UCF Baseball head coach Greg Lovelady sits in his office at John Euliano Park this past Tuesday afternoon and for a moment, his usually constant laid-back attitude vanishes. His Knights have a game in a few hours versus a top-20 team and then must prepare for a weekend at UConn. Lovelady leans forward and presses his forehead against the knob of the bat in his hands. He is searching for an answer to a question but doesn't really have one.
The question: How are you going to watch WrestleMania this Sunday?
Lovelady doesn't quite know and it pains him.
The 39-year-old was also searching during WrestleMania week last year. Not for answers, but for tickets. World Wrestling Entertainment's signature event was all set to play out at Camping World Stadium and Lovelady wanted in. So, he took to Twitter to find some help.
"I was very not shy to selling my soul to figure out a way to get tickets," he said. "... I was just seriously pimping myself out to get in the building."
That Friday, T-minus two days for a miracle, UCF Baseball defeated the Houston Cougars in their conference-opening game. Lovelady said the win represented "no better way to start WrestleMania weekend." But it's how that weekend ended that really mattered. On Sunday, the day of WrestleMania, the Knights took down the Cougars again to claim the series. Then, during his postgame interview, Lovelady was handed a piece of paper. It read that he had two tickets waiting for him at the Camping World Stadium will call.
The tickets came from Brian Fritz, host of the Between The Ropes podcast and long-time UCF Knights radio network producer.
"When I heard from (play-by-play announcer) Marc Daniels that Coach was looking for tickets, I knew I had to help out, especially since he had never been to WrestleMania before," Fritz said. "It took a few calls after being shot down several times, but I had one chip I could cash in and was more than happy to do it for Coach."
Lovelady went from the field to the stadium and got the full experience of what is known as the Super Bowl of sports entertainment. He made his way through the crowds of people dressed to the very last detail like Ric Flair or Macho Man Randy Savage. He encountered a fan in a bathroom who was wearing not one, not two, but six championship belts. It's all part of the grand spectacle that is WrestleMania, and Lovelady said he's never seen anything like it. Being in attendance crossed an item off of his bucket list.
"It was just fun to see the atmosphere and all the crazy fans," Lovelady said. "I mean, I'm one of them but ..."
He is one of them, but Lovelady does find himself in a small state of disbelief whenever he calls himself a die-hard wrestling fan. He knows that people might not understand his fandom, but it's been with him since he was 6 years old and watching "Saturday Night Main Event" on NBC.
Lovelady was a fan of Hulk Hogan and Junkyard Dog, but his favorites were the tag team known as The Rock 'n' Roll Express. He recalls going over to a friend's house where there was an L-shaped couch with long back cushions.
"They were probably 3 or 4 feet tall but were the perfect size for us. They were like our size so we could pretend that they were wrestlers," he said. "I remember going into the bathroom and tying toilet paper around my legs and my arms like the Rock 'n' Roll Express, and we were the Rock 'n' Roll Express."
As the then-WWF progressed into its Attitude Era in the late-90s, Lovelady went from rooting for the Rock 'n' Roll Express to sort of looking like The Rock. At least, his long sideburns while playing baseball at the University of Miami were partially inspired by The Rock, a fellow Miami alum. But "The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment" wasn't Lovelady's top guy despite the Miami connection.
"In college, Stone Cold was my guy."
And all of his teammates knew it. Unfortunately.
In 2001, Lovelady's senior season, the Hurricanes had a layover in Dallas on their way to the College World Series. Suddenly, just as the team was getting on the plane, a few of the players told Lovelady that they saw Austin, a Texas native, about 15-18 gates away.
Greg Lovelady had a decision to make: Get on that plane or go chase down the man whose theme song doubles as Lovelady's walk-up music.
The decision was made in no time: "I told the coach, 'I'll be on the plane.' And I went running."
He sprinted as fast as a catcher possibly could through the Dallas airport, searching frantically for "The Rattlesnake." One problem: He was nowhere to be found.
"I was looking around and was like, 'I'm going to miss the flight to Omaha.'"
