With WrestleMania XXVII in the Georgia Dome on April 3, 2011, WWE stars Shawn Michaels and Triple H had lunch with us at Houston's the day before tickets went on sale. They made an appearance at the previous night's game between the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens, and Shawn tweets about sports a lot -- a wavering Cowboys fan, he had a lot to say about Wade Philips before we sat down -- so we figured we could talk some sports with them.
We found some common ground between what these guys do and what baseball and football players do and got their thoughts on LeBron James and Donovan McNabb. Matt has done a better job these days of paying attention to wrestling than I have, but I did get an answer to the one question 16-year-old me cares about most: what about Goldberg, y'all?
Jason Kirk, SB Nation Atlanta: Since we're an Atlanta sports site, we figured a lot of people would want to know what kind of sports fans you guys are.
Shawn Michaels: I'm moderately a sports fan. Compared to Hunter, I'd probably be a huge fan. Football ... obviously I pay more attention to baseball with the Rangers making the World Series. Is NASCAR a sport?
JK: Definitely. Around here, especially.
HBK: I'm big into NASCAR.
Triple H: I'm more into the obscure sports. Did you guys catch curling other night? Man! That guy was brushing his ass off.
JK: It was actually pretty exciting during the Olympics. A lot of people seriously did watch a lot of curling.
HBK: Looks like you don't know shit!
HHH: *cough* GET A LIFE *cough*.
HBK: They know what they're talking about, and they just called you out.
HHH: I know what I'm talking about. Like last night, we took the picture with the Atlanta Chicken.
HBK: Falcon. Why don't you tell them the question you asked me. You said, "OK, there's 37 seconds left in the game..."
HHH: I said, "If they don't make it all the way and it goes to halftime, what happens?"
HBK: I mean, you really don't know shit about football.
JK: That's right up there with Donovan McNabb's knowledge of overtime rules, right?
HBK: Well, you know what ... poor Donovan. Everybody was always beating him up in Philadelphia, and now everybody else is beating him up.
HHH: I like him. I rehabbed with him for two weeks.
HBK: He's everything you could ever want in a quarterback, but everybody got so used to beating him up, and now it's like a national pastime. Their coach seems to be throwing him under the bus. I think he's just reached the point now where he needs to be a very qualified backup. It's unfortunate, but I'd rather have him than, like, Jon Kitna. From Tony Romo to McNabb wouldn't be that big of a drop.
JK: You mentioned your NFL fandom being sort of up for grabs with the Cowboys struggles. What would you think about becoming a Redskins fan?
HBK: No, no, no. That would be the line. The Texans are doing all right. And I told a buddy of mine that I like Atlanta being back, the Chiefs doing well. I like having new good teams instead of the same old guys. Getting a little tired of the Patriots and Steelers and Dallas. It wouldn't bother me to see your guys pull it off. Growing up we were an Air Force family, so we were stationed in Maryland growing up, so the majority of my family is Redskins fans.
JK: Were there any pro athletes you looked up to when you were growing up?
HBK: Well, we were all about professional wrestlers. I mean, we had our Spurs, so I grew up with George Gervin.
JK: We were kind of trying to place you guys, like, who the big athletes were when you guys were growing up ...
HHH: In that case, Shawn's was Babe Ruth.
HBK: I'm like four years older than you.
HHH: He remembers going to watch Mickey Mantle...
JK: Jim Brown?
HBK: Ah, the old AFL days.
HHH: Once they went to the plastic helmets instead of the leather, it just changed the game too much.
JK: What about your first WrestleMania moments, like the first time you took the ring in the biggest event. How does that compare to doing it today?
HHH: Obviously your first time doing anything is pretty exciting. You'll find that out some day. [Ed. -- ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED: Get dissed by pro wrestling champion.] So that's always gonna be a special place. But the thing is, if you walk out in a place like the Georgia Dome with 80,000 people, it's still pretty special. If you don't get excited for it, you're not into it anymore. It's a rush to walk out into a stadium of that size full of people from all around the world, millions of people watching you on TV. There's no experience like it.
HBK: We talked about this last night. We had a different experience being down there [on the field at the Georgia Dome] watching somebody else doing it. We had a chance to really take it in, all those people. For me, when I'd come out at WrestleMania, I'd look, but-
HHH: You don't have time to really look at the crowd.
