I ended my last column with a flippant suggestion that WWE sign NFL players Jason and Travis Kelce to compete at WrestleMania.

I wasn’t kidding when I first typed that out in the wake of the Super Bowl and the tremendous media attention the brothers received for their oversize personalities (and at least one brothers’ choice of plus-one for the event) and the Kelce brothers’ raucous victory celebration that played out in the days following.

I’m not kidding now, as older brother Jason announces his retirement on March 4, while I finish editing this piece — which means more work for me and my poor editors, but a timely and thought-provoking product for your enjoyment, Constant Reader.

Jason Kelce previously won a Super Bowl championship with the Philadelphia Eagles and lost a second Super Bowl game last year to the ascendant Kansas City Chiefs. The Eagles-Chiefs game is notable for three reasons. First, Jason Kelce is a big, magnetic, open personality and naturally fun to watch or listen to — a critical part of pro wrestling that can rarely be taught.

Second, Jason’s brother Travis is a star player for the Chiefs. Their game marked the first time two brothers were on opposite sides of a Super Bowl game.

Third, because of the brothers’ media presence, they became the story of their teams’ Super Bowl game (this is not to underestimate the fact that Travis became the story of this year’s Super Bowl, in large part because he is currently dating pop megastar Taylor Swift): their mother was regularly photographed wearing custom NFL gear that combined her children’s teams’ merch, and a viral video came out following that Chiefs victory where Jason’s young daughter expressed her disappointment that ‘Uncle Travvy’ won the game while her dad lost. If you read this and you have little kids in your life, either your heart melts at the thought or you’re dead inside.

In any case, that moment, plus the Kelce vs. Kelce Super Bowl, and a number of gonzo entertainment appearances including a turn on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, convince me that the time is right for WWE, the Kelce Conglomerate and (to an extent) the NFL and Taylor Swift need to make something happen around WrestleMania. Jason’s schedule has apparently just cleared up, and while Travis might still be active, there’s ample precedent for footballers’ participation in the Showcase of the Immortals.

I think this year would be great, although given the dodgy reputation of Philadelphia crowds, if the Kelces keep clean, next year might be even better.

With WrestleMania XL on the horizon, it’s worth noting just how many celebrities have contributed to the event over the years. Wikipedia states that to this point, there have been 143 celebrities involved in the show.

The benefits to WWE are obvious. Bringing in famous people from music, movies, TV, politics and elsewhere helps attract media attention and might bring in a broader audience than hardcore wrestling fans — though WWE’s ideas of what constitutes a celebrity might blunt this effect.

Some synergies are readily apparent. Apart from multiple renditions of “America the Beautiful”, WWE has increasingly had bands perform wrestlers’ theme songs on their way to the ring. The first live performance arguably took place at the inaugural WrestleMania, when Roddy Piper was piped to the ring by a parade playing “Scotland the Brave.” Piper was a full-fledged heel, but this moment made me a fan.

Since then, examples include:

  • Salt-n-Pepa played “Whatta Man” for Lawrence Taylor as he walked to his WrestleMania main event.
  • Ice T rapped “Pimpin Ain’t Easy” for the Godfather at WrestleMania 2000.
  • Motorhead (twice) and Drowning Pool sang “The Game” for Triple H.
  • Undertaker rolled into WrestleMania XIX to Limp Bizkit’s live performance of “Rollin’”
  • My personal favorite, Living Colour belted out “Cult of Personality” for CM Punk at WrestleMania 29.
  • Snoop Dogg did the honors for his cousin, Sasha Banks, at WrestleMania 32.
  • Joan Jett and the Blackhearts sang “Bad Reputation” at WrestleMania 35 as Ronda Rousey entered the ring.
  • Wale rapped “Feel the Power” for Big E in his match at WrestleMania 37.

