter who you pick to win.

It’s easy to say that Cena should win because he’s been WWE’s top dog for years and is the current leader of today’s generation. In that regard, it’d be like a symbolic ‘passing of the torch’ scenario as someone from one era putting over the guy from today’s era. Very much like how Rock/Hogan ended in the first place a decade ago.

That’s all well and good, but here’s where I have a couple of issues. First off, I think that Cena’s stock has dropped considerably in the last couple of years and frankly, the WWE appears to have the next top guy in CM Punk ever since he started climbing the proverbial ladder since that infamous shoot promo last June. Sure, you can argue that Cena is still the company poster boy to a certain extent, but the fact is he was a much bigger name three years ago.

Second, because of the length of time he’s been on top, does Cena really NEED putting over by anyone else at this point? Does he still need to be ‘made’ by a top superstar, current or otherwise? No, he doesn’t. On his way to being solidified as #1, Cena defeated top names like Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Triple H and Shawn Michaels, while going over others like Edge and Randy Orton before those guys became top tier talent. Today, Cena is actually the one who needs to help make tomorrow’s superstars. And he has with CM Punk, who as I mentioned is arguably the new #1 guy in the WWE.

The other scenario is having The Rock take the win. Could it happen? Perhaps as a sign of respect for someone who will undoubtedly headline a Hall Of Fame class one day, Cena will put Rock over. But more than that, we’re talking about a guy who, even with his long list of accomplishments and successes in the past, is still relatively young at age 39 and could still have more than a few matches before he finally decides to end his in-ring career. In a lot of ways, The Rock is NOT where Hulk Hogan was a decade ago; someone who was physically ailing and whose best years were long behind him. The People’s Champ could most likely wrestle full-time if he wanted to, and the thought of him tangling with the other stars of today makes for some other interesting match-ups.

Another factor in having Rock leave victorious is the rumor that there could be a rematch, or even a Best 2/3 series that would start this Sunday, continue at Summerslam this August, and finally end at next year’s ‘Mania. Interesting scenario, but I think it’s overkill.

One final take on this match’s conclusion is that, win or lose, Cena could finally turn heel and unleash a new villain for the modern age. If WWE were to ever pull the trigger on Cena joining the dark side, ‘Mania would be the place to do it.

OK, so what’s my opinion?

First off, I think the build to this match has been hurt at times. On Raw for the last month or so, it felt like there was this apparent mandate handed down by the WWE to NOT be serious about the ramifications of this match, and to just be ‘entertaining’. Bad jokes, silly raps, rock concerts that drag too long, and all of it done with a big, toothy smile. Only this past Monday on Raw did Rock and Cena get in each others faces and leaves the comedy behind, but I wonder if it was too late.

Still, besides on-air promos, there has been quite the build for this match, and WWE is going out of their way to stress that this is a “once in a lifetime” moment in history, the likes of which we’ll never see again. Whatever one might think about Cena or Rock, I believe they’re gonna go all out to give us a memorable match.

I also think The Rock is here in the WWE because he genuinely wants to be. The Web has been going nuts for months over his intentions and how he’s “just here for the money”. Does anyone actually think he needs the money? Did he even really need to come back in the first place? No on both questions. And I believe Dwayne Johnson always envisioned that he’d come back one day. He didn’t know when, and he didn’t know how, but I believe it to be true. Why else would he have just disappeared after ‘Mania 20 back in 2004, with no fuss made or one final promo from one of the greatest mic men in the business? Rock leaving back then actually helped open the door for Cena to become ‘The Man’ in the first place.

In the end, I actually think that very first scenario will play out, with Cena winning clean over Rock. I could see Rock thinking about his match with Hogan back in 2002 and theorizing that he should do business for John like Hulk did for him. One leader putting over another, and that proverbial torch being passed. If that’s what we see on Sunday, I’ll be OK with that. One thing that people aren’t talking about is the aftermath of the contest, which I think could be the most interesting part of the entire battle. No matter who wins, what will happen when the bell rings and ‘Mania comes to an end?

Guess we’ll find out on Sunday.

It’s something that gets discussed time and time again throughout the course of any given year, ultimately leading to the WWE’s version of the Super Bowl, WrestleMania. In the last decade, it’s become more of a draw with each passing ‘Mania and a cleverly-marketed concept that has shaped the legacy of one man.

The Undertaker’s flawless WrestleMania winning streak. Or just ‘The Streak’, as it’s most commonly known.

