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Most memorable Wrestlemanias featuring NFL players

Upon autumn afternoons and winter nights, East Rutherford, New Jersey's MetLife Stadium belongs to the New York Giants and New York Jets.

It was the setting for the greatest day in the chronicle of the Seattle Seahawks, who claimed their initial and only Super Bowl trophy in the 48th rendition of the biggest of big games when they silenced the Denver Broncos.

But on this upcoming springtime Sunday absent of gridiron grandeur, MetLife -- for a second time -- will play host to the Super Bowl of professional wrestling.

All the pomp and circumstance, power bombs and slams will take center stage for World Wrestling Entertainment's Wrestlemania 35 -- headlined by legit women's sports trailblazer "Rowdy" Ronda Rousey, the uber-popular Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair, one of the finest second-generation talents of all-time, in mania's historic first-ever ladies' main event.

However, as there is seemingly every Wrestlemania season, the card is rife with NFL ties, which should come as little surprise as the gridiron and grappling have a long lineage.

Reigning WWE Universal champion Brock Lesnar, who will defend his title against Seth Rollins, had a memorable run in Minnesota Vikings training camp. Former titlist and company poster boy Roman Reigns, who will tackle Drew McIntyre, was an All-ACC defensive lineman at Georgia Tech who played with Calvin Johnson and was signed by the Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. Having dipped his toes into NFL waters with the Indianapolis Colts and Arizona Cardinals, Baron Corbin will toe the line with former Olympic gold medalist Kurt Angle.

From the days of Chicago Bears great and Canton enshrinee Bronko Nagurski winning NFL championships and pro wrestling world titles to now, the rough and tumble worlds of 100 yards of Americana and the squared circle have often overlapped.

So, before you satiate your NFL withdrawals by tuning into the best histrionics the WWE can offer on Sunday, here's a very unofficial look back upon the most memorable Wrestlemania matches featuring NFL players.

*Please note: This includes only combatants who played in NFL games, so the likes of the aforementioned Reigns and Lesnar or past stars such as Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, John Bradshaw Layfield or Vader don't make the cut as they didn't make NFL regular season roster cuts. *

Wrestlemania XI

April 2, 1995 - Hartford Civic Center

Lawrence Taylor vs. Bam Bam Bigelow

As he had done for season after season with the New York Giants coming off the edge, Lawrence Taylor made an impact as he headlined the then-World Wrestling Federation's seminal event.

He squared off with Bam Bam Bigelow, a super heavyweight known for his agility as he would cartwheel in the ring and come off the top rope with unbelievable agility for a man his size. Recognizable for his tattoo-covered bald head, Bigelow was the heel to Taylor's babyface. Marvelously built up, the match drew mainstream attention in the lead-up, which was hugely needed for the company as it looked to emerge from one of its toughest times financially and needed to get creative with the main event as longtime stars Hulk Hogan, Randy "Macho Man" Savage and "Rowdy" Roddy Piper had moved on.

Enter Taylor -- along with a parade of NFL defensive greats to back him.

Taylor had played his last down in the 1993 season, having savaged quarterbacks to the tune of 132.5 sacks across 13 campaigns with a pair of Super Bowl titles and eight All-Pro selections.

Taylor's All-Pro team consisted of Ken Norton, Chris Spielman, Rickey Jackson, Carl Banks, Steve "Mongo" McMichael and Reggie White to combat Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase's stable of baddies -- King Kong Bundy, Tatanka, Nikolai Volkoff, Kama and Irwin R. Schyster -- backing Bam Bam Bigelow.

On the NFL side, that's a combined three Hall of Fame busts, 10 Super Bowl rings and 39 Pro Bowl selections.

Introduced as being from the "New York Football Giants," Taylor took to the ring not long after Salt-N-Pepa (and, of course, Spinderella) delivered "Whatta Man" to a Taylor video montage.

Following a face-off, the original L.T. began the proceedings with a huge slap across the face, some follow-up blows and a clothesline of Bigelow that sent the latter over the top rope and had the crowd abuzz.

For a guy wrestling his first match and doing so on such a huge stage, Taylor was terrific even though he laid in stiff shots and was clearly gassed early on. But Bigelow was an underrated and exceptional worker able to take Taylor's strong strikes and lead the outside linebacker to a captivating contest.

The finish came as Taylor made a furious comeback, mounted the second rope and came off with a flying forearm and then, exhausted, covered Bigelow for the triumph.

Taylor's wrestling days were done, though McMichael found a second career and became a pro wrestler for a bit and was even a part of the storied Four Horsemen stable.

Wrestlemania 2

April 7, 1986 - Rosemont Horizon

20-man battle royal

Less than three months removed from the 1985 Chicago Bears concluding an iconic run to a Super Bowl beatdown of the New England Patriots, an unconventional Wrestlemania touched down in Chicago.