Athletes who are known friends of wrestlers on the roster (or who might jump into the ring for a match themselves, as I advocate here) are also natural fits. Depending on their own degree of fandom, there have been plenty of actors who played supporting roles with infectious good humor. NYPD Blue, Blue Bloods and frequent Adam Sandler rep player Nick Turturro’s gonzo commercials for and ring announcing at WrestleMania XI show how much fun a real fan’s involvement can be (and this from the arguably lesser Turturro). Reality show stars, commercial pitchmen and Presidential wannabes not so much. Still, roughly 55 musicians/groups, 34 athletes, 25 actors and 29 miscellaneous folks have contributed to WrestleMania’s hype. Ten of these celebrities have been inducted in WWE’s Hall of Fame.

A comprehensive list of WrestleMania celebrity appearances is beyond the scope of this article; it’s available here in case you’re interested.

WWF/WWE has courted public figures since the beginning of the Rock ’n’ Wrestling era. The first WrestleMania saw actor Mr. T joining Hulk Hogan in a tag match to defeat ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper and Paul ‘Mr. Wonderful’ Orndorff. Despite experienced wrestlers’ resentment that an outsider could walk into the main event, and Mr. T’s not ingratiating himself in his new environment, the match went well and the card did big business (Mr. T was so successful that he would return for a ‘boxing match’ against Piper at WrestleMania 2 — without quite so many moving parts this match was less successful).

In any case, Mr. T was abetted by further celebrity cameos: flamboyant pianist Liberace served as guest timekeeper. He was accompanied to the ring by the Rockettes. Muhammad Ali acted as a second referee outside the ring, and on-again-off-again New York Yankees Manager Billy Martin played ring announcer.

Captain Lou Albano and Cyndi Lauper in "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"

Captain Lou Albano and Cyndi Lauper in “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”

Somewhat less physical, hugely popular pop star Cyndi Lauper accompanied Wendi Richter to the ring for her co-main event against Leilani Kai. Lauper got involved in the match, saving Richter from an outside-the-ring gambit by Kai’s manager, the Fabulous Moolah. Lauper and Richter’s post-match celebration is an indelible image for fans of a certain age. We still talk about Hulk Hogan but I would suggest that Richter and Lauper formed the real Rock ’n’ Wrestling connection. It was Lauper’s work that led to a pro wrestling presence on MTV and opened the doors for further mainstream media appearances. I’ve always thought Lauper got short shrift, possibly in part due to Richter’s abbreviated tenure in the WWF. Without Richter to tether Lauper to a further program, Lauper’s involvement in marrying the WWF to MTV and broader pop culture faded away. Today, Lauper’s and Richter’s roles (and the contributions of women to pro wrestling generally) go sadly underappreciated.

WrestleMania 2 was split between Los Angeles, Chicago and New York (I’m fudging slightly). Celebrity-wise it’s probably best known for a 20-man battle royal which featured several current and former NFL stars (I’ll get to the ties between football and wrestling momentarily). It also marked an attempt to capitalize on the female audience that Wendi Richter and Cyndi Lauper brought, by having Cathy Lee Crosby, Susan St. James and Elvira Mistress of the Dark serve as commentators. This was a more misguided use of celebrity. The three women weren’t fans and had little to say about the action going on before them or the storylines that informed it. Commentary is difficult to begin with, and in hindsight it seems unfair to have placed them in that position.

WrestleMania 2 was a banner year for Vince McMahon’s elastic concept of ‘celebrity’. In a move that foreshadowed Big E’s “big meaty men slapping meat” comments, Clara from Wendy’s “Where’s the Beef?” ad campaign served as timekeeper for the battle royal. Burger King pitchman character ‘Herb’ who had never known the touch of a Whopper served as timekeeper in the New York portion of the event. If only Vince had thought to book a Three Way Dance with Ronald McDonald. Instead, Los Angeles’ guest timekeeper was child actor-cum-MAGA burnout Rick Schroder. New York also had Joan Rivers provide guest timekeeping services, which just doesn’t seem fair.

