George Kittle loves him some professional wrestling. The former Iowa tight end turned San Francisco 49ers superstar celebrates first downs with a tribute to his favorite wrestler and rubs elbows with the superstars of the sport in his free time.

And who would blame or mock him for that? He’s still a young guy, and I’m willing to bet most of you reading this took in the spectacle as a kid, a teen-ager, a young adult. Maybe you still tune in. No judgment here.

Admit it, there’s more than a little overlap between pro wrestling and big time football. Some men have done both. In each sport, large, highly skilled athletes put their bodies in danger performing spectacular feats for our entertainment. Many will pay a price for that later in life. It’s important for them to know how to fall and land correctly, so some of their movements are choreographed. (Though football players, we hope, stop short of mapping it out with the opponent beforehand.)

The referee sometimes seems to be on the take or, at best, incompetent. In most matches, someone heroically overcomes adversity and/or suffers a great tragedy or affront. Some contests, whether or purpose or not, work as comic relief. As a fan, if it doesn’t go your guy’s way, you can tune in next Saturday — when maybe, just maybe, the result will be different. But probably not.

Anyway, in honor of Kittle and because this season can certainly use a little nonsense and fun, I’m going to offer up a wrestler to match each B1G football program.

But first, a few disclaimers:

  • I am a Penn State grad and fan, so my assessment of the personality of the other 13 programs is from an outsider’s perspective. If my choice insults you, if you feel like I’m body-slamming your team, just figuratively throw salt in my eyes and then hit me with a foreign object. Or a steel chair. Then we’ll have a beer and a laugh together in the dressing room.
  • I’m old. My wrestling fandom spanned the 1970s and ’80s. I worked in a few more recent wrestlers, but not many. Obviously, you can take this idea and have some fun making your own list.
  • Pro wrestling of the vintage I watched was low-brow drama. I assume it still is. In retrospect, much of it was highly offensive. But when you’re 8, it’s just fun. In comparing B1G teams to wrestlers, I’m using mostly the character, the gimmick, maybe a little of the guy’s real-life story if it’s known. This is a light-hearted exercise. I’m picking wrestlers based on their ring personality. Any socially inappropriate storylines they may have participated in are not part of my comparison to B1G programs. You mileage my vary. Void where prohibited. Hulk Hogan’s leg drop was a lame finisher.

With all that said, if you, like Kittle, can’t wait to get to the wrestling venue, let’s do this. Wooooo.

Illinois: Ric Flair

Some folks consider Flair the best wrestler of all time, and WWE billed him as a champion quite often. So this isn’t a perfect fit. But others consider Flair an overrated clown. He’s probably somewhere in between.

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His most celebrated ability was taking a bump and selling it — i.e. getting knocked for a loop to make an opponent look good. The Illini (0-2) mirror Flair minus the shenanigans that allowed the Nature Boy to escape defeat more often than not.

Indiana: Marty Jannetty

Jannetty was the weak link of the tag team known as The Rockers, kinda like IU football takes a back seat, historically, to the Hoosiers’ hoops program. Together, Jannetty and Shawn Michaels counted as a solid combination. But Michaels was the show. As put it: Jannetty is extremely fortunate that he was able to spend a bit of time teaming with arguably the greatest in-ring performer of all time. Miss you, Coach Knight.

Iowa: Big E

Currently with the WWE, Big E may be better known to Iowa fans as Ettore Ewen, a defensive lineman for the Hawkeyes who saw playing time as a sophomore in 2006. Like the Hawkeyes when things are going well, Big E relies not so much on a gimmick as on raw power.

Maryland: Mick Foley aka Mankind

Foley made a living getting the absolute crap kicked out of him on a regular basis. He regularly volunteered to fall off ladders, platforms, scaffolding, cages. He’d deliberately cut open his own forehead. At times the act could be highly entertaining and athletic, ala Maryland opening last season with 142 points in its first 2 games and stunning Minnesota in overtime last weekend.