HBK: Yeah, if you allow that to get to you, you'll be all over the place. You've just got to look, say, "OK, there's a lot of people," and then focus on what you're doing. It's not until afterwards that I watch the match on a DVD that it really hits me. But, as I said, you go to another event like a Falcons game, you could see how it could be a little intimidating. If I allowed myself to really look at the crowd, I'd probably turn around and walk.
JK: Have you ever had a moment like that, where you kind of let yourself get psyched out during a match?
HHH: No, you've just go focus on the job at hand. Like you were saying, sitting there last night and at other events like that, when you can sit in an arena and not be the focus of it, to me the crowd size, atmosphere, and electricity is way more overwhelming to me in that scenario. Because you're so focused on doing your job that you don't allow it to really sink in.
HBK: I compare it to being a quarterback with a minute left on your own two-yard line. You've got to run the offense down the field to get it done.
Matt Taylor, SB Nation Atlanta: It doesn't even matter what inning you're in.
JK: Like when they called in Matt Ryan to pinch hit last night.
HHH: The one kicky guy did pretty good.
JK: You mentioned watching yourselves on DVD. Do you guys do film study like Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan, like do you go back through your matches and say, "Aw, we shoulda done that," or ...
HHH: Well, most of our matches are like sketches and dime store novels.
JK: Like after a match, do you break film down?
HBK: I do, kind of. After a pay-per-view, they'll have it so everybody can sit and watch. He and I are not big watchers of ourselves with everybody else around.
HHH: We'll watch it together if it wasn't a match and we just did funny stuff. We'll watch it just because it's funny. But if it's a match and something we're serious about, you'll watch it by yourself and pick it apart.
HBK: My last WrestleMania match I've watched twice. I watched it two days after I got back to try to decompress and objectively look at it. Because you come back and you're in such an emotional state, and everyone's like, "Oh, it was so great," you gotta get all that out so you can just watch it objectively.
HHH: The reality of it is we're looking at it at a whole different level. Eighty thousand people out there let you know whether it's good, bad, or indifferent. You already know -- you're just looking at the nuances of what you would've done differently.
HBK: We are our own worst critics. You've got to study yourself with somebody you trust and somebody who knows what they're talking about.
HHH: In your mind you have it one way beforehand, and the way it turns out might be different from what you envisioned, and then it's hard to say whether it's any good or not.
HBK: Like, "I was going for this emotion, but this one happened." But somebody else goes, "That worked for me."
HHH: Fans have no idea what you're gonna do. They just know what you did. They might like it more or less than they would've, but they'll never know.
JK: You kind of have to let the performance go, once it's out there.
HHH: Yeah. It's no different than if you wrote a song and there was a part you weren't 100 percent sure of, and you put it out anyway, and then that bothered you for the rest of your life.
HBK: Or somebody goes, "Gosh man, I listened to your song, and I really felt your despair..."
JK: "But it was supposed to be a happy song!"
HBK: Different people get different stuff. That's what's cool about our job. We can get really into that emotional part of it that we give people. People can go, "I went to a wrestling match, and I cried? Damn!" To be able to draw that out of a 28-year-old dude with a beard is pretty cool. And that means you did it.
MT: Shawn, speaking of songs, how much did you have to do with your entrance music, other than lead vocals? Were you also thumping the bass, or...?
HHH: He used to just go around saying that stuff all the time, like "I'm a sexy boy..."
MT: So these were very personal lyrics?
HHH: Somebody'd say, "Hey, how you doing?" He'd say, "I'm a boy toy." "... All right." "I think I'm cute!"
MT: Did you get a lot of crap in the locker room for this song?
HBK: No, it was just 30-year-old guys going, "What are you dancing to this music for?" We joked about it, but it was just one of those things that caught on. When I first started doing it, I was a heel, so it was OK, but then it got to a point where it was so stupid.
HHH: He's so fashionably challenged, and he was coming out to a song that called him a boy toy while wearing leather assless chaps and a motorcycle hat, and he thought he looked fine.
HBK: And if anybody knows me, I'm the dirtiest redneck. So there were times when you go, "Can we change the song?" When I first came back, for my first match against Hunter I was wearing jeans and a shirt. They were like, "It's OK, it's just a street fight." Then I just wore the same thing next time, and they were like, "What are you doing?" I said, "I'm older now. I've thought about maybe cutting my hair." They said no. They didn't want me to. And even fans were telling me they wanted me to be that overly obnoxious pretty boy. Hunter don't know sports, I don't know fashion or anything new.