Maria Menounos gives it a shake during her WrestleMania 28 bout, teaming with Kelly Kelly against Beth Phoenix and Eve. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea, www.mikemastrandrea.com

Maria Menounos gives it a shake during her WrestleMania 28 bout, teaming with Kelly Kelly against Beth Phoenix and Eve. Photo by Mike Mastrandrea, www.mikemastrandrea.com

In any case, WWF/WWE hasn’t been shy about mining the corners of celebrity. ‘Miller Lite Girls’ Kitana Baker and Tanya Ballinger had a pillow fight with Torrie Wilson and Stacy Keibler at WrestleMania XIX. Hair Club for Men owner Sy Sperling did a skit with Howard Finkel at WrestleMania X. Game show and gossip hosts including Morton Downey, Jr. Robin Leach, Alex Trebek, Vanna White, Ray Combs, Mary Hart, Rhonda Shear and Regis Philbin have all played roles over the years. Former Entertainment Tonight host Maria Menounos and reality TV star Nicole ‘Snooki’ Polizzi have joined the action directly as part of tag/six person matches — which is probably the best way to integrate any non-wrestler into a match. Kim Kardashian hosted WrestleMania XXIV but has yet to compete in the ring. I won’t go into detail about two of WWE’s more scandalous celebrities: alleged former Presidential mistress Gennifer Flowers and a certain disgraced former President/current candidate, who was last seen at Mania shaving Vince McMahon’s head.

It’s funny, but in researching this piece it became clear just how broad our definition of celebrity has always been, and how fleeting it can be. If you’re a more recent fan I bet most of these names (at least pre-2000) are probably as lost to you as early Mania wrestlers like Ted Arcidi, the Executioner, David Sammartino or George Wells. And that’s not meant as a slight. We remember some moments better than others.

Jake Roberts and Alice Cooper

Jake Roberts and Alice Cooper

I think one of the most fun uses of celebrity came at WrestleMania III, when rock musician Alice Cooper seconded Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts for his match against the Honky Tonk Man. Cooper was not a wrestling fan either and admitted to Roberts that he felt out of his element before a massive, bloodthirsty Pontiac Silverdome crowd. Visually, if there were ever a non-wrestling performer who deserved to be in a wrestling ring, it was Cooper. While small in stature, he defined the glam rock era with his eerie face paint and macabre stage shows. I was and am still a fan. Cooper’s look has resonated throughout pro wrestling since he adopted it. In the late 1970s trailblazing gay wrestler Chris Colt was the first to appropriate the look (Colt also used Cooper’s song “Welcome to my Nightmare” as his entrance music, itself an innovation). I would argue that the movie The Crow borrowed from it too, which gets us to latter day Sting and now Chris Jericho in his ‘Painmaker’ persona. Cooper did great, roughing up Jimmy Hart and siccing Roberts’ python, Damien, on Hart after the match.

From an historical standpoint Mike Tyson’s involvement as ringside enforcer for the WrestleMania XIV main event between Shawn Michaels and Steve Austin helped mark the beginning of the Attitude Era. Tyson, whose boxing career was effectively over, remained a controversial public figure over his previous legal issues. Tyson figured prominently into the build for the match. Austin had earned a shot at Michaels’ world championship by winning the Royal Rumble, while Michaels successfully defended his title despite injuring his back. TV cameras repeatedly cut to Tyson watching the show from a private box. On the following Raw, McMahon revealed Tyson as special guest referee for Austin vs. Michaels. Austin then charged the ring and flipped Tyson off. In what some might consider art imitating life, Austin’s tirade included reference to Tyson’s being an interloper in the world of pro wrestling. In truth, Tyson is a massive lifelong fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of the sport. At a subsequent press conference Tyson’s role was adjusted to ‘ring enforcer’. As the storyline between Austin and Michaels developed, Tyson appeared at the March 2 RAW where he apparently joined Michaels’ D-Generation X stable. Shockingly, this would prove to be a ruse. Tyson helped Austin win the title at WrestleMania and shared the ring with the new WWF champion in a show-closing celebration. The attitudinal shift in WWE which had begun with Bret Hart’s heel turn and departure for WCW was complete. Wrestling hasn’t looked the same since.

