The Piledriver Report 12.23.09: The Return of Bret Hart and the Remembrance of the Survivor Series Screwjob
Posted by Ronny Sarnecky on 12.23.2009
With Bret Hart’s imminent return to the WWE only weeks away, The Piledriver Report looks at how the deal went down. Bret Hart’s WWE return means one thing, the WWE will open the old wounds known as the Survivor Series Screwjob. Before this wounds are exposed, The Piledriver Report examines the events leading up to the screwjob, the Michaels-Hart 1997 Survivor Series match, and the aftermath that followed.
Before I begin with this week's article, I feel I need to comment on the posts readers left regarding last week's article on Sheamus as the WWE World Champion. After reading the messages, I fear that my point regarding Sheamus may not have been clearly conveyed. My argument wasn't that Sheamus will be a bad champion once all is said and done. That would be stupid to say at this point, since he hasn't even held the belt a week. What I was trying to point out is that Sheamus was I felt that Sheamus wasn't over enough yet to where the fans were wanting to see if with the belt, or in the main events. Also, I felt that there were several other underutilized wrestlers who the WWE could have put the belt on. I wasn't trying to say that he will be a bad champion, I was just questioning as to WHY they pulled the trigger on Sheamus so soon. Now, onto the show.
Over the past week, rumors started to circulate that the WWE signed Bret Hart to a four- month deal in the role of "talent." According to the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, the deal runs from the 1st of the new year until two weeks after WrestleMania XXVI. To say that this news is surprising is an understatement. What was more surprising was that this isn't the first time that Bret Hart was going to return to the WWE for more than a one-night appearance.
In 2002, Hart was spoken with about refereeing at WrestleMania, but he turned it down. In 2006, McMahon told the writing team that Hart had agreed to do the program coming off Survivor Series of 1997, and that he and Hart would be doing a street fight at WrestleMania, leading to a tag team match with himself and Shane against Hart and Shawn Michaels at Backlash.
According to David Meltzer, this deal with Bret Hart had been talked about for several months, perhaps as far back as SummerSlam. The WWE expected Hart in for a program, not a one-shot appearance, and that negotiations were at a level to where Vince actually thought there was a legitimate shot of it happening. Bret never denied the story, but always tried to play it down.
When Donald Trump played the owner of Raw, there was talk of Trump appointing Hart as General Manager in the storyline. Later, when the stock price dipped because of the confusion of the Trump role and the role being eliminated after one week, there was talk of a storyline where Trump's final move would be to sign Hart as the new General Manager with a contract McMahon couldn't break. It's unclear whether Hart was ever asked about the role. However, talks with Hart regarding returning started either then, or within a month or so after that point.
Sources who were let in on the current plans for Hart were told he would actually be wrestling, perhaps only once, and had agreed to do an angle based off the Survivor Series of 1997. I'm stunned at this development, because Bret has always claimed that he would never be part of an angle that revolved around the Survivor Series Screwjob.
With the WWE and Bret Hart about to start up an angle based on the Montreal event that happened a little over a decade ago, now is the perfect time to go into the archives of The Piledriver Report to take a look at the Survivor Series Screwjob. For those who aren't familiar with one of the most historic events in professional wrestling, or if you know all about it, and want to learn more, I hope you enjoy a look back at the event that is about to lead to one of the biggest feuds of the new year. The war between Bret and Vince.
During the summer of 1996, the World Wrestling Federation and World Championship Wrestling were involved in a bidding war for the services of former WWF World Champion Bret "The Hitman" Hart. This was during a time when the WWF and WCW were fighting tooth and nail against each other in a wrestling war. In the spring of 1996, WCW signed WWF Superstars Kevin "Diesel" Nash and Scott "Razor Ramon" Hall away from the WWF. The signing of the duo helped to push WCW over the top in the grappling war. Eric Bischoff was determined to put the final nail in the WWF's coffin by signing Bret Hart during the summer.
WCW was offering Bret Hart a three-year deal worth $3 million a year, plus the opportunity to enter the entertainment industry. At the time, the highest paid wrestler in the WWF was Shawn Michaels at $750,000.00 a year. Vince McMahon couldn't afford to paid Bret $3 million a year, but he also couldn't afford to lose one of his top two main event performers. What Vince decided to do was offer Bret a twenty-year contract. The first three years, Bret would work as a wrestler at a salary of $1.5 million a year. For the final 17 years of the contract, Bret would work in the booking department at a reduced salary.
Eric Bischoff, Kevin Nash, and Bret's close friends were trying to convince him to take the WCW deal. He would be set financially for the rest of his life, not to mention working a lighter schedule. Plus, with the WCW/TNT-Turner connection, he would have more of an opportunity to land the acting jobs that he craved.