Nineteen matches, zero losses.

The questions seem to start as soon as one ‘Mania has ended for another year. Who will Taker fight next year? What’ll the storyline be? Will anyone actually break the streak? It creates a ton of debate, and everyone seems to have an opinion on who Taker should face next or why that person should actually be the one to defeat the Dead Man. This is nothing new, and that kind of rampant discussion will continue until the day Mark Calaway – the man behind the Phenom – finally decides to hang up the black leather trench coat and unlace his wrestling boots for good.

It’s hard to imagine WrestleMania coming and going without The Undertaker, even though that’ll be a reality in the next few years. He’s become so synonymous with the event that we just expect him to be there, no questions asked; it’s like expecting a light to work when we flip a switch.

Shawn Michaels can have the nickname of Mr. WrestleMania. The fact is The Undertaker IS WrestleMania.

He’s 19-0 at the Show of Shows. This Sunday, at WrestleMania 28 in Miami, The Undertaker faces Triple H for a record third time (2001 & last year), and this time they’re going all out in what I’m sure will be an epic Hell in a Cell match. Shawn Michaels himself is the special guest referee, making things that much more interesting and dramatic. The world can’t wait.

But that’s this Sunday. What I wanna do right now is take a trip back in time and revisit each of the Phenom’s victories at the ‘Showcase of the Immortals’, highlighting each of them as they helped shape Taker’s legacy and set the stage for what could become a picture-perfect 20-0 record in a matter of nights. Along with the ‘Mania number, next to that will be the names of Taker’s various victims over the years. So, without further ado, let’s hop in the DeLorean with Doc Brown and punch this bitch to 88 MPH….

1. WrestleMania 7 – ‘Superfly’ Jimmy Snuka: Having debuted the previous fall in late 1990, Taker was a rookie in the WWF and given the task of being a slow-moving, lumbering, no-selling giant that was impervious to pain, no matter who dished it out. Even though this was the match that started it all, nobody knew that at the time, and this was just a bout to showcase Taker and have him beat someone of note, that being Snuka. Slapped in the middle of a 14-match card with a running time of just over four minutes, this match that began Taker’s winning streak wasn’t a big affair.

2. WrestleMania 8 – Jake ‘the Snake’ Roberts: This time around, Taker actually had a storyline heading into Mania 8 from Indianapolis. Roberts had been working with Taker in an effort to get inside the head of the Ultimate Warrior, who Jake was supposed to be paired with for a lengthy feud until Warrior got himself fired (the first of many times) from the WWF. Roberts moved on to harassing Randy Savage and his wife Elizabeth, and planned to blast the pair with a steel chair at one point on TV. Taker, finally realizing right from wrong, stopped Roberts and became a babyface, so this match came as a result. It was much better than the match with Snuka a year before because Roberts was such a master of in-ring psychology and he knew what would make the audience pop to get the biggest reaction. At one point, Taker rose up after Jake’s infamous DDT and began stalking him at ringside after Jake went after Paul Bearer. Roberts turned around and ate a Tombstone piledriver on the outside, and Taker rolled him back in to get the win.

3. WrestleMania 9 – Giant Gonzalez: Here’s where things get ugly. The Undertaker has always been credited as someone who could make chicken salad out of chicken shit, but even he couldn’t do anything to make Gonzalez look good. This feud started months earlier at the ’93 Royal Rumble, when Gonzalez debuted and attacked Taker as instructed by heel manager Harvey Wippleman. The match at ‘Mania sure wasn’t pretty, and ended in a disqualification win for Taker when Gonzalez used a rag soaked in chloroform to knock Taker out. The Phenom came to before he could be wheeled to the back and attacked the 8-foot giant, but nothing else could’ve saved this abomination of a match.

4. WrestleMania 11 – King Kong Bundy: The Dead Man missed ‘Mania 10 because of injuries and wanting to spend more time at home, which is interesting because if this hadn’t been the case, and if he also hadn’t missed ‘Mania 16 in 2000, he might already be at 21-0. Funny how history turns out like that. This wasn’t much of a feud for Taker, as he was just plowing over the minions assembled by Ted DiBiase left and right. Bundy was no exception. The match wasn’t exactly a five-star classic, but it wasn’t horrible, either. Bundy worked the slow, old school big man style and Taker took the punishment before coming back in the end. A forgettable match on what’s mainly remembered as a forgettable WrestleMania. The only Taker match in ‘Mania history, maybe even his career, to end with a body slam/flying clothesline combo, though.