Mike Tyson as a part of D-X. WWE photo

Mike Tyson as a part of D-X. WWE photo

If WWE could land the Kelces, their involvement would have a deep precedent in the promotion and wrestling as a whole. Jason, the elder Kelce brother, plays for the Philadelphia Eagles and would guarantee a massive pop in a city known to be hard on public figures.

Then again, Philadelphia fans booed Santa Claus. WWE may already be trying to mitigate the likelihood that the audience goes into business for itself by bringing in Sylvester Stallone of Rocky fame. Even that may not be enough given fans’ history of booing their own players, holding up ‘Cane Dewey’ signs, cheering opposing teams’ injuries and applauding fans who get tased by security… ok, maybe let’s wait for next year and hopefully a less hostile crowd (especially if WWE is hoping for a certain Kelce supporter to show up … more on that later).

In any case, my point about football players stands. Pro wrestling demands athleticism and toughness. College and pro players have been part of pro wrestling since its beginnings. Many took up wrestling either because they hit their ceiling in their chosen sport or because wrestling just paid better — especially before free agency helped turn the NFL into a multi-billion dollar empire.

Football players were an integral part of pro wrestling even before it became a televised spectacle. Old school fans recognize the likes of early NWA champion Gus Sonnenberg, Bronko Nagurski, Eugene ‘Big Daddy’ Lipscomb (all too briefly), AWA founder and perennial titlist Verne Gagne and Leo Nomellini. These men have been followed by a steady stream of talent from Dick the Bruiser, Ernie Ladd, Wahoo McDaniel and Angelo Mosca through ‘Hacksaw’ Jim Duggan and Lex Luger, to the likes of Vader, Ahmed Johnson, Ron Simmons and his former tag team partner JBL, Brian Pillman and Steve McMichael.

Today, former football players appear in matches across promotions, from the main event (The Rock, Goldberg, Roman Reigns, John Cena) to the opening match (Baron Corbin, Titus O’Neil, Riddick Moss, Top Dolla/AJ Francis). One of the more successful former NFL players is frequent color commentator Pat McAfee, who has also shown that he can handle himself in the ring as a ‘celebrity’ wrestler.

Terry Funk at West Texas State.

Terry Funk at West Texas State.

The former West Texas State University alone claims credit for a host of wrestlers including Tito Santana, Tully Blanchard, Ted DiBiase, Stan Hansen, Terry and Dory Funk, Dusty Rhodes, Dick Murdoch, Bobby Duncum, Sr. Bruiser Brody, Kelly Kiniski, Scott Casey, Manny Fernandez and Barry Windham.

Some members of this list may be apocryphal — a smaller lie than Kamala working as Idi Amin’s bodyguard or Fernandez’ alleged service in the Vietnam War, but a fabrication nonetheless. If West Texas State became a hotbed of future pro wrestling talent, it was due to its position relative to a host of active, entrenched, hot territories across the state and the families that ran them. Santana was a teammate of Blanchard’s, for instance — and if you were an athlete who happened to play on the same line as a Funk or DiBiase or Windham, who already had a foot in the door of the rasslin’ business, I can imagine it would be hard not to pursue an opportunity.

In some cases, like McDaniel, Ladd or Mosca, the footballers’ accomplishments on the field fed into their popularity as pro wrestlers. This became less common during the 1980s and beyond as wrestlers increasingly employed ring names and the WWF/WWE sought to protect its intellectual property investments by renaming just about anyone who walked through its doors.

McDaniel played professionally for eight years. His stats are fine, but he became hugely popular playing for the New York Jets when the announcer would get audiences to cheer his name after a good play — and he was allowed to have Wahoo on his jersey.

