And now what you’ve been waiting for from Bret Hart’s book, passages from the Montreal screwjob. Let’s dive right in:
He glared back at me. “I appreciate that, but I want you to know that I’m not willing to do the same thing for you.” And then he left.
Shawn Michaels said this to Bret in October in the locker room in San Jose, CA only weeks before Survivor Series. At the time, Bret claimed to have no issue with losing to Shawn but it changed in an instant with that comment.
I said, “Shawn, you just told me four days ago, in San Jose, that you’d never put me over.” Shawn brushed away his tears, sniffling. “Sometimes I say the stupidest things. I always put my foot in my own mouth.”
Vince McMahon had a “clear the air” meeting where Shawn didn’t so much apologize as much as tried to weasel his way out of what he said. What HBK likely knew at the time is that he had Vince’s full backing no matter what.
I figured I’d drop the belt to Stone Cold instead.
There were a couple of issues at play to prevent this: 1. Austin was still recovering from the SummerSlam neck injury and couldn’t work a viable match. There was no way he could carry the world title and do main event matches in his condition. 2. Vince wanted to wait until WrestleMania, presumably so it would have maximum impact.
I hesitated, but then said, “I can be late sometimes. I’ve never missed a show in fourteen years or hurt another wrestler in my career. I’ll always be on time for my match, but with Vince I’m allowed to get there at show time.” “What else?” “Injury insurance. With Vince I’m totally covered for everything.” “We’ll get you insurance. Anything else?” After a long pause I said, “That’s it.” “Done!” “Done?” “Done!”
This is the Hitman’s final negotiations with Eric Bischoff as the November 1 deadline to work out a deal approached. I’m pretty sure Bret could have told Bischoff that he wanted a 50 foot statue of himself with a 12 foot penis piercing the Confederate flag to be put in downtown Atlanta and Eric still would have said yes.
On Sunday morning, I called Vince at home. He was friendly and more than a little quick as far as I was concerned to advise me that I’d done the right thing.
Sunday, November 2, 1997. All along, Vince wanted to get out of the 20 year deal with Bret for several reasons. 1. It blew up the salary structure in the WWF since Bret now made more than twice as much as a downside guarantee as stars like Michaels. Vince worried that when the Undertaker and Austin had their deals come up, he would have to pay through the nose. 2. McMahon was looking to reduce future financial commitments because in late 1997 he started to explore a possible public offering, which eventually did happen in 1999. Getting rid of a 20 year commitment would make the books look better. 3. Vince had no real plans for Bret at this point in part because of the change in the direction of the product.
I looked him right in the eyes and said, “Tomorrow, Earl, they’re going to ask you to fuck me.” His mouth twisted and his eyes filled with tears as he promised, “I swear on my kids’ heads, I won’t do it. I’ll quit first! If they ask me to do that, I’ll tell them to go fuck themselves, Bret, I swear!”
People do and say some strange things when under duress. This Earl Hebner exchange is probably more fun when you take the quotes totally out of context.
I’ll never forget the tears in his eyes as he shook my hand.
Bret brought so many people to tears, it’s a shame he and Ric Flair were never close given the Nature Boy’s penchant for the water works.
I’ll never understand why Shawn couldn’t simply put me over, with me immediately dropping the belt to him on Raw, where a much bigger audience would see his win.
I understood this very well at the time, so I don’t know why Bret doesn’t. RAW started at 9 PM ET at that point, and WCW Nitro started at 8 PM ET. Bischoff a week earlier promised a “big announcement” on the next show. There was no reason to believe a guy who read taped results on air and had a WWF title thrown into the trash would somehow resist the urge to tell everyone on TV that he had signed his rival’s world champion.
Though Paul [Jay] had wrapped up filming in September, I’d suggested he might want to film my last match for the WWF in Canada.
Hitman Hart: Wrestling With Shadows is one of the best wrestling documentaries ever made, but it was the Montreal stuff that put it over the top. Paul Jay got one of the most famous moments in wrestling history in his documentary. Without that, it definitely doesn’t get remembered on the same level.
“The marks out there are thinking this is a shoot,” he said. “I’m going to capitalize on that. I won’t be out there commentating, and there’ll be a slew of uniformed security at ringside. I’m open to anything.”
Survivor Series 1997 was the first PPV that did not have Vince McMahon on commentary in several years. This was for obvious reasons, but he was out there in the beginning of the Hart-Michaels match as they had a crazy brawl through the crowd. I recall on message boards at the time that some people legitimately bought that Vince was there to keep things from devolving into a shoot fight. (I was posting on the RSPW newsgroup that night)
Pat [Patterson] told me that he thought it would be a helluva spot to let Shawn put me in the sharpshooter and then reverse it on him.
Why yes, Bret. That would be a helluva spot.
Vader pulled me aside to warn me. “Be careful out there, brother. Vince is known for fucking people in these kinds of situations.”
Yet another quote that’s fun when taken out of context. I’m not sure if Vader is referring to this specifically, but something very similar was done to get the women’s title off Wendi Richter in November 1985 when she was in a contract dispute. The Fabulous Moolah was put under a mask, and a fast three count was done.
An annoyed Rick Rude was suspicious. He pursed his lips and told me, “I’ll watch your back in case they try to jump you or pull anything funny on you out there.”
While Rude was aligned with DX and Michaels in storyline, the reality was that he was more on Team Bret when it came to the politics. It’s unlikely that Shawn Michaels could have done anything to Bret, despite the humorous notion of Jerry Brisco allegedly teaching HBK shoot holds in a Montreal hotel room the night before just in case.
Earl jumped out of the ring and ran away as fast as he could toward Jack Lanza and Dave Hebner, who were waiting at the top of the ramp with a car running.
When I watch the Montreal Screwjob, my eye is drawn to Earl Hebner. They had just done a ref bump and Hebner got up a little faster than a referee usually would. He kind of moves his hands like he’s playing a piano then calls for the bell before taking off like a thief in the night. Jim Ross is either one hell of an actor or he didn’t know the exact finish. The PPV went off the air rather abruptly and with about 20 minutes to go which left everyone online buzzing. Needless to say, we needed more info on what the hell just happpened.
Coming up next time: The aftermath of Montreal