5. WrestleMania 12 – Diesel: This is the point where I think the WWF realized Taker was a star attraction when it came to their biggest PPV of the year. There wasn’t any talk of his undefeated streak since this was only his fifth match at ‘Mania, but I think from this point on was where the company made sure that he had a big storyline and suitable opponent to properly showcase him. I really liked his feud with Diesel (Kevin Nash) because they were similarly built as two big powerful guys, but it was still quite a clash of personalities and styles. I remember Taker bursting through the ring at an In Your House PPV event in February during Diesel’s cage match with Bret Hart, pulling Big Daddy Cool under the ring, and then Taker producing a mock corpse of Diesel stuffed into a casket in the weeks leading up to ‘Mania. At this point, it was known that Nash was WCW-bound, so the older, smart mark crowd were convinced he’d do the job for Taker on his way out. I was young, so I wasn’t sure if the Phenom would be able to knock off Diesel. I remembering thinking how impossible it’d be for Taker to hit the Tombstone piledriver. As for the match itself, I thought it showcased both guys very well and it was quite balanced. Big man matches have a tendency to be quite slow and boring, but I thought this one broke that mold. I still love the repeated Jackknife powerbombs that Diesel hands out, and Taker just won’t stay down. The Dead Man eventually got the win, and yes, it was with the Tombstone as Big Daddy Cool’s head bounced off the canvas.

6. WrestleMania 13 – WWF Championship match, Psycho Sid: The year 1997 was a transitional one for the WWF, as they adopted more of a TV-14 approach to their programming as the year went on. Actually, it could be dated back as far as mid-1996 when Steve Austin won the King of the Ring and cut the infamous Austin 3:16 promo. As far as Taker went, his ‘Mania status went from being a question mark to battling Sid for the WWF Title when the original plans of Bret/Shawn flew out the window. Not a very good match, but notable for Taker’s first main event at ‘Mania, busting out the old school look of the classic grey gloves and boots, and of course, winning the Title in the end. I think the company was at a point where although they had guys like Bret and Shawn at the top, with Austin lurking just below the main event and waiting to break through, they needed someone who was reliable, a company man, consistent in their ring work and a top draw to carry the company on their back. Taker was that man, and I believe his championship run from March to August that year is one of the most underrated things out of those early Attitude Era days.

7. WrestleMania 14 – Kane: Definitely Taker’s best feud and storyline at that point. The build to this first of many brother vs brother matches went back to late ’97, when Paul Bearer informed Taker of his long lost brother Kane. The Big Red Machine debuted at Bad Blood in October, ripping the door off the Cell while Taker was fighting Shawn Michaels, and piledrove his brother into the canvas, beginning the feud. The build to this match at ‘Mania 14 in Boston was excellent, with Taker refusing to fight his own flesh and blood and Kane continuously attacking him to goad him into a match. When it finally happened, it was almost like seeing Taker fight himself since Kane’s style was incredibly similar to the Phenom’s. To this day, it’s my favorite ‘big man vs big man’ match because these two aren’t like normal big men in wrestling, as they have speed and agility on top of power. I love the spot where Taker goes for a dive on Kane on the outside, but ends up plunging through the announce table when Kane moves. It takes three Tombstones to put his brother away, but Taker finally does it. A post-match attack let viewers know the feud was anything but over, but this match is still their best to this day. Taker’s entrance is also a sight to behold.

8. WrestleMania 15 – Hell in a Cell, Big Boss Man: Unfortunately, this match was a step backward into that King Kong Bundy/’Mania 11 territory where it was just thrown together to get Taker on the card. This was in the glory days of the Attitude Era and Taker’s character was now a much more charismatic, Satan-worshipping heel who led a stable called the Ministry of Darkness (later the Corporate Ministry, a great example of overkill). The Boss Man was sent on orders from Vince McMahon to take the Dead Man out, and apparently the WWF thought Hell in a Cell would draw more interest to the feud between the warring stables (which hadn’t fused together yet). That wasn’t the case, and the prestige and reputation of the Cell took a hit with this watered-down, rather bland contest. Taker won in the end, and the two did the best they could with what they were given, but the match was a dud.