In many other cases, including The Rock, Roman Reigns and ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin, their college or pro careers were footnotes to their much greater fame as pro wrestlers.

If you’ll allow a moment of national pride: many wrestlers who played college football and couldn’t make the NFL turned to the Canadian Football League to extend their careers, including Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.

As it happens, the Kelces are pro wrestling fans. They often discuss their fandom on their New Heights podcast. Older brother Jason, who before announcing his retirement from the NFL on March 4 — perhaps clearing his way for an eventual pro wrestling debut — had openly mused about the end of his football career over the past few years. He even reached out to ex-NBA star and Cody Rhodes opponent Shaquille O’Neal, who had long been rumored for a WrestleMania match against the Big Show, teasing a confrontation when O’Neal joined the Andre the Giant Battle Royal at WrestleMania 32, about managing the transition from being a travelling pro athlete to civilian life, turned himself into a walking meme after picking a discarded luchador mask up from the floor and wearing it during the Super Bowl after-party. Jason has since undertaken to return the mask to its rightful owner, a 12-year-old Chiefs fan who had a sentimental attachment to it (and may one day reap substantial rewards for his treasure on eBay).

Younger brother Travis showed wrestler-like intensity in a sideline confrontation with coach Andy Reid during the Super Bowl, and in his bellowing promo complete with audience participation when presented with the Vince Lombardi trophy afterwards.

Both Kelce brothers are already infinitely more fun than anything cooked up by WWE’s last big NFL ‘get’ — Rob Gronkowski — who tried to kick a field goal during the pre-game at John Cena’s behest for some reason. The NFL has long been comfortable with WWE, at least at arm’s length. WWE has passed around title belts to winning teams, and last fall introduced a line of belts featuring the logos of every NFL team except the Jacksonville Jaguars, who coincidentally happen to be owned by AEW’s Khan family. Maybe they’ll get a Triple B title out of the deal?

NFL players and other personnel have featured in multiple WrestleManias, going back to the event’s beginnings. WrestleMania 2 featured a full out battle royal involving WWF wrestlers and active NFL players, highlighted by popular Chicago Bears defensive lineman William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry. Six active and two former NFL players took part in the battle royal. More players wanted to participate, but predictable concerns about insurance and liability meant many teams forbade their players from entering the fray. Former NFL players Dick Butkus and Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones served as guest referees. I covered the ‘where’s the beef’ lady already.

New York Giants linebacker Carl Banks (who had participated in the WrestleMania 2 battle royal) returned for WrestleMania VII before an underwhelming house, in a skit with former Patriot and frequent NFL commentator Paul Maguire.

Lawrence Taylor at The Big Event fan fest on Saturday, November 13, 2021, at New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott, in East Elmhurst, NY. Photo by George Tahinos, https://georgetahinos.smugmug.com

Lawrence Taylor at The Big Event fan fest on Saturday, November 13, 2021, at New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott, in East Elmhurst, NY. Photo by George Tahinos, https://georgetahinos.smugmug.com

One of the biggest in-ring celebrity moments came at WrestleMania XI, which saw recently retired New York Giant Lawrence Taylor defeat Bam Bam Bigelow in a surprisingly good main event. Taylor was seconded by a host of NFL players, some of whom would go on to their own celebrity wrestling appearances like Reggie White and Steve McMichael.

The Bigelow-Taylor match built on the celebrity wrestling platform established by Mr. T at the first WrestleMania. It featured an extended build up, with an angle that started in a mid-card Royal Rumble match where Bigelow shoved Taylor, who had been planted in the audience. It featured a host of NFL players and WWF wrestlers in supporting roles, ready to break out in a brawl if the action lagged or things went awry (said wrestlers included King Kong Bundy, Tatanka, Irwin R. Schyster, Nikolai Volkoff and Kama — who probably could have made the match go away all by himself, if you combine his later Godfather character with Taylor’s admissions in his autobiography). It took advantage of an established, safe pro wrestler in Bigelow who was a solid in-ring performer. More importantly, it struck the right balance between Bigelow as a credible threat whom audiences would buy in the role, but not so heavily pushed that a loss to an interloping former jock would discredit pro wrestling as a whole.

