|Blood is thicker than water|
Photo Credit: WWE.com
It had been many years since the average WWE viewer had been exposed to Rhodes in an active capacity. He would sometimes show up for Legends spots, or to interact with his sons, but mostly he was confined to his job as a trainer at the NXT developmental facilities. Even with this absence from active duty, it took no effort at all for fans to rally behind him as they had done in his heyday. It certainly helped that the Authority made such an effective nemesis. Indeed, the McMahons, as wrestling characters, made perfect foils for the Rhodes. The McMahon family has always gleefully parading their dysfunctions in front of us, seemingly delighting in being as repellent as possible. They were, above all, utterly unbelievable.
In contrast, the acknowledged travails of the Rhodes family were relateable to many. “We're not a perfect family,” admitted Cody in a pre-Battleground interview. The family history wasn't downplayed. It was acknowledged that Dusty and Goldust hadn't had the best relationship in the past, that Dusty had been largely absent from his elder son's childhood. (Ed. note: The view never changes. - TH) And that was okay. They didn't have to pretend to be a picture-perfect family, nor did they have to play up the sometimes difficult family dynamics; they were REAL. Authenticity was always a huge part of Dusty Rhodes' appeal and success, and here he was once again offering something solid in the often unreal world of wrestling: a man trying to make amends, a father standing by his sons, a wonderful mixture of dignity and ferocity.
“Family's at stake.” Dusty said it himself in the same pre-match interview, and it was the idea of “family” – imperfect, damaged, but together – that had me with tears in my eyes from the second all three Rhodes men came out to Dusty's entrance theme, to the triumphant end when all three exited to the same theme, united and victorious. They didn't dress alike – Cody was wearing his snazzy long coat, Goldust was, well, Goldust, and Dusty was in jeans and a cowboy hat – and maybe an outsider wouldn't have been able to look at them and say “there's a family,” but there was a link between the three of them all the same.
During the match, commentary worried about whether having the aging Dusty Rhodes in one's corner would stack up against Dean Ambrose in the other. What would happen, they wondered, if Dusty had to get involved against the “damn numbers game?” They got their answer early in the match when, confronted with the Shield, Dusty calmly took off his belt and held it in a fighting stance, flanked by both his sons. Near the end of the match he leveled Ambrose with a Bionic Elbow, to tumultuous applause, before climbing into the ring, tears of pride in his eyes, to celebrate his sons' dramatic victory. It's just one of many images of Dusty Rhodes that flew through my mind when I heard of his passing – a man past his in-ring career, but as full of life, as relevant, as impactful, as he ever was.