9. WrestleMania 17 – Triple H: And here began the first of what will be, as of Sunday night, three ‘Mania matches between these two. Taker missed ‘Mania 16 due to injury, but he returned later in the spring of 2000 and shed the Dead Man character in favor of, quite frankly, just being himself – an ass-kicking biker. Dubbed the ‘American Badass’, Taker began a feud with HHH leading up to ‘Mania 17 when The Game declared that he’d beaten everyone there was to beat. Taker took exception to that, and the match was made. This feud was great as it let Hunter be as dastardly and cruel as ever as a top heel, including trashing Taker’s bike and attacking him with a sledgehammer so badly that he needed staples to close the wounds. The match was excellent in the colossal Houston Astrodome stadium, as they tore into each other inside, outside the ring, and into the stands. One memorable image from this bout is Taker choke-slamming HHH off an audio-visual scaffold, and then dropping an elbow from the top of it. Another is Taker hoisting Hunter up for the Last Ride powerbomb, and The Game grabbing his trusty sledge up for the ride before bringing it down over Taker’s skull. In the end, the big biker got the win with the elusive powerbomb.

10. WrestleMania 18 – Ric Flair: Still a biker, but this time a heel again, Taker went up against Flair, who had returned to the WWF as a co-owner of the company after the WCW/ECW Alliance storyline ended following the Survivor Series in 2001. Taker kept goading the refusing Flair into a match, even at one point attacking his son David, until the Nature Boy had enough and accepted the challenge from ‘Big Evil’. Undoubtedly a contrast in styles, many point to this match as the one that got Flair out of his depressed funk following a long absence from the ring. Flair himself says a lot of what took place in WCW hurt his love for the business, and he didn’t have any confidence in himself to have a good match, but that Taker led him through it and went out of his way to showcase Flair and his abilities. It’s a fun match to watch, and the crowd pops huge when Arn Anderson runs in and drills Taker with a huge spinebuster, even if it didn’t put him down for the count. Ultimately, Flair ate a Tombstone and Taker’s ‘Mania record reached a pinnacle at 10-0.

11. WrestleMania 19 – Big Show & A-Train: Originally, this was supposed to be a tag team match and Taker’s partner was to be Nathan Jones (Google him), but it was decided that Jones wasn’t ready for a match at ‘Mania and it turned into a handicap match. Again, this was a match that was just kinda thrown together at the last minute to get Taker on the card, with no real storyline behind it. In fact, I think that entire year of 2003 was one of the most unremarkable times for Taker in his career. Taker fights the odds and gets the win here with a Tombstone on A-Train (Lord Tensai!), and then waves the American flag around. Nothing really special here, unless you were a huge fan of Limp Bizkit a decade ago and marked out when they performed Taker’s entrance theme live.

12. WrestleMania 20 – Kane: A rematch with his brother, and a return to the Dead Man character for Taker. Kane had ‘buried’ the American Badass at the Survivor Series months earlier when Taker was having a Buried Alive match with WWE owner Vince McMahon, and as the weeks wore on, there were signs that the Phenom was returning soon. The familiar GONG went off at the Rumble in January, distracting Kane, as well as weird happenings with arena lights and the ring at times. It all came to a head at Madison Square Garden for ‘Mania 20, as the New York City crowd went ballistic for the return of the Dead Man persona following a four-year absence. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I do remember feeling a little disappointed when he still just looked like the American Badass, just with longer, darker hair, a little make-up and the different entrance and attire. Whatever; at least he changed his look later on. That standoff right at the start of the match is still fun to watch, as Taker stares a hole through Kane, and the Big Red Machine refuses to believe he’s seeing his brother across the ring from him. The match is OK, roughly the same as we’ve seen from these two before. The intention was obviously to give fans the Dead Man’s ‘greatest hits’ to get the point across that he was the Phenom again, so in that regard it was a bit of a squash, but it gets the job done and the MSG crowd loved it. So did I.

