Dolph Ziggler had already worked for seven hours. His day was stuffed with a precise itinerary that had been planned and honed for months. If ever he needed a moment to take five, this was not going to be it, because afterward, his real job was about to begin with another performance at SmackDown Live.
Ziggler understands the grind as well as anyone in the business, but on this occasion, he didn't mind putting in the overtime. It was the annual Tribute for the Troops extravaganza (airing Thursday, 8 p.m. ET on USA), and Ziggler knew how important it was for not only the soldiers, but for himself and the WWE to be a part of the event.
"The other WWE stars, we were constantly texting each other all day long to see who's doing what, and where we are going," Ziggler recently told ESPN.com. "Who's going in a helicopter and who's shooting guns. It's just a fun day for us, just to give back to those men and women."
Ziggler called this year's experience "amazing." He ran into one soldier who regaled him with a story from seven years ago, when Dolph took on Kofi Kingston for the Intercontinental championship. And there was another member of the armed forces who was wearing Ziggler's rival high-school sweatshirt. That gave them some playful fodder.
It's the small things, those unexpected encounters and seemingly fly-by interactions that give the globetrotting treadmill that is his life some perspective.
"Hey, listen, it's actually really easy for me," Ziggler said. "I don't have a wife or kids at home. A lot of these soldiers do, and they're away from their families so much. They talk about how WWE was their family ritual -- how they'd all sit down and watch the show or go to an event. Those conversations make me realize how much they're missing everyone back home.
"That means a lot to me that our product can be what reminds them of home."
This was the 15th year the WWE has been involved in Tribute for the Troops, and according to Ziggler, each one has gotten "bigger, better and more well-thought out." What was a drive-by representation had become one of the highlights of his year.
Ziggler was in a group with three other soldiers. He said there were probably up to 20 more groups that had specific assignments on the base. Among his activities, Ziggler spent time with a mechanic responsible for ensuring engines, transmissions, gearboxes -- the guts -- of combat helicopters were running smoothly in case they're needed in a water-rescue mission. He also spoke to a handful of Navy pilots who either fly helicopters or take care of the wiring inside the cockpit.
"Pretty high-tech stuff," Ziggler said. "Sometimes the soldiers are cramped up in there, but they're still so happy to see us. Going to see them for a few minutes hopefully means a lot -- even if it's just 1 percent of what they do for us."
In his 13 years in the WWE, Ziggler believes this was his eighth or ninth appearance at Tribute to the Troops.
"There have been places I have gone where people say, 'Are you one of them wrestlers?' but really have no idea who we are. That's why I get so excited to see the troops, who know we're coming, and we're just as excited to see them."
While Ziggler did not wrestle this year, he maintained it didn't matter. It was rewarding in every way imaginable. But Ziggler will put on his wrestling tights this Sunday at Clash of Champions, where he will be involved in a triple-threat match for the U.S. title. More of a disgruntled afterthought on SmackDown for months, Ziggler has a chance to leave Boston with gold he says he deserves.
"Bobby Roode has been around a long time, but he's still new to the WWE," Ziggler said. "Baron Corbin is young and also somewhat new to the WWE, but he's picking it up really fast and is really good at what he does. And I have been around seemingly for 20 years."
Could this be the last we see of Ziggler?
He has publicly said he's contemplating walking away from the vocation he's been at for most of his professional career. While his aspirations remain the same -- to be the highlight-reel, show-stealing main-event guy, which he maintains he still is -- Ziggler has seen less TV time lately. And when he is making occasional appearances on SmackDown Live, his role has more or less been relegated to putting over other talent.
"I know how good I am," Ziggler said. "The world knows how good I am. I love doing what I do, and no one else can do what I do. Hopefully I walk out of there as champion and shove it into everyone's face one last time."
Whether he wins or ultimately leaves the business at large, Ziggler said he would still relish being a part of Tribute for the Troops moving forward.
"They're just real special people, and it's an honor even to be a small part of their day."