25 YRS OF BRUCE MITCHELL – DAY 24 (2013): How Panthers-Pats gave bookers a template for great drama


This month marks the 25th Anniversary of Bruce Mitchell becoming a Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter columnist. No single person has influenced the editorial tone and direction of the Torch brand over the years than Bruce, who brought a hard-hitting, supremely well-informed, speak-truth-to-power approach to his writing. He went after sacred cows out of the gate, such as the beloved among “smart fans” (today’s “Internet fans” or “IWC,” I suppose) Eddie Gilbert and Jim Cornette. He also went hard after people in positions of authority and power who were abusing or misusing that power, or just not delivering a worthy product. He has also applauded and paid tribute to the greatest moments and movements in pro wrestling over the last 25 years, with a style of writing that has yet to be matched anywhere, I contend (despite Bill Simmons’s arrogant and uninformed contention last year that no one wrote at a high level about pro wrestling until his “Masked Man” columnist came along).

To celebrate and highlight Bruce’s stellar 25 years of influential and eloquent truth-telling about this fascinating industry, we’ll be featuring a single column from each of the last 25 years each of the first 25 days this month. His long-form columns were a pioneer approach to pro wrestling journalism, and the next 25 years you’ll experience a slice of what it is that has earned Bruce Mitchell widespread recognition within the industry over the years as being “Pro Wrestling’s Most Respected Columnist.” We began on Oct. 1st with his very first column, from Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter #89 (cover dated Oct. 5, 1990).

Today we feature his column from the November 13, 2013 edition of the Pro Wrestling Torch Weekly Newsletter (#1331) in which Mitchell wrote about a Patriots vs. Panthers NFL game that showed pro wrestling bookers how to create drama the right way.

NOTE: VIP members can access hundreds of Mitchell columns and audio shows instantly in theBRUCE MITCHELL LIBRARY here, part of the massive unmatched online archives of insider wrestling coverage from over the past 28 years.


ORIGINAL HEADLINE: “Pro wrestling drama on Monday Night”
COVER DATE: November 13, 2013

I thought I’d sneak away from pro wrestling Monday night, what with the desultory build-up to Survivor Series on Raw, while on ESPN’s Monday Night Football the biggest NFL game in my area in years was on, with the dynastic New England Patriots visiting the newly competitive Carolina Panthers.

Staff11Mitchell_120WWE hopes to benefit in their cable TV negotiations from the idea they present a major league sport, like the NFL, that fans have to watch live with all the commercials to see all the immediate newsworthy developments, instead of an entertainment show, like “The Big Bang Theory,” that they can wait and watch on their DVR any time they’re in the mood for a few laughs, skipping the commercials.

For me, though, the must-see choice was Monday Night Football, and the storyline whether the Carolina Panthers, who had run off five straight wins, could prove they were a serious contender against the best competition they had faced all year, and a team who had their own reputation to defend in the New England Patriots.

I could wait to see Triple H and Stephanie McMahon prove how competent they were, at least on camera, in comparison to the simpering Brad Maddox and the weak-kneed Vickie Guerrero last week until later.

As it turned out, though, the Panthers-Patriots match-up, and particularly its controversial finish, had a lot more to do with what draws money in pro wrestling than a Monday Night Raw that featured a botched game of musical chairs, a bunch of non-sequitur country music plugs, complete show stoppage for a poorly mic’d country-pop band, and the long-awaited-by-nobody announcement that they’re going back to useless celebrity hosts. (The first one up is the most over-exposed man on all of television, Michael Strahan.)

If you haven’t heard, the game unfolded much like a well-booked pro wrestling main event, with the veteran champion trying to hold on against the popular new contender to their crown. The teams were personified in their leaders—The Patriots, arguably the greatest NFL team of this era, led by the glamorously easy to hate Tom Brady—and the Panthers, newly coming into their own with a stud athlete in Cam Newton who was either, right before your eyes on Monday Night, going to prove himself as a main event talent or fall into I Told You So status, that status tied to the team and city he now personified.

Like in a big fight—in front of a raucous, hungry, sold-out stadium, a real hottest-ticket-in-town—the challenger struck first, the champion retaliated, and the champion left the challenger to make a career-making-or-breaking game-winning drive in the final minutes of the game.

That Cam Newton is exactly like a cocky new pro wrestling superstar isn’t news. That he, in not his seventh but the third year of his pro career, delivered the goods and took his team to the end zone with less than a minute remaining on the big stage in the biggest game in his career, and the biggest regular season game in recent franchise history, elevated his career, and no take-backs allowed.

Storybook, except the drama was hardly finished.

Tom Brady, as precise as a bullet between the eyes, backed by a Cerebral Assassin every bit the control freak Triple H is, and as efficient as Triple H isn’t, had less than a minute and all three time-outs to make his deadly point about who was and wasn’t the main event. The newly strong Carolina Panthers defense did everything it could, but Brady cold-bloodedly took his team inexorably, no wasted motion, to the last second finish that ESPN would love and Panthers fans were dreading.

And boy, what a finish. Seconds left. One chance, win or lose. Brady throws exactly where and to whom the Carolina Panthers expected—to NFL Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski in the back of the end zone.

Interception. Game over. Pandemonium in Charlotte.

But wait….

There’s a flag. Video replay shows Gronkowski being screened off illegally just as the ball is intercepted. It means the Patriots will get one more play to win the game—at the one yard line. The state of North Carolina has its collective heart in its throat.

And then the referee picks up the flag and the game is over. More Pandemonium. Brady leaves the field yelling at the refs. Every sports show in the country is parsing the controversy.

Panther fans (and Patriot haters) are ecstatic. The paranoid Patriots and their fans want revenge. Cam Newton has arrived as the most valuable thing in sports—the great new quarterback. Tom Brady still has it, and so do the Patriots. Everybody wants to see the rematch, except on an even bigger stage.

You couldn’t book a better ending for future business.

Actually, you can. Pro wrestling can book storylines with the same high stakes sports structure as the NFL, to similar positive emotional and financial effect.

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