Bigelow knew his role and likely understood that win or lose, this was his one shot at main eventing the WWF’s biggest show of the year. While he was reportedly frustrated with being pushed back down the card and into a lacklustre babyface run after WrestleMania, on balance he had a successful night.

Fans remain divided on the quality of the match. It was clear that Taylor was not a ‘professional’ professional wrestler, but he raised the bar for future outsiders. You can draw a throughline between his performance and more compelling modern matches put on by the likes of Bad Bunny and Logan Paul. The match was a mixed success. The WWF drew a lower gate and pay-per-view buyrate than the previous or following years’ shows but Taylor’s involvement yielded considerable mainstream press coverage and a follow up special on FOX in September of that year.

I mentioned Gronkowski above. I’m not a Patriots fan so that’s as much as he gets. Instead, let’s point out that most recently San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle appeared last year to help McAfee beat The Miz.

Rob Gronkowski wins the 24/7 title at WrestleMania. Courtesy: WWE.

Rob Gronkowski wins the 24/7 title at WrestleMania. Courtesy: WWE.

If the brothers Kelce could be walked through a basic tag team or six-man match (say, alongside Cody Rhodes as much needed backup against the Bloodline) their legitimate ‘Bruh’ charm and Bearish appeal could provide a lot of fun. WWE has its share of tag teams who can execute all manner of flashy moves to the depraved indifference of the audience. The Creed Brothers come to mind. I cannot fathom how, with their insanely athletic bag of tricks, they still bore the heck out of me. I’ll take the Kelces running around like a pair Dad-bodded bearded goofs any day. I suspect that many fans see themselves as Dad-bodded bearded goofs. I sure do. I’m OK with that.

Then there’s the matter of Travis Kelce’s current girlfriend, Taylor Swift.

If you’re a Constant Reader you’re probably not on the incel side of wrestling fandom and can appreciate Ms. Swift’s artistic and economic prowess.

Ms. Swift has her own substantial connection to pro wrestling. Born in Pennsylvania, she convinced her family to move to Nashville when she was 14 to build her music career. The family settled in the suburb of Hendersonville. As it happens, Jeff Jarrett lived next door, along with his wife Jill and their children. I don’t pretend that Ms. Swift was overly exposed to the wrestling business but she did become an important part of the Jarretts’ life, often babysitting for their children. Mick Foley recently posted his own appreciation for Ms. Swift on social media, telling the story of how she helped look after Jarrett’s children while Jill was dying of cancer. To be honest, I could care less what Ms. Swift did for a living after this story, or what her politics or causes may be. In that moment, as a young person chasing her dream and with every opportunity to be a typical selfish teenager (most of us are, at that stage), she chose to help her neighbors as they struggled through one of the worst things imaginable.

All of which is to say Ms. Swift’s involvement in pro wrestling in some future capacity might not be as far-fetched as it sounds — even as Jarrett currently works for rival promotion AEW. And if you think this year’s record Super Bowl viewership isn’t at least partly due to the few seconds she appeared on screen, you’ve got another thing coming.

Taylor Swift with Jeff Jarrett and family. Instagram photo

Taylor Swift with Jeff Jarrett and family. Instagram photo

I can vouch for the phenomenon. With all of the attention in advance of Ms. Swift’s arrival at the Super Bowl, and the minute or so the camera was trained on her (in fairness, Blake Lively and Ice Spice should probably get their own shout-outs), my wife sat through the whole game with me and cheered on the Chiefs. As a 49ers fan I was a bit dismayed by the prospect of my house divided, but my wife enjoyed herself and was absorbed by every play. It was fun watching something together that wasn’t pro wrestling (gasp!) or part of the 90 Day FiancéSister WivesLittle People, Big World multiverse of madness.