13. WrestleMania 21 – Randy Orton: This is the point where the winning streak started to become acknowledged. Orton had just turned heel after a forgettable attempt at being a babyface, and he returned to his ‘Legend Killer’ roots, stating that he wanted to crush the legend of The Undertaker and destroy his flawless winning record. This was really just the beginning of what turned out to be a yearlong, epic feud between Taker and Orton. The build-up was great, as Orton was the brash, arrogant punk willing to do anything to get under the skin of the Dead Man, and Taker’s simple message to him was ‘Bring it’. There was a contract signing segment on Smackdown (those never end well) that saw Orton actually slap Taker across the face, and I’ll never forget the boiling rage Taker showed and the flames he made shoot up on the entrance ramp as Orton tried running away. The match itself was excellent and is still regarded today as one of Taker’s all-time best Mania bouts. It seemed for every move Taker tried, Orton had a counter, and near the end there was legitimate doubt over the Streak continuing. There’s a great spot where Taker tries a chokeslam, only for Orton to twist mid-air and drop him with an RKO. The Los Angeles crowd exploded. In the end, Taker was able to keep Orton’s father, Cowboy Bob, at bay and reversed Randy’s own attempt at a Tombstone, hitting his own and taking the victory. These two would go on to have a series of great matches with each other throughout 2005.

14. WrestleMania 22 – Casket match, Mark Henry: People may have marked out over Henry getting a World Heavyweight Title run late last year, but back in early 2006 he was just another big man with no direction. So they paired him with Taker and made it a Casket match for ‘Mania 22 in Chicago. Again, the company mindset seemed to be ‘Who can we pair Taker with this year?’ with no real motivation or deep meaning behind it. The Streak was never in jeopardy and I don’t think anyone actually believed Henry was going to win. I’ve read a few times over the years that the original plan for ‘Mania that year was to do Taker vs Kurt Angle for the World Title, but that got moved up to the No Way Out PPV a month prior. That would’ve been 100 times better than this uninspired contest. I’m a fan of Henry when he’s motivated, and his Title run last year was mostly well done, but he can be really unenthusiastic and even lazy sometimes, and this seems to be the case here as he and Taker have an ugly brawl of a contest. At one point, Taker hits his now-yearly dive over the top rope on the outside, and Henry barely makes the effort to catch him. Careless bastard. Taker actually managed to Tombstone him and roll him into the casket to win, putting an end to a match that lacked the kind of drama his match with Orton a year prior had.

15. WrestleMania 23 – World Heavyweight Title match, Batista: The difference a year can make. Going from mid-card casket matches to the World Title scene, the Dead Man was on a roll when 2007 began. He won the Royal Rumble, a first for him, after last eliminating Shawn Michaels in a showdown that seemed to set the stage for their own future epics at WrestleMania. Having his pick of whichever Champion he wanted to face, the Phenom picked Batista and made his intentions clear with a chokeslam. This set the course for their clash in Detroit, where over 80,000 people packed Ford Field. I remember being pretty pissed off that this match didn’t close the show, as it went on 4th on a card of 8 matches. Despite being right in the middle of the show, many people believe Taker and Batista stole it with their match, which started off fast as the Champion speared the Dead Man to the canvas. Exchanging power moves and trading control, the Animal at one point picked Taker up and drove him through the announce table with a powerslam, and nearly put him away with the Batista Bomb. Taker wouldn’t be denied though, and he eventually snatched Batista and hit the Tombstone to win the World Title. This was another example of a long feud just beginning, as these two met in several other matches throughout the rest of 2007. It also started the trend in which, I believe, Taker’s match was the overall best of the night whenever WrestleMania was said and done for another year.

16. WrestleMania 24 – World Heavyweight Title match, Edge: This feud was different than the ones with Orton or Batista, because it was actually close to a year-long WAIT before Taker could even get his hands on his opponent. Edge had cashed in his MITB contract on an episode of Smackdown in May 2007 following a cage match between Taker and Batista for the World Title, and immediately after Mark Henry had attacked Taker and left him helpless. Edge snuck into the ring, hit two spears and stole the World Title while Taker was on the shelf with a legitimate injury that killed any chance of a long run as Champion. Then, when Taker came back in the fall, Edge himself was out with an injury before he returned at the Survivor Series, posing as a cameraman and costing Taker the World Title, this time against the retaining Champion, Batista. Finally, Edge won the belt back in a triple threat match at Armageddon the following month and was Champion by the time ‘Mania rolled around in late March. It had been a long, frustrating wait, but fans finally saw Taker and Edge battle. Things started slow, but picked up after a few minutes, and soon they had the Orlando crowd on their feet with every trademark move and counter. Edge had a reversal for much of Taker’s arsenal, while the Phenom couldn’t seem to put the Rated R Superstar away whenever he did hit a signature maneuver, like a chokeslam, Last Ride powerbomb, and even a Tombstone, which saw referee Charles Robinson make a mad dash down to the ring that’s still hilarious to watch. The drama escalates near the end when the Edge-Heads (Curt Hawkins and Zack Ryder – no doubt the only time you’ll ever see Long Island Iced Z remotely involved in a main event at ‘Mania) interfere and Taker manages to take them out. He turns, and Edge hits a spear. Taker kicks out, so Edge hits another one, but Taker grabs him and locks in the Hell’s Gate submission for the eventual win and, again, the World Heavyweight Title. Yet again, another feud where Taker and his ‘Mania opponent would lock up many more times after the big event.