JK: Well, you know Twitter. You're big on Twitter.
HBK: I figured that out, man.
JK: Have you been enjoying it?
HBK: When I first started doing it, I'd just text it, like, "Uhh, I'm going here." Then Jericho texted me and said, "Dude, I'm hanging on your every word. I can hardly wait until you tell us you're about to make some toast." I'm an idiot from the time I wake up until I go to bed.
JK: Seems like you're doing just fine. Fans are responding to you giving that kind of access, right?
HBK: Yeah, it's fun. I tweet pictures from up in the tree stand.
HHH: "I'm trying to be one with nature and tweet on my phone."
MT: Hunter, since you're a big sports fan, you're a big outdoorsman too, right?
HHH: He's trying to get me to go kill things with him. I'm gonna go. He's like a one-man slaughter machine.
HBK: Family's gotta eat.
JK: Have you hunted around here?
HBK: Not in Georgia. I just came from North Dakota, the Yukon.
JK: One thing a lot of people think of when they think of southeastern sports is college football rivalries, like Auburn-Alabama and Florida-Georgia. If you guys could look back at your careers and pick out a rivalry that you could show to a non-wrestling fan, who would you pick?
HBK: Well, we were a team and we fought each other, so I think we'd both have to say one another. For me, pre-comeback, it would probably have to be Razor Ramon and Kevin Nash. Post-, it'd have to be him, Jericho, and Taker.
HHH: For me, from my singles career, would probably be Rock and obviously Shawn. Between there I had a lot of hodge-podge guys, which weren't really what you'd call classics. The Goldbergs and guys like that.
JK: Now, Goldberg played for the Georgia Bulldogs, played for the Atlanta Falcons, and wrestled for WCW in Atlanta. What would you think about him coming back for Atlanta's WrestleMania?
HHH: Bill's trying to get into the Hall of Fame. If there's a rumor about him coming back, he probably started it. I've not seen any mention of his name.
HBK: You want to move on into the future. It's tough to not go back and get some big-name guys here and there, but I don't know about any of the older WCW guys. It might be good for a one-shot deal but where do you go from there? As a company, you're trying to move into the future. It'd be like bringing Michael Jordan back.
MT: Yeah, that didn't work out too well.
HBK: There's a time when you just have to make a decision to just move on.
HHH: As far as the Hall of Fame goes, it's tough. We have a unique business, and we try to do a legitimate Hall of Fame. We try to honor the guys that deserve it. To the guys that go in, it's something special. I heard Hogan shit on it, but I don't think anything's special to him except for money. Like, if you called Michael Jordan to put him into the Basketball Hall of Fame, and he said, "All right, but I'm only gonna show up if I get to play for the Bulls next year." We get that all the time. We call a guy to honor him in the Hall of Fame, and he goes, "I want to do an angle. I want a one-off. I need a hundred grand." So when you say, "What about Goldberg?", no offense to Bill, but you've got guys like Bruno San Martino that were legends with longevity that should be in there, but they're holding out because they think they've got one more run. Just using Bill as an example, how many years did he wrestle? Not many.
HBK: To me, he's not even in the ball park. Not because he's not talented, but greatness doesn't happen in a few years. Greatness is established over a long period of time. We try to promote people and get them over, but you can't do it that quickly. In our line of work, there are other qualities that make somebody viable besides just whether they're tough or not. In every other line of work -- like if you're a lineman who can't play, everybody knows you can't play.
JK: Speaking of toughness and injuries ... you guys both have kids. What would you say if one of your kids wanted to take on this job some day?
HBK: He's got all girls, so he doesn't really have to worry about it. My son has said it. My wife told me she had a very serious talk with him, like, "Hey, if you're gonna do that, you need to understand that your dad was good, and you need to do everything under the sun to make sure that you're as good or better than him, because they'll eat you alive." If you come in and your dad is Hillbilly Jim, just to use him as an example, that's OK. But if your dad is ...
HBK: Yeah. Look at Flair's kids. So we didn't want to put him through that. But if it's something that they think they'll die if they don't try, how do you tell them no?
HHH: Same for me. I would want them to do what it is that they want to do, but explain to them the shortcomings and what to expect, and make sure they have an education. Just be realistic about it.
HBK: My son's starting to play NASCAR driver. We're gonna start him on the go-kart.
JK: Hunter, yours are gonna be quarterbacks, right?