My seven-year-old daughter joined us until her bedtime, cheering for ‘Taylor’s Boyfriend’ even though he barely touched the ball in the first half of the game. I kept the ‘dadsplaining’ about football to a minimum while she figured it out and cheered for her team. I can promise you that you’ve never cared as much about anything in your life as a seven-year-old girl finding her squad. My team lost, but it was probably more fun that her team won.

My daughter is already a wrestling fan, but the impact of a few glimpses of her favorite pop star in the stands at WrestleMania should not be underestimated. I’ve learned a lot about since becoming a Girl Dad. One of the bigger lessons is that representation is important. The more my daughter sees herself in all kinds of achievement, the broader the range of her imagination — and hopefully the easier it is for her to work hard towards achieving those goals, knowing they aren’t totally abstract. For kids like her (and their moms, a strong fan base in their own right) the tease of Ms. Swift’s involvement might be even more important given the storyline build and interviews and direct physical interactions needed to create a program worthy of a WrestleMania spot.

I accept that the contact in football is ‘real’ compared to wrestlers trading holds and jumping on each other… but especially if you’re new, wrestling is much more rewarding to watch. Football players line up as a unit, anonymous beneath their helmets and pads. Unless you’ve been watching for a while, it can be tough to pick out your favorite star, and in some cases that player might be stalled out by the opposing lineup, barely contributing to the game. A longtime football fan might appreciate the nuanced gamesmanship employed by well-coached offensive and defensive lines. NFL commentator Tony Romo described it ad infinitum ad nauseum during the game. You might also find endless three-and-out series boring. I mentioned Kelce’s relative lack of involvement in the first half of the game. It was tough for my daughter to sustain her interest accordingly.

Contrast that with pro wrestling, where most segments take place under spotlights in the middle of the ring, with combatants either monologuing to set up a fight, or even better meeting in the ring to discuss their differences like productive citizens, without all that pesky violence. Wrestlers ply their trade in street clothes at most. They may fight in colorful outfits but their faces are exposed-their expressions during a match telegraph the drama of the contest to the audience. Add in the tease of a Taylor Swift cameo showing her reactions as Travis gets stretched, and you can open up pro wrestling to a new demographic, just like the NFL.

Forget artistic merit. Follow the money.

Of course, trying to sign the Kelce brothers to get to Taylor Swift is a risk. WWE has tried that sort of thing before. In 2006 they brought Britney Spears’ then-husband Kevin Federline in for a series of appearances. He was introduced to the WWE Universe in October, as a guest of heels Johnny Nitro and Melina. K-Fed proved to be a natural heel, baiting the crowd mercilessly until John Cena arrived to school the interloper in Basic Thuganomics. Things got physical after Cena insulted Federline. At a time when WWE’s mainstream presence was faltering, even a celebrity by proxy like Federline was big news. He appeared again on the following RAW, aligned with Nitro and new running buddy ‘King’ Booker. This set up a pay-per view appearance at Cyber Sunday, where Federline interfered in the main event and cost Cena his chance at His Majesty’s World Championship.

By all accounts Federline was respectful of pro wrestling, having been a fan himself. He was well-liked backstage but the real impact of his appearances is lost to history. I imagine that Federline was a means to the end of a Spears Supercard appearance. Unfortunately, while he was on his way to the ring she was readying divorce papers. After Cyber Sunday, Federline made an appearance on the December 18 edition of Raw leading to a no-disqualification match on the first Raw of the new year. He may have lost the girl but WWE did gift him a win over Cena in the process.