17. WrestleMania 25 – Shawn Michaels: And here come the classics with HBK. What more can possibly be said about this match that nobody has said before? The only thing I can do is speak about it from my perspective, so here it is; this is, bar none, the absolute best match I have ever been witness to. I have seen some instant classics in my time, and there are others that are underrated gems, but this ‘special attraction’ match between Taker and Michaels is, in my book, the greatest match ever produced. What’s more is that it involves two men who are, arguably, the greatest workers of their generation. It’s 30 minutes of magic as they square off, starting off small with some mind games and just escalating from there. It’s just such a fantastic, well-told story that builds layer upon layer and makes you think they don’t have anything left, until Shawn or Taker kicks out of each signature move the other manages to hit. I still get chills every time I see Taker hit that sick-looking dive over the top rope where he lands on his head, and I remember seeing it live and thinking he was legitimately injured, and badly. Little did I know that this was only the half-way point of this contest, and there was so much more to go. So many great moments, like Shawn avoiding the Last Ride, only for Taker to finally grab him like he’s some pest and hit the big move. Or Shawn slapping Taker’s arm away and hitting Sweet Chin Music out of pure desperation. And of course, the first Tombstone of the match and HBK kicking out. Right there, THAT is my favorite Jim Ross commentary moment – “I JUST HAD AN OUT OF BODY EXPERIENCE!!!” And the look on Taker’s face just says it all at that point. By the time HBK moonsaults into another Tombstone and Taker finally wins, that Houston crowd was tapped out, and rightfully so. The image of both men just sprawled out on the canvas when it was over is burned into my memory.

18. WrestleMania 26 – Shawn Michaels: The rematch of rematches. The ‘Mania 25 match really helped build the fire within Shawn to throw out the challenge to Taker for a rematch, and I liked that Taker played mind games with him and rejected the idea at first. So began the downward spiral of good ole HBK, who became obsessed with wanting another match with the Phenom, causing tension with best friend Triple H in the process and, ultimately, the end of DX. Eventually, Michaels had to resort to costing Taker his World Heavyweight Title in order to get his attention, and the match was set with one stipulation; if Taker beat Shawn, his career was over. HBK said yes, and it was on. The build to this match was arguably the best work that the WWE audio/visual production team has ever done, with incredible video packages that highlighted Shawn’s career and the meaning behind this match. As for the battle itself, the drama was amplified by about 1000% compared to their first epic. Even so, I personally think it didn’t come very close to matching ‘Mania 25. It’s still a great match, and maybe you just need to view it without drawing comparisons. Like I said though, the drama was so much higher with the knowledge that it was HBK’s final rodeo. And that’s just the thing – I don’t know if anyone actually thought Shawn had a chance of breaking the Streak, but when you watch the match you don’t really care about that. If I had to criticize one thing, it’s that the amount of finishers they traded back and forth seemed like overkill, what with the three Tombstones and three superkicks we see. I suppose if that’s the design Shawn wanted for his last match, you can’t really fault that. The end is definitely an iconic ‘Mania moment; Shawn, on his knees and all the fight drained from him, taunts Taker one last time and slaps him across the face. In a fit of pure rage, the Dead Man snatches HBK, launches him into the air and drills him with the biggest Tombstone piledriver we’ve ever seen, putting an end to the match, and to the 26-year career of Shawn Michaels. Fantastic drama.