The WWF offered Bret Hart the opportunity to be with the World Wrestling Federation for practically the rest of his life. In an even more unusual move by Vince McMahon, he gave Bret Hart the opportunity to explain how he came to his decision on television, regardless of which company he decided to sign with.
On October 20th, 1996, Bret Hart did exactly that. He showed up on Monday Night RAW, and told the fans why he decided to resign with the WWF. In his speech, he was very gracious to WCW, and thanked them for the offer. However, like Sting in WCW, Bret's loyalties lied with his home company. In this case, the WWF.
One of McMahon's promises in an attempt to keep Bret in the fold was that Bret would be the top babyface and his main champion. Vince's word lasted 10 days shy of five months. On March 10th, 1997, Vince asked Bret if he would consider turning heel. Bret wasn't thrilled with the idea of being a heel. However, Vince was able to change his mind a few days later. In their next discussion, Vince presented two list to Bret Hart. One included the names of Vader, Mankind, and Steve Austin. That was the list of opponents that would fight Bret if "The Hitman" remained a face. The next list featured the names of the opponents for a heel Bret Hart. That list included a face Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, and the Undertaker. Bret Hart saw that being a heel presented his character with higher profile matches. He agreed to turn as long as he would be turned back a few months before he would retire from active competition. To make the heel turn and eventual turn back to face make sense, Bret came up with the angle where he would be a heel in the United States, but would remain a babyface throughout the rest of the world.
Around June, Vince McMahon started talking to Bret Hart about possibly deferring some money in his contract, because the WWF was in bad financial shape. On September 8th, Vince told Bret that he wanted to cut Bret's salary in more than half, and defer that money towards the end of their deal. Bret rejected this suggestion by McMahon out of fear that he would never see that money. Around this time, Vince McMahon asked Hart about working with Shawn Michaels. Hart said that he would have a problem a program against Shawn. He reasoned that Michaels had yet to apologize to him for the "Sunny days" comment. Bret felt it would be hard to trust Shawn in the ring due to their past. Hart told McMahon that he thinks Michaels would have the same concerns. Especially because Michaels had said that he would never work with anyone in the Hart Foundation, except for Davey Boy Smith.
On September 22, 1997 before that evening's RAW IS WAR from Madison Square Garden, McMahon told Bret Hart he was going to intentionally breach his contract. He told Bret that he couldn't afford the deal that he agreed to less than a year before. Vince told Bret that he had permission to work out a deal to wrestle under the World Championship Wrestling banner. According to Bret Hart in "The Wrestling Observer" newsletter, "I didn't feel comfortable doing it. I feel like an old prisoner in a prison where I know all the guards and all the inmates and I have the best cell. Why would I want to move to a new prison where I don't know the guards and the inmates and I no longer have the best cell? I felt really bad after all the years of working for the WWF." According to the Observer, Bret had an escape clause in his contract that said he could leave the company giving 30 days notice, and that he would have "reasonable creative control" of his character during that final thirty day period. This would prevent his character from being unreasonably buried on the way out. There was a window period for giving that notice and negotiating elsewhere that hadn't begun yet. McMahon, to show Bret that he was serious about letting Hart go, gave him written permission to begin negotiating with WCW.
In a meeting with Hart, Michaels and McMahon earlier that day, Shawn told both Hart and McMahon that he wouldn't do any jobs for anyone in the WWF. When Bret and Shawn finally agreed to work together, Michaels once again told Hart that he wouldn't job to him. McMahon proposed a scenario where Michaels and Hart would have their first singles match at the Survivor Series in Montreal. The ending of the match would come about when the Undertaker would interfere thus causing a non-finish. Hart would then fight the Undertaker at the December pay per view, where Michaels would interfere causing Bret to lose the title. This would have been a case of poetic justice since Shawn's chair shot to the Undertaker helped Bret capture the belt from the deadman at SummerSlam 1997. At the Royal Rumble in January, the Undertaker would fight Shawn. During the meeting, Hart told Michaels that he'd be happy to put him over at the end of the run. However, Michaels told Hart that he wouldn't put Bret over. Michaels repeated this sentiment to Hart on October 12th in San Jose.
On October 21st, Vince McMahon talked to Bret about dropping the title belt to Shawn at the Survivor Series, and that he would regain the strap at the December pay per view. Bret wasn't too keen on this idea. First, Shawn was already on record saying that he wouldn't do anymore jobs. Second, Bret's angle was that of being a Canadian patriot. He didn't feel it was right to have his character lose in Canada after the way he was being portrayed as that country's hero. When asked about dropping the title to Shawn in December at their pay per view in Springfield, MA, Bret said that he wasn't comfortable dropping the title to someone who was refusing to job to anybody in the company.