Three cities played host to Wrestlemania 2 -- New York, Chicago and Los Angeles -- with the Windy City's main event coming in the form of a 20-man battle royal that featured a handful of current and former NFL players, including the Bears' William "The Refrigerator" Perry and Jimbo Covert.

As the Bears had crossed over into the mainstream fan base, Perry, just a rookie defensive tackle who was at times used as a short-yardage back, had become a star, drawing endorsements and the notoriety of the casual fan. Thus, the Fridge appearing at Wrestlemania drew plenty of press, as did other players such as Atlanta Falcons guard Bill Fralic, San Francisco 49ers tight end Russ Francis (whose father Ed was a pro wrestler and promoter), former Pittsburgh SteelersSuper Bowl champ Ernie Holmes, a defensive lineman, and former Dallas Cowboys defensive end Harvey Martin, the Super Bowl XII co-MVP.

For good measure, on the outside was another former Cowboys defensive standout -- Ed "Too Tall" Jones -- and one of the greatest Bears of them all, Dick Butkus, as special guest referees.

In a skirmish that involved storied grapplers like Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales, the Hart Foundation and others, none of the gridiron greats were able to get the win. Instead that went to the "Eighth Wonder of the World," Andre the Giant.

It was actually the last Wrestlemania win for Andre, who would go on to headline Wrestlemania III against Hulk Hogan and would film a beautifully endearing role as the lovable Fezzik in the classic The Princess Bride.

Wrestlemania 33

April 2, 2017 - Camping World Stadium

Bill Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar

Goldberg had become a mainstream star during his run as an unstoppable badass in World Championship Wrestling.

However, that didn't come until after a brief stay in the NFL, one in which he was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the 11th round of the 1990 draft -- yep, the 11th round. The defensive lineman went on to play parts of three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and then became the answer to a trivia question as the first player cut by the Carolina Panthers.

While the NFL didn't work out, WCW did, as he was pushed as an undefeated, one-man tour de force. Once WCW went down and was bought up by the WWE, Goldberg eventually followed, but many saw his run as underwhelming as he wasn't pushed in the same fashion.

He came back in 2016, though, and despite turning 50 that year, his reemergence was a success as he speared and jackhammered foes, starting with Lesnar, and captured the WWE Universal Championship. His dominance came to a close when Lesnar prevailed at Wrestlemania 33. The match was less than five minutes, but it was all hard-hitting and the crowd came away far more satisfied than when the two had met on the same stage more than a decade earlier.

Wrestlemania 33

April 2, 2017 - Camping World Stadium

Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royal

Rob Gronkowski -- surefire Hall of Famer and Super Bowl champion who tops the list of bros you'd like to hit up a kegger with -- has retired. If Gronk stays retired, rumors abound that he'll move into acting or professional wrestling. It was his appearance at Wrestlemania 33 in Orlando, Fla. that is the root cause of the latter speculation which still runs today.

While Gronkowski was not an actual participant in the match, his involvement was the highlight and garnered the mainstream notoriety the WWE desired.

Real-life pal Mojo Rawley won the battle royal, but only after some assistance from Gronk.

Bad guy Jinder Mahal was putting the boots to Rawley on the outside right in front of Gronkowski, who just happened to be in the front row. Mahal then had the audacity to take Gronk's tasty beverage and throw it at his chest. After a real security guard not in on the script tried to stop Gronkowski from getting involved, the Patriots force of nature climbed in the ring, dropped into a three-point stance and ran through Mahal. Not long after, Rawley, who was a defensive lineman seeing time on Green Bay Packers and Arizona Cardinals preseason rosters, grabbed the win and then celebrated with Gronk in bro-ific fashion via chest bump and Gronkowski delivering a congratulatory chop.

Perhaps it was only the first Gronkowski celebration at a Wrestlemania.

Wrestlemania XX

March 14, 2004 - Madison Square Garden

Bill Goldberg vs. Brock Lesnar

To reiterate, these are the most memorable Wrestlemania matches featuring NFL players.

This was an underwhelming affair as the New York crowd was dismayed at the knowledge that Goldberg, who played 14 games across three seasons with the Falcons, and Lesnar, who was an NCAA champion in wrestling a year after losing to future Patriot Stephen Neal, were each wrestling their last matches with the company.

Goldberg went over, defeating Lesnar, who flipped the bird to Vince McMahon, took a stunner from "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and departed.

Goldberg also took a beatdown from Austin to the delight of the crowd.

Thereafter, the former Falcon wouldn't see another Wrestlemania for 13 years. As for Lesnar, despite having never played beyond high school football, he gave the NFL a try. The freak athlete that he was -- and still is -- was signed by the Vikings in the preseason and made it to the final cut. He declined an offer to play for the Vikings' NFL Europe affiliate and hung up the pads. He then tried out mixed martial arts and that worked out pretty well.

Who knows if more NFL players will author memorable mania moments, but thus far, they've tackled and slammed their ways into storied storylines and manic matches through the years.

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