Lovelady scours for as long as he can before he has to hustle back to his gate. He's the last player to board and when he makes it to the aisleway, he sees his teammates laughing hysterically.
"I get on and go, 'He wasn't there.' And they are all like, 'He wasn't there. We knew he wasn't there.'"
Lovelady's quest to get closer to those in WWE continued when he was a head coach at Wright State University. Whenever WWE came to host a show on campus, they would hold their executive meetings in conference rooms that resided between Lovelady's office and a bathroom down the hall. Lovelady would make the commute to that bathroom more than he ever needed only because he wanted to catch an inconspicuous glimpse of possibly Triple H or one of the McMahons. He said he saw either Pat Patterson or Gerald Brisco in that bathroom one time. Lovelady kept his giddiness silent then, but he remembers thinking to himself, "Oh, my God, this is awesome!," said in a tone as if he is trying to scream and whisper at the same time.
Now that he's at UCF, Lovelady isn't just close to wrestling; he gets a lot of the inside scoop since one of his best friends in Orlando happens to be a former wrestler. Bill DeMott, who performed in WCW and WWF/E from 1995-2004, coaches Lovelady's sons in Little League Baseball. After games, all of the kids and their parents will often head out to eat together. In this group of 50-plus people, Lovelady always finds himself next to DeMott in order to pick his brain on what it's like to be a wrestler behind the lights and cameras.
"I'm intrigued by all the backstage stuff, I love it," Lovelady said. "Just to know what the life is like and how it runs and kind of the culture."
And a part of him would like to feel what the life is like, too. He keeps telling DeMott that he wants to receive his finishing move, an acrobatic maneuver DeMott called "No Laughing Matter" when he was wrestling under the ring name of Hugh Morris. Lovelady said although "it's going to hurt like crazy," getting that moment on video and posting it to YouTube would be one of the coolest things he has ever done.
There are only a few current Knights who are WWE fans -- Lovelady mentioned Max Wood and Jackson Webb -- but seeing a head coach willfully get squashed by a flipping 360-pound man -- and loving every second of it -- could be quite the recruiting tool.
Even though Lovelady is a married father of two, that kid who used to tie toilet paper around his limbs still shines through whenever you talk to him about wrestling. And he's becoming more open about his love for it (Roman Reigns, Dolph Ziggler and Daniel Bryan are just a few of his current favorites). He also wears that love before every Sunday home game at UCF. Lovelady's wife, Lindsay, bought him three retro wrestling T-shirts for Christmas in 2016. His collection grew by one this past Christmas when first-year assistant coach and fellow WWE lover Ted Tom bought him a Shawn Michaels/WrestleMania tee.
"I was like, 'Where did you get this?' So I went on and bought five more," Lovelady says with satisfaction.
He then pulls up the website where he bought those shirts and immediately sees that some brand-new, limited-time-price wrestling tees have just surfaced on the site: "Dammit, now I'm going to have to buy this one."
These shirts are now part of a rotation, and Lovelady picks one to wear to John Euliano Park before each Sunday home game. So, prior to next Sunday's matchup against Cincinnati, just know that the head coach of the home team showed up for work wearing a shirt bearing the face of maybe Sting or Mankind.
For the opening game of that series, this Friday, UCF will hold '90s Wrestling Knight at the park. Lovelady said they are trying to get "someone" special to show up, but nothing has been finalized. Lovelady will always do whatever he can to attend a major WWE show in Orlando, most likely with his sons, Noah and Gavin. But as far as his involvement in Friday night's festivities goes, there is a line that his fandom can't cross: "No, I've got a job to do."
The same holds true today as the Knights are currently trying to win an American Athletic Conference road series versus Connecticut. But when the team is back on the bus headed to the airport, Lovelady will make sure his phone is charged and ready to stream the WWE Network for tonight's WrestleMania. On the plane, Lovelady said he is praying that JetBlue's Wi-Fi works. It's another WrestleMania Sunday prayer -- albeit it a smaller one -- that he hopes will be answered.
Black and Gold Banneret's Eric Lopez contributed to this story.