According to the Observer, "McMahon, Pat Patterson, Michaels, and Hart had another meeting where Michaels, teary eyed, said that he was looking forward to returning the favor to Bret and once again talked about his mouth saying the stupidest things. Hart still refused to lose the title in Montreal. The night before, he had been asked to put Hunter Heart Helmsley over in Oklahoma City via pin fall due to Michaels' interference." Hart asked Vince if this was going to set up a future program or title match between himself and Hunter. McMahon said that it wasn't. Hart didn't feel the champion should get pinned in a match where it didn't lead to anything down the line. He had the match outcome changed to a countout loss. The night of the meeting, he was asked to tap out to Ken Shamrock, before the DQ ending involving Michaels. Bret had no problem doing this, because he liked and respected Shamrock, and wanted to help elevate him.
At this point, the WWF was starting to change the company's direction to be a more adult oriented product. Bret wasn't happy with the new company philosophy. He was so unhappy that he no longer allowed his children to watch the RAW telecasts.
As part of their agreement to work together, Bret and Shawn agreed to no longer bring up their families or their personal lives in their promos. This agreement lasted a whole week as Michaels next promo talked about "Stu Hart being dead but walking around Calgary because his body and brain hadn't figured it out yet." Since Bret no longer watched the show, Owen and Stu told him that the line upset them.
Before their October 24th show at Nassau Coliseum, Vince McMahon told Bret Hart that "the money situation in the company had changed and they would have no problems paying him everything promised in his contract." Hart told McMahon that WCW didn't make him a serious offer. He also let Vince know that he didn't want to leave. However, Bret said that he was still uncomfortable doing the job for Michaels. Bret left for the tour of Oman believing that he was staying with the WWF. However, he knew that if he was going to make the jump, he needed to give notice by midnight on November 1st.
On October 31st, Eric Bischoff finally made him an offer in the neighborhood of $3 million a year. Bret did not accept or reject Bischoff's offer. However, he did let Eric know that Bischoff had a shot to sign him. The next day, Bret called Vince to let him know that Bischoff called to make an offer. Bret told Vince that he didn't want anymore money from him. All he wanted was to know what direction that Vince had for his character. Hart admitted that he was leaning towards the WCW, but he wanted to know what Vince's plans were for him. Vince told the "Hitman" that he would call him back in an hour with some scenarios.
McMahon called back four hours later from his barber, after Bischoff had called a second time to try to close the WCW deal. Vince told Bret that he wasn't sure what he was going to do with the "Hitman" character. He told Bret to trust him due to their past. He reasoned that he helped to turn Bret into a superstar. Vince asked Bret about his ideas for the future of the "Hitman" character. Vince's brainstorm on the future of the Bret Hart character worked like this: Bret would drop the title to Shawn at the Survivor Series, but would then get the strap back at the December pay per view. In the "Wrestling Observer" newsletter, Bret said "I realized he had given the top heel spot to Shawn, but to turn back babyface it was too soon." McMahon told Bret that he was willing to extend his deadline for giving notice. Bret Hart wanted written permission for the extension. However, Vince was going out for the evening. He told Bret that he is giving him a verbal extension, and hat Bret can get the written extension from the WWF's chief financial officer. When Hart called to get the written notice, Bret was told he couldn't get it in writing "in such short notice." At 7pm, Bischoff called again and presented a deal that, according to Hart, " would have been insane not to be taken".
At 9pm, McMahon called an emotionally torn Bret Hart. Instead of giving Bret reasons to stay, McMahon told him to take the WCW offer. Bret told Vince "it would break his heart to leave, and that he appreciated everything McMahon and the company had done for him." According to David Meltzer, "McMahon told Hart that he wanted him back as a babyface, and had been wanting him to turn babyface for two or three months but just hadn't brought it up until this point." McMahon gave Bret some ideas for the immediate future. Once again, Vince wanted Bret to drop the title to Michaels. At the December pay per view, there would be a final four match between Michaels, Undertaker, Ken Shamrock, and Hart. Michaels would win that contest, as well. At the Royal Rumble, Bret would fight Shawn in a ladder match, with Michaels winning again. On the January 19th Raw, Bret would open the show and say that if he couldn't beat Michaels for the title that night, he would retire from wrestling. Bret would finally beat Shawn for the belt, and then drop the strap to Austin at WrestleMania XIV.
According to Dave Meltzer, "Hart looked at the scenario of four major losses with only one win and before his midnight deadline, gave official notice to the WWF and signed the contract WCW had sent over, with the agreement from all parties that the word wouldn't leak out until 11/10 to protect the Survivor Series PPV. Hart went so far as to have his few confidants sign written confidentiality letters to make sure word of his negotiations and signing with WCW didn't get out until 11/10."
