It took about a year and a half for Brian Shields to research and write his latest book, "30 Years of WrestleMania." But, the lifelong wrestling fan said, in some ways it feels like "I feel as I was working on it my whole life."
Shields, who grew up in Rockville Centre, still remembers vividly sitting on his grandmother's couch watching "in tears" as Andre The Giant yanked the crucifix off of Hulk Hogan's neck and challenged him to a match at WrestleMania III in 1987.
"Now after so many years and still being a fan of what takes place on my television, my mind is flooded with these moments," Shields said of the lore of WrestleMania - "an event that started out as a one-time experiment on a Sunday afternoon in Madison Square Garden in 1985. Today, it's a global destination."
Shields, who has authored or co-authored several books for WWE and DK Publishing, including two editions of the WWE Encyclopedia, was approached by WWE in May of 2013 about penning a book celebrating three decades of WrestleMania.
"That's one of those dream scenarios, where I can't say 'yes' fast enough," said Shields.
Shields conducted more than 75 interviews for the book, including with key WWE office personnel, past and current wrestlers, and WrestleMania celebrities, such as Donald Trump, Mike Tyson and Joan Rivers.
"One of the great parts about working with WWE and DK as a writer is that when you need something, you get it, whether that's video footage, reference material, or going through photo archives," said Shields, recalling several trips to WWE's warehouse in Stamford, Connecticut, to comb through WrestleMania artifacts. "It's one of those things where it really is a comfort, as a writer, knowing that if you need something, it's a phone call away."
Shields said one of his most valuable resources was longtime WWE executive Basil Devito, who authored WWE's last WrestleMania-themed coffee table book, WrestleMania: The Official Insider's Story. Shields remembers rushing to the Carle Place Barnes and Noble in 2001 to pick it up.
"I had so many questions for him, and he could not have been more gracious with his time," Shields said of DeVito. "He was the first marketing professional that was hired by Vince and Linda McMahon months after the first WrestleMania . . . I mean, this was someone who was at the front lines, as far as creating and expanding the foundation of WrestleMania in those early days, through the Attitude era."
More than just a historical record of match results and photos, Shields said "30 Years of WrestleMania" offers never-before-heard stories from key WWE players on what it's taken over the years to put "The Showcase of the Immortals" together, and why, in some instances, those efforts fell short.
"In the WrestleMania 2 chapter, we talk very candidly about the logistical challenges and the technology that was required to do essentially a three-site live event," Shields said. "And for WrestleMania VIII, one of the things that I think fans of a certain age range . . . will enjoy is that there's something in there that discusses the unanswered question: Why the match between Hulk Hogan and Ric Flair never happened."
The 224-page book also has entire sections dedicated to several cherished WrestleMania traditions, from the annual Hall of Fame induction ceremony to the Undertaker's legendary winning streak to the show-stealing performances from "Mr. WrestleMania," Shawn Michaels.
Shields counts Michaels' WrestleMania 25 bout against The Undertaker as the greatest match he's ever witnessed in person. And so, when he got the call telling him that Michaels agreed to write the foreword to "30 Years of WrestleMania," Shields said he was floored.
"There's nothing bigger," Shields said. "Or better."