But Foley’s bread and butter was taking a beating, ala Maryland’s 1-9 finish last year (the “1” was Rutgers, which explains why Maryland gets to be Foley and Rutgers is … well, you’ll see).

Michigan: Macho Man Randy Savage

Savage was known to be extremely jealous of other wrestlers and think he was better than he really was. Remind you of anyone? Yes, we’re referencing you, Jim Harbaugh. Much of the rest of the league sees you this way, and many Wolverines fans probably turned on you after the loss to MSU if they hadn’t already. Oooh, yeahhhhh???

Michigan State: Jake the Snake Roberts

The Spartans were looking like George The Animal Steele after their hairy-back-ugly opening loss to Rutgers. But Jake the Snake seems a more fitting comparison after Saturday’s upset of Michigan.

Roberts could make things terribly uncomfortable in the ring, sometimes for opponents, sometimes for his fans. Battling personal demons, he sometimes entered the arena looking woefully unprepared. But other times he ruined an opponent’s run, much as the Spartans venomously spoiled the Wolverines’ season.

Minnesota: Bob Backlund

He was the clean-cut, goody two-shoes champion of my youth. He’s PJ Fleck’s kind of guy, a promoter of outworking the opponent, wholesome motivational speeches and fairytale endings. Unlike Vince McMahon, though, I don’t see the powers that control the B1G allowing Minnesota to reign as champion for an extended period. Maybe a West title here and there?

Nebraska: Randy The Ram Robinson

Randy The Ram is the main character of the 2008 movie The Wrestler. The film tells the story of an aging former champion trying to recapture that glory but finding that time and circumstances are not on his side. Kinda like the Huskers since joining the B1G. The Ram fights the losing battle with some level of dignity, and fans can’t help but respect him.

Northwestern: Raven

It’s the obvious angle. Raven is the “smart” choice, as he’s reportedly a member of Mensa. He didn’t play up the brainiac thing in the ring, though. He hung tough both in victory and while absorbing punishment.

Ohio State: John Cena

Cena looks great, wins a lot, and seems to succeed in everything he tries. It’s kind of annoying for everyone who isn’t John Cena. Per Wikipedia, Cena started his ring career in the Buckeye State with Ohio Valley Wrestling. Quickly, he moved up and his persona evolved into “a clean-cut ‘Superman-like’ hero. He then led the company as its franchise player and its public face for the next decade.” Ohio State’s run is looking like a multi-decade thing. 

Penn State: Chief Jay Strongbow

Chief Jay was good, but rarely No. 1 in the pecking order. He stuck around for a long time, endearing himself to fans with a story of proud heritage and a proud demeanor in the ring. He was a master of the late rally. Alas, his story was a bit oversold — maybe a bit too pure. Luke Joseph Scarpa was actually an Italian-American (maybe JoePa was a fan?), not a Native American.

Purdue: Jimmy Superfly Snuka

Snuka, like the Purdue offense, didn’t spend much time on the ground. He took to the top rope and launched himself skyward almost from the opening bell, overwhelming opponents from above. Under coach Jeff Brohm, Purdue runs the ball significantly less than any other B1G team. But, man, with receivers Rondale Moore and David Bell, the Boilermakers sure can put opponents’ lights out from above.

Rutgers: Iron Mike Sharpe

On at least one wrestling aficionado’s list, Sharpe ranks as the No. 1 jobber of all time. A jobber is a wrestler who loses for a paycheck, but well enough to stick around. Rutgers will shake this rap if it can build off of its humiliation of Michigan State, but the Scarlet Knights are still 8-46 all-time in the B1G at this point.

Wisconsin: Andre the Giant

Andre stayed on the ground. Like the Badgers, he plowed over opponents, backed up, and plowed them again. Like Andre, Wisconsin linemen will pancake block you and lay on you. They telegraph it and do it in slow motion, and there’s still nothing you can do. If you’re really good, you may beat them with acrobatics. But no one beats them at their own game.