A bigger question looms over future celebrity participation in WrestleMania. This year we have The Rock and plenty of him. That’s great. He has a unique history with WWE and is one of the few whose fame has transcended his time in pro wrestling. Batista has become a very capable, steadily working actor but has yet to carry a movie franchise (or sink one). Cena is working on it too; he’s increasingly comfortable playing against type, but even compared to Batista he’s getting a late start in Hollywood. Cena popped up and wrestled a few matches over the summer, and Batista mused about doing so during the recent actors’ and writers’ strikes in the US. Both men are still loved by audience, but I think that when crowds cheer them, they’re cheering the WWE Legends, not the movie stars.

WWE continues to drive for mainstream acceptance, but internal and federal investigations and private lawsuits have created a huge optics problem for the company. Understanding that one is ‘innocent until proven guilty’ the extent of Vince McMahon’s alleged misconduct and the number of ways he is alleged to have used his power to make WWE his own playground give one pause. Pro wrestling has long overlooked all kinds of bad behavior in the service of bigger box office, but for talent like Batista or Cena looking for mainstream credibility, it’s arguable whether they want to continue to be associated with the company’s tainted image.

The Rock is in a tougher spot. He owns a part of the joint now and is committed to make appearances that would seem to be synergistic between WWE and the ‘Rock’ brand, which WWE just handed over. Still, given how much of The Rock’s persona is invested in sharing his experiences with depression, or family dysfunction, or feminism, or being a Girl Dad and taking care of the people he cares about (whether it’s houses purchased for his mother or ‘cousin’ Tamina Snuka, trucks bought for longtime friend Bruno ‘Harvey Wippleman’ Lauer, or enormous fundraising initiatives for the people of Hawaii), it’s tough to reconcile that with the now predatory image of WWE management.

It’s tempting to imagine that The Rock will clean house in the executive suite and remake WWE in his image, but don’t kid yourself. The Rock is one of 13 directors. It is estimated that by the time his new deal with WWE expires he will hold about 400,000 shares of parent company TKO Group’s stock. Vince McMahon still owns about 20 million shares — about 34% of TKO Group shares, even if he’s not involved in day to day operations.

The Rock’s greatest influence will be on the public perception of TKO and WWE going forward; unless he has a clear plan to leverage that clout, his internal influence may be important but it’s not determinative. If the negative headlines persist, it’s not out of the question that once WrestleMania 40 finishes, The Rock may scale back his involvement — as we get farther from the strikes, his calendar will start filling up, and he likely doesn’t want future movie projects and press conferences tainted by questions related to WWE shenanigans.

Other mainstream celebrities might well feel chilled by the prospect of associating themselves with WWE’s brand; especially celebrities with a reputation for advancing equity or feminist causes. Ms. Swift incorporates women’s empowerment into much of her music. Endorsing WWE under the current regime seems antithetical to her brand. And super-creepy.

At least this year, it’s tough to imagine a bigger celebrity participating in WrestleMania than home-grown superstar and current part-owner The Rock. As WWE has wound its way into mainstream pop culture and with decades’ worth of stars achieving varied degrees of fame outside the ring, some of these returning ex-wrestlers may require special consideration. They are instantly recognizable to wrestling fans and ring rust aside, they don’t require nearly the intensive level of training as say, Logan Paul (who is still a great athlete and deserves credit for his matches. He may still require more work than a standard wrestler, but he’s demonstrated his willingness to do it).

Generally, they’ve also moved on from their identities as consistently active in-ring performers. I ask again: do we treat the highly paid Hollywood actor as a celebrity or a worker? If the answer is the former, can we expect The Rock to pull off a reputable solo, or even tag team-main event match? And if he gets the spot, who loses out on a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?

If The Rock can get ring-ready and the new guys can get sufficiently trained (or have their weaknesses camouflaged by enough pyro and ballyhoo), what better match to headline next year’s WrestleMania than Cody Rhodes and the Kelce Brothers vs. the Bloodline? Even better if you slot in The Rock and Seth Rollins on either side as storyline dictates.

Winner take all.

Add 54 seconds of Taylor Swift watching from a private box, and it’s a license to print money.

Book it.

TOP PHOTO: Jason and Travis Kelce from their New Heights podcast.