HHH: Mine are more into being princesses. Lately Buzz Lightyear has been an option.
HBK: We get enough Buzz Lightyear being us. We get to be somebody cool.
MT: What about Ric Flair and Kevin Nash? Do you guys keep in touch and follow what they're up to?
HBK: Yeah, I talked to Kevin a couple weeks ago.
HHH: The Twitter king stays in touch with more people.
HBK: No, he called me to make sure my Twitter was really me.
MT: Do you guys call him Big Sexy?
HHH: We're not so formal, so just Sexy.
JK: What's the line with a nickname? Like, somebody says, "I want you all to call me Big Sexy," and you say, "Ehhh I don't want to call anybody Big Sexy."
HHH: If somebody tells you what they want to be called, you make it a point to call them anything but. "All right, Douchebag, you got it."
HHH: I think so. It's funny, he's actually a huge wrestling fan. A lot of guys come, but apparently LeBron is really, really into it. So I guess it's a possibility.
HBK: Him and Tim Duncan. Duncan sneaks into the show all the time.
JK: What about coming out to the ring to Motorhead? Have you always been a fan of theirs?
HHH: Yeah, I was a fan, and then when it came time to get new music, our music people asked me what I wanted it to sound like. I kept saying, "Make it rougher and rawer and more like Motorhead." Finally they said, "Why don't we just get Motorhead to do it?" I said, "OK, I didn't know that was an option." So they called Lemmy, and we've become good friends. Check it out, I got these boots from his boots guy. [Ed. -- His boots are awesome.]
MT: How much input do you guys have into the production of your entrances at WrestleMania?
HHH: You can have as much as you want. They're looking for stuff to make that show separate. How did you come up with that one from a couple years ago, Shawn?
HBK: Creatively, you always try to come up with something. Like when I was working with the Undertaker, it sort of organically turned into this heaven-hell, black-white thing that really wasn't where we thought we were going. But you have to know what fits. Like some guys want to come out with a zip line and fire, and it's their first match.
HHH: Like a couple years ago, when DX came out in a tank. We wanted to do a whole camouflage thing.
HBK: That's what brought me back, wearing camo.
JK: You didn't even have to change clothes.
HHH: It started when they said they were going to put us back together after SummerSlam, so let's do a military motif, and it evolved until we got a tank.
MT: With DX, you guys were doing funny stuff on the air. There had to be even funnier stuff that didn't make the show. Do you have a behind-the-scenes story for us?
HHH: I don't think we were different backstage than on camera. All of us are into incredibly stupid humor. Like Hornswoggle was always going under the ring, so we said, "What if there's like a whole world under there? Like you turn on the lights and it's like this big environment that's always there? And it's like a whole little person world."
JK: Sounds like Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory meets Close Encounters of the Third Kind.
HHH: Yeah, and then it morphed into Little People's Court. I think one of the things that we've done is take the match seriously, but not the rest of it. We like to point out the things that prior to us nobody ever spoke of. Me talking about his hair getting thin, or him talking about my nose, or when Chyna got her boob implants and we had all this stuff we wanted to say about her boob implants, and they said, "No, you can't mention the boobs." We're like, "What, no one's gonna notice her sudden double D's? You expect us not to talk about that?"
HBK: There was a lot of stuff we had to scale back.
HHH: He and I ... whether we're trying to be serious or funny or against each other, we know each other so well we can play off each other perfectly.
JK: It's like when Magic Johnson and Bo Jackson played together.
HBK: You see Hunter, Bo Jackson didn't play basketball.
HHH: You can't fool me. I know about Bo Jackson. Andrews did all his surgeries. [Ed. -- Rehabs with McNabb, and is on one-name basis with Dr. James Andrews. Pro wrestlers are never more like other athletes than when they're injured.] I've heard the stories. Bo is the sheep guy. Did he do something to a sheep?
JK: He played for Auburn, so kind of.
MT: Hunter, are you gonna be getting back in the ring soon?
HHH: Yeah. Got another couple months rehab-wise. I don't know how regularly I'll be back. We made a pact that if one of us didn't recognize it's time to quit, we'd tell the other one it's time. It's a young man's business, and I'm cool with that. I have fun working with the other side of the business, and I don't kill animals or follow sports.
HBK: Once you kill something, you'll be hooked. No, I miss the creative process, and eventually I'm sure I'll get tired of taking life in the woods.
Tickets are on sale for WrestleMania XXVII.