George Kittle’s WWE, wrestling fandom shows fire in 49ers tight end

Stephanie McMahon/Twitter

George Kittle’s WWE, wrestling fandom shows fire in 49ers tight end

SANTA CLARA – George Kittle’s love for wrestling became well-known last Sunday after the 49ers tight end ran out of a postgame news conference to attend a live WWE show.

He’s not just a huge fan, though. His ideas for how to improve ratings could land Kittle in the industry when he eventually decides to hang up his football cleats.

“I think the script is a little messed up right now,” Kittle said this week of the WWE. “They said they were going to fix it, and I believe them. I'm looking forward to see what they do. You have Dean Ambrose back, and his feud with Seth Rollins is great.”

“One of my favorite things is when I see guys flying out of the ring 24-7. Ladders matches, stuff like that. I love when there's not a single second of down time. Everyone getting pushed, fight, fight, fight, fall out of the ring, and the next guy comes in. He falls out, next guy comes in. It’s like a rotation of six guys.”

Kittle’s current favorite performer is Rollins, with whom he shares a common history in Iowa. In fact, Kittle’s Twitter profile picture is from a visit to Rollins' wrestling school, Black and Brave, in Davenport, Iowa.

Don’t worry, 49ers fans: Per his NFL contract, Kittle isn’t allowed to take any hits or falls off the football field. He still did learn enough to deliver a “stunner,” which is what his profile picture shows.

“Yeah,” Kittle explained, “I’m not allowed to really do anything. I obviously can’t get hurt.”

Kittle unfortunately didn’t make it into the SAP Center crowd in time last week to see Rollins face off with Ambrose, but he watched it backstage on the television monitors. The event was scheduled to start at the same time the 49ers’ game against the Seattle Seahawks hit the fourth quarter, but when that stretched into overtime, it messed up Kittle’s timeline.

Kittle and 49ers teammate Earl Mitchell, a fellow wrestling fan, did make it into the crowd for the “Tables, Ladders and Chairs” main event of Becky Lynch, Charlotte Flair and Asuka, which Kittle enthusiastically described as “absolutely insane.”

Other favorite Kittle moments of the evening: Meeting Stephanie McMahon and Triple H backstage. Daniel Bryan being thrown into a wall, close enough to give Kittle a fist bump. And seeing Lynch jump off a ladder onto Flair -- and going through a table in the process.

“It was pretty epic. It was super cool,” Kittle said. “That was one of the most fun times I’ve had watching a women’s match because they killed it. They did a lot better than a lot of other things I’ve seen. Definitely the best main event I’ve seen in a long time.”

Flair is a close second favorite of Kittle’s, behind Rollins.

“She does things that no one else does,” he said. “She does a moonsault from the top rope to the ground. That's awesome.”

Kittle was a late-developing wrestling fan. An Iowa teammate, George Manders, knew Kittle wasn’t a big fan and “made” him start watching older matches during the summer before his junior year. They would stream anywhere from two to four hours of matches every day.

That’s when Kittle got hooked. 

[RELATED: Kittle's breakout season earns him a Pro Bowl spot]

It started with Ric Flair promos, then matches with Macho Man Randy Savage, The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin. They watched the origination and development of the characters and storylines. They consumed so many wrestling videos that Kittle had data overage fees for three months straight.

But Kittle’s love for wrestling goes beyond the WWE. He’s also a fan of Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro-Wrestling, which has combined for a super show called War of the Worlds. More non-stop wrestling action in the ring, like what you see in those shows, is what Kittle believes could give the WWE a needed ratings boost.

WWE's flagship show, Raw, had its lowest viewership ratings in 25 years in October. It has yet to regain its audience. In contrast, Kittle described what makes Ring of Honor shows so exciting.

“The fast-paced stuff is what really interests me,” Kittle said. “… In Ring of Honor, they have guys that do 25-minute matches, but they feel like 5 minutes because there is so much stuff going on. You're just like, 'Oh my goodness. This is incredible.’ ”

While stories need to be developed and new characters introduced in wrestling, Kittle believes more championship matches also would get wrestling fans interested in the WWE again.

“I hate it when there is a champion that doesn’t wrestle every week,” Kittle said. “Brock Lesnar wrestles maybe three times a year. I think that’s kind of hard for fans to watch because you’re not really a champion if you don’t wrestle.

“A championship match. That’s what really excites me.”

Kittle and the 49ers hope they’ll make it to their own championship match in the coming years. That would excite wrestling and NFL fans alike.

D.J. Jones could not be happier with marriage of football and personal life


D.J. Jones could not be happier with marriage of football and personal life

SANTA CLARA -- The town of Scooba, Mississippi, with a population 700 is a long way from -- and, at the same time, tantalizingly close to -- college football’s premier conference.

D.J. Jones found himself in the small town, home to East Mississippi Community College, after his grades in high school prevented him from going somewhere in the SEC or any other four-year school.

