This isn't your father's Goldberg

Goldberg's road to becoming a wrestler was weird (5:22)

Goldberg sits down with Jeremy Schaap to talk about his career in the NFL, how he came up in the business of wrestling, his upcoming match with Brock Lesnar at Survivor Series and how WWE 2K17 helped spark his return. (5:22)

When tasked to describe the character he's attempting to play in his return to WWE after 12 years removed, Bill Goldberg couldn't help but smile from ear to ear.

"At the end of the day, at 49 years old, it's realistic to believe that a Terminator has a heart," Goldberg told ESPN.com. "[WWE] gave me the ability to be myself. They gave me the ability to eloquently [speak] my appreciation of the fans and show how appreciative I am to be given the opportunity to make a difference."

No, this isn't your father's Goldberg, the man who rose to prominence behind a storyline unbeaten streak with WCW in the late 1990s and who walked away from the WWE on his own terms in 2004 after one year. And this doesn't quite sound like the outspoken actor and mixed martial arts practitioner who wasn't afraid to speak his mind in the years immediately after his pro wrestling retirement.

The man Goldberg is today -- a father, husband and philanthropist -- is much different altogether, admittedly reshaped through maturity and perspective.

Goldberg recently patched what had become a rocky post-wrestling relationship with WWE when he signed on to be a downloadable character on the WWE 2K17 video game. The experience led to further discussions, which culminates in his main event match against Brock Lesnar on Sunday at WWE Survivor Series in Toronto.

The bout is a rematch of their largely forgettable meeting at WrestleMania XX in 2004, when both superstars were booed out of Madison Square Garden due to the crowd's knowledge that each was set to leave the company.

Goldberg admits he has a lot more to lose than gain in terms of his legacy in coming back, noting the difficulty of a nearly 50-year-old man doing justice to a muscular, intimidating character who is so reliant upon intimidation.

His motivation, however, is twofold, and he says it has nothing to do with repairing portions of his legacy, including his underwhelming first run with WWE, or changing the perception created through shoot interviews by some of his ex-peers that he never loved the business and was difficult to work with.

It's the opportunity to play a superhero for his wife, Wanda, and 10-year-old son, Gage -- neither of whom have seen him wrestle -- that Goldberg was unable to pass up. The mere mention of his son's reaction upon hearing the news of his return brought instant tears to his eyes.

"As a father, you want the best for your son, quite obviously," Goldberg said. "You want to create the best memories for your son. To be able to be given this opportunity -- originally by 2K and now by WWE -- to come back and be that guy, I could never repay them as far as my appreciation. I'm the coolest dad in the world, and they gave me the opportunity to do that."

The other reason for his return has more to do with the message he is looking to deliver.

Goldberg has always played the role of babyface, but one with a hard edge of physicality and an unwillingness to be pushed around (both inside the scripted realm and behind the scenes). And when he looks back to the prime of his career, hindsight and wisdom have helped him uncover a bit of regret.

"I look back upon my times when more people were listening to what I had to say, and I didn't say enough," he said.

The idea of being a true role model for children may sound like it's straight out of the Hulk Hogan handbook from the 1980s, but it's something Goldberg takes very seriously. It's why he has taken the time to stop and briefly connect with as many children as possible in the front row of live events at each of his recent appearances on Raw.

The platform of Goldberg's message is a recommitment to basic manners like "yes, sir" and "no, sir," "please" and "thank you," and opening the door for women.

"If I ever see one of you guys out there not doing that stuff, I'm going to call you on it," Goldberg said. "It won't be a Jackhammer [coming your way], it will be a punch. Honestly, those are the simple basics in life. Everything emanates from the basics, from your base. If you don't have a strong base, I'm sorry, but you are always going to be coming back to it, trying to reattain.

"I believe in the simple things in life; everything derives from the beginning. You take things very simplistically and try to be the best person you can be. If I can touch one or two kids in this next generation who haven't seen me do my thing, then I'm way ahead."

Goldberg calls his WWE return a "one-time thing" and isn't willing, at this point, to entertain the idea of continuing on toward WrestleMania 33 next April. Part of his reluctance surrounds how big of a critic he is regarding his own work.

In fact, the perfectionist within Goldberg was particularly upset with the brief spill he took inside the ring while delivering a knee to the face of Rusev during an Oct. 31 appearance on Raw.

"When I fell on my ass on the ground, it felt like s---," Goldberg said. "The deal is that I hold myself to an extremely high standard, and it's a standard that can never be ... it's unattainable. But it drives me to be the very best in everything I do."

Goldberg isn't expecting to have a five-star classic with Lesnar from a technical standpoint, but he promises plenty of hard-hitting violence. While the showman in Goldberg has talked publicly in recent weeks about putting Lesnar in the hospital, his real-life expectations are that he'll probably be sitting in the bed right next to him when all is said and done.

"I was stiff before he was stiff, so you remember that," Goldberg said. "And I'm not proud of that but ... I'm proud of that. I don't have a problem with being stiff. As a matter of fact, that's why I went to Japan to wrestle [in 2002]. I enjoy it much more. I think it's much more realistic to the mixed martial arts aspect of it."

Asked what success looks like for him on Sunday, Goldberg said it goes beyond getting his hand raised inside the ring. That part -- the scripted winning and losing -- has never bothered him.

"My life is not predicated upon being the winner -- it's about the journey," he said. "It's about the legacy that you leave, the impression that you leave. There are a lot of things that I have to attain.

"At the end of the day, if I come away with nothing other than the smiles on my wife and son's face, I'm Santa Claus ... or Hanukkah Harry!"