San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle has a lot of fans. He’s the kind of player a lot of young NFL fanatics look up to. From his days proving his worth among a crowded TE core at the University of Iowa, to emerging as a two-time Pro Bowler in the NFL, what’s not to like?
Kittle knows the feeling. He grew up idolizing his own set of athletes. But they weren’t all NFL players. And the deeply emotional connection he feels to them to this day was revealed recently on an episode of ESPN’s First Take.
How George Kittle met his idol Stone Cold Steve Austin
George Kittle is a lifelong wrestling fan. He drops hints of the depth of his fandom regularly in interviews.
His habit of seizing every opportunity to compare his NFL workload to the gleefully over-the-top action of a WWE match is one of his more lovable quirks. And there’s one wrestler in particular who he namedrops more often than any other: Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Austin’s in-ring character was a beer-swilling, musclebound hero. His magnetic personality made kids like Kittle love him, while his gruff-but-heartfelt style gave him crossover appeal to adult wrestling fans.
His cartoonish habit of crushing beers open and sloppily sucking down the contents was iconic. And his underdog appeal, that made him more than a gimmick, was exemplified in his regular heartfelt speeches about the plight of hardworking Americans.
Kittle’s affection for Austin is a well-known fact, so the First Take crew leaped on a quirk of their booking to weave together a wonderful moment of live television.
According to Sports Illustrated, the hosts wrapped an interview with a softball question about Kittle’s longtime interest in following WWE. As he effusively praised Austin as his all-time favorite wrestler, the man himself appeared on the screen for a chat.
George Kittle isn’t shy about his lifelong wrestling fandom
Kittle barely skipped a beat during his first conversation with his childhood idol, except to take a few pauses where he simply said “wow” as his mind seemed to process who he was speaking to.
The pair made plans to meet up in person eventually and share some beers, USA Today reports. For Kittle, it was likely a dream come true.
The Niners’ TE became a fan of Austin’s from watching the famed Attitude era of WWE programming. It was the same chunk of edgy late ’90s to early 2000s content that produced superstars like Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson.
According to ESPN, Kittle is deeper into wrestling than that much-praised WWE run, however. His quirky “Ciero Miedo” first-down celebration comes from an up-and-coming luchador wrestler that Kittle caught live at independent wrestling shows back in 2018.
Why it’s important to see current athletes meet their personal heroes
It’s crucial to see moments like the one between Kittle and Austin, because too often we forget that athletes are human beings first. They grew up without any guarantees, rather than fully forming into the seemingly superhuman stars they are today. They found their inspiration across sports, as simple fans, just like us.
When MLB player Michael A. Taylor ran into one Hank Aaron in the Atlanta Braves’ weight room, according to the Washington Post, he was nearly struck dumb.
Then he experienced the easy, mild manners of his hero, the one-time home run king. Sharing the story later, it’s clear Taylor intends to pass that same grace down to other young players as he ages.
For George Kittle, it’s about spreading the joy he feels watching wrestling to an NFL fan base that might not be plugged into the pastime at all. He is willing to be gleeful, and to show deference to wrestlers despite his own, more mainstream stardom with the Niners.
That enthusiasm is infectious, and the respect he demonstrates to these fellow athletes — despite the technically non-competitive nature of wrestling — is an incredibly positive signal to send into the sports world.