19. WrestleMania 27 – Triple H: The match that I personally wanted to see. I’m not ashamed to admit that I marked out when Taker made his return following those ‘2/21/11’ videos last year, and then Triple H came out right after him. The second that Motorhead riff hit, I said, “God damn, we got ourselves a match at ‘Mania!” OK, I didn’t SAY that, but that was my instant train of thought. Loved the staredown between them and the silent, no-words-needed challenge that Hunter made to the Phenom, which he rejected with a smirk but then gave a resounding ‘Yes’ with a throat-slash gesture. It was on. I also loved the segment between Taker, HHH and Shawn on the go-home Raw before ‘Mania. The dialogue back and forth between the Dead Man and the Game was fantastic and said a lot about the history and the respect they shared. Then HBK showed doubt over whether Hunter could get the job done, and Taker smirked and left the arena. That whole segment, in my opinion, is some of the best promotion ever done for a big time match like that. If it were a class, it’d be PPV Promotion 101. As for the match, I thought making it No Holds Barred was a good way to accentuate the positives and hide the negatives that both men had at the time. Let’s not forget, Hunter hadn’t wrestled in almost a full year, while Taker was being called into duty very early after shoulder and hip surgery. Those two factors in play, I think this was a great, brutal contest that told an excellent story, and it’s the ONE MATCH that made me believe the Streak was in trouble. I actually thought it was over when Taker weakly grabbed Hunter by the throat in a comeback attempt, but The Game shook his head ‘No’ and hit the Tombstone himself. It wasn’t over, but I love that those two were able to create that kind of drama to make me think it was. In the end, there’s this other great image that doesn’t get mentioned anywhere, and it’s when HHH grabs Taker and pulls him into the middle of the ring, holding the sledgehammer. That, to me, is just an amazing image. The legendary Dead Man, down and out, desperately trying to escape his possible fate, and The Game grabbing him and saying ‘No, you’re not going anywhere – this ends now’. Then Taker managed to lock in Hell’s Gate, and eventually got the submission win. But only one of them was able to actually walk out of the Georgia Dome under their own power, and it wasn’t The Undertaker.

So now, this loooooooooooong list of opponents later, here we are. WrestleMania 28 in a matter of days, and the Dead Man faces another rematch with Triple H, this time in a Hell in a Cell match. And with HBK as the guest ref this time around, again amplifying the drama to another level.

What do I think will happen? That’s simple – The Undertaker wins. No question. You will find no long-winded conspiracies or possible screw-job theories here.

If there was ever any real discussion some day about breaking the winning streak, does anyone actually think an honor that huge and history-making would be given to someone who now works in the WWE front office? A guy whose best days are long behind him? A guy who now only puts on the wrestling tights a couple times a year? No, that just isn’t good business. Personally, I don’t want to see the Streak end. I think Mark Calaway should be able to retire with that kind of record because he’s someone who’s been loyal to the WWE no matter what, and most people point to him as the heart, conscience or life blood of the entire company. On the flip side of that, if the decision was ever made, either by Vince or Taker himself, to end the Streak, the guy who finally pins the Dead Man at WrestleMania should be someone right on the cusp of being that next top guy in the business, like the next Austin or Cena. Someone who the company has huge plans for, and someone whose superstar status could be made when he pulls off the impossible and defeats The Undertaker on the most important night of the year. In a nutshell, someone who would benefit from that kind of historical moment. And a part-time wrestler, full-time office employee like HHH sure as Hell doesn’t need that kind of benefit.

I couldn’t even begin to think about what will happen inside the Cell on Sunday night. I do think it will be a long, brutal epic, and we might even see the return of blood if Taker and HHH are allowed to, as Hunter himself said, go “all out” one more time. My personal belief is that with all this ‘End of an Era’ talk, the match is secretly going to be Hunter’s last bout. There are just a few things I’ve noticed in the build-up that make me believe this. All I really know is that the story should be tremendous, the action spectacular, and the end result the same.

20-0 for the Dead Man.

So then, where does Taker go after ‘Mania 28? I’d say he stays as that once-a-year star attraction and only wrestles at WrestleMania until he decides to call it a career. Or maybe he’ll surprise us all on Sunday and show a rejuvenation that wasn’t quite there last year, and wrestle a good handful of times in 2012. I find myself defending The Undertaker’s health a lot, and I’ll just say this; I think he’s a lot healthier than most people seem to think. Sure, a full-time schedule is obviously not gonna happen, but he’s the type of character who actually shouldn’t be exposed that often. He hasn’t wrestled since ‘Mania 27 last April, meaning that as of this Sunday, it’ll be almost a full year. Even with the worst injuries he’s ever had, he’s never taken more than seven or eight months away from the ring. I wouldn’t count him out of a few other matches in 2012, perhaps leading up to his next big ‘Mania match, which is rumored to be against John Cena. If that’s what we get, then ‘Mania 29 is already looking interesting. And the end result of that match will be the same, too. The Streak going 21-0.

Why?

Because dead men don’t die.