Jones said on The 49ers Insider Podcast that he was 110 percent disappointed in himself that he ended up at the junior college that would later become the setting for the Netflix series “Last Chance U.”

However, while at East Mississippi, the school won the national championship and sent many star athletes into the NCAA Division I ranks.

But it certainly was not by choice that Jones ended up at a junior college.

“I felt like I let my entire city down,” Jones said of Greenville, South Carolina. “I felt like I let my parents down. And most of all, I let myself down. But as time went by, all the accolades started coming.”

Jones turned the negative into a positive, becoming one of the top prospects in the country and earning a scholarship to Ole Miss.

“It’s make or break,” Jones said. “Either you decide to step up and get on your academics, which was my issue, or you continue to do what you did and you go to the streets or end up in jail or you don’t amount to anything.

“I feel like junior college was the perfect place for me coming out of high school. It got me to where I am.”

The 49ers selected Jones in the sixth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Jones worked his way into the starting lineup late last season, and he has been a key component in the 49ers’ base defense this season as the starting nose tackle.

The 24-year-old was in the middle of two tackles at the goal line during the 49ers’ first-half defensive stand against the Los Angeles Rams in San Francisco's 20-7 win on Sunday. But, mostly, his job is to take care of business on the early downs and watch his teammates get after the quarterback in passing situations.

Jones said he believes the new attacking approach of defensive line coach Kris Kocurek has paid dividends for all of the team’s defensive linemen.

“It’s a show on third down, to be honest,” Jones said. “Dee Ford, (Nick) Bosa, Buck (DeForest Buckner) and (Arik) Armstead, they’re freaks of nature. Those four guys are scary coming at you, coming at the quarterback, collapsing the pocket the way they do.

“But I couldn’t be happier with the guys that we got and what we do on first down to get to third down.”

Jones also could not be happier with the meshing of football and his personal life.

Just hours before the 49ers’ game last week on "Monday Night Football," he proposed marriage to his girlfriend Kayla Fannin on the 49ers’ sideline in front of his family and her family. Jones said the idea to propose at Levi’s Stadium was a result of discussions with Austin Moss -- the 49ers’ director of player engagement -- and teammate Solomon Thomas.

“I’ve loved the football field from a young age,” Jones said. “I fell in love with the field. And I fell in love with her. So I felt like I had to do it right then and there.”

[RELATED: Shanahan not allowing 49ers to feel like they've arrived]

Jones said he could not drop a knee and propose before an ordinary Sunday game. Kayla's father is a pastor who has never missed a church service.

While the members of both families traveled to the Bay Area on the Saturday before the game, Jones’ future father-in-law flew in on Monday.

“We understood that he didn’t want to miss church,” Jones said. “I needed him to be here. I asked him for her hand a couple months ago. He said, ‘Yes,’ so I knew he had to be here. And he wanted to be here, so I’m glad he made it. I’m glad everybody kept it a secret.”

Kyle Shanahan wants to wear Jimmie Ward's jersey after 49ers' big win

Kyle Shanahan wants to wear Jimmie Ward's jersey after 49ers' big win

Kyle Shanahan is one of the few high-profile members of the 49ers who doesn't wear a uniform on Sundays, but if he had it his way, he'd be just like everyone else.

Well, actually, just someone else.

"We love Jimmie [Ward]," Shanahan said at his Monday press conference. "I'd wear his jersey on the sideline if I could."

Shanahan has long been a fan of the versatile defensive back, but he had extra reason to praise Ward after he was heavily involved in stifling the Rams' offense in a decisive 49ers win Sunday. He was credited with six solo tackles -- only linebacker Kwon Alexander had more -- and two crucial fourth-quarter pass deflections.

"I love his mentality, I love watching him play," Shanahan continued. "He's had some unfortunate things with just not being able to stay healthy, but when he is healthy, he is one of the better players. You guys see what he does. He plays extremely physical out there. He's not scared of anything, he's not scared to fail. He challenges guys in coverage and it's been fun having him out there these two weeks."

For all of the grief Ward has received throughout his career, it was never for a lack of talent.

They say the most important ability is availability, and that's the one area where Ward has significantly struggled, though often due to no fault of his own. He appeared in just 16 of 32 games over the last two seasons combined, and sat out the first four weeks of the current campaign recovering from a broken finger.

Ward was absent from the injury report for the first time all season heading into the matchup with the Rams, so perhaps it's no surprise he came through with his best performance in years, according to Pro Football Focus.

In the two games that Ward has appeared, San Francisco has allowed 10 total points and limited Baker Mayfield and Jared Goff to a combined 21-of-46 passing for 178 yards and zero touchdowns while intercepting two passes. Certainly, that can't all be attributed to Ward's presence, as the defensive line continues to wreak havoc, but his impact can't be discounted altogether.

[RELATED: 49ers bigger Week 7 favorites than any road game in years]

The 49ers have long maintained that Ward is a key defensive building block -- if he can just stay healthy.

He's healthy now, and clearly, San Francisco is better for it.