On November 2, 1997, McMahon told Bret that he wanted Michaels to win the title in Montreal. He suggested that they do a screw job ending to "steal" the title from him. The next night on Raw, Vince can get into an "argument" with Bret. During the argument, Bret would punch Vince hardway while blaming McMahon for the screw job. Hart still insisted that he would not lose in Montreal or in Ottawa the next night. Bret said that he would put Michaels over in Madison Square Garden on November 15th, at the pay per view in December, or anywhere else. Bret said he would put over Vader, Shamrock, Mankind, the Undertaker or even Steve Lombardi. McMahon made legal threats to Hart if he wouldn't lose in Montreal. Hart countered that he had a "reasonable creative control" clause in his contract. Vince tried to argue that refusing to drop the belt at the Survivor Series wasn't "reasonable". After arguing all day and night about the Survivor Series finish, they agreed to end the match as a disqualification. At the December pay per view, Michaels would then win the title in the final four match. Bret would go out to the ring on the final night's Raw where he would give a farewell interview as a babyface to the WWF fans and put the company and McMahon over as big as possible. Bret would then apologize to the American fans and try to reasonably explain his "anti-American" actions in a way to end his 14-year association with the WWF. Bret's WCW contract began on December 1st. Bret called Bischoff, who agreed to allow him to work in the WWF through December 8th..
McMahon called Bret the next day to let him know that he now wanted Michaels to win clean in Montreal, then he would "steal" the title with a controversial finish at the December pay per view. Hart would get to do his farewell speech in Portland the next night before leaving for WCW. Vince said he was going to call Michaels and present the scenario to him.
Despite trying to keep Bret's WCW deal a secret, the news was leaked the night before and reported on the Wrestling Observer and Pro Wrestling Torch hotlines. In response to the leak, WWF Canada released a press statement denying the story. They claimed it was propaganda being spread by WCW. However, as the word got out, Titan Sports in Connecticut said that Bret Hart was exploring all his options.
On November 5th, the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Sun and the Montreal Gazette reported the news about Bret's departure. McMahon called Hart to let him know that Michaels had agreed to the previous day's scenario. However, since the news broke out that Bret was leaving, Hart needed to drop the belt before the RAW after the Survivor Series. Vince's biggest fear was Bischoff going on television on November 10th, announcing the signing of Bret Hart, the current WWF World champion. Hart said that he would get Bischoff to postpone the announcement. However, Bischoff was on a hunting trip all week in Wyoming, and Hart couldn't get a hold of him. Vince asked Bret to drop the title on November 8th at his final WWF house show in Detroit. Hart again refused. He believed that with the build up, and in the wake of all the insider publicity, he didn't want the match to be anti-climatic. He felt that he needed to go into Montreal as champion. He agreed to drop the title any time after November 12th. He mentioned doing it at the house shows in Youngstown, OH, on November 13th, Pittsburgh on November 14th, or in Madison Square Garden, if they wanted it that soon rather than waiting for the December pay per view.
Later that evening, Vince had a conference call with Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, as per his usual Wednesday night routine. According to the Shawn Michaels autobiography, "Heartbreak & Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story," Vince told Shawn, "Barring some miraculous change this weekend, we are going to work a DQ. The next night Bret had promised me that he will come out and give up the title. He will go off to WCW, and we can work some sort of tournament or something like that. I'm not comfortable with that, but Bret had given me his word. Regardless of the relationship that you and he have, I've always asked him to do business, but he's just not willing to do it for you. I can't change the match with someone else."
Shawn asked Vince why doesn't Bret just drop the title to someone else on RAW the next night. Vince explained to Shawn that Bret had creative control during the last thirty days of his contract. "So it's not really just me, is it? He doesn't want to drop the belt before he leaves?," Shawn asked. Vince agreed, "No, he doesn't. It would be one thing if it were in the States, but especially in Canada. He just doesn't want to do it."
Shawn questioned, "All of Canada is his? We're not in Calgary. What if I didn't want to do any jobs in the United States?" Vince repeated, "I know, I know, but that's the situation. He has creative control."
At this point, Hunter Hearst Helmsley spoke up. "I know I'm not supposed to be talking here. Maybe I'm out of line, but what kind of business is that? Who in the world says ‘I don't want to drop the belt'? You helped him get a better deal there, and he's leaving. That isn't right. That's b.s. How in the world can you trust him? This is the same guy who while he was off, after dropping the title to Shawn, went behind your back and negotiated a deal with WCW only to come back and renegotiate a twenty-year way-out-of-bounds contract with you. He has not done good business since, and now he is leaving to get even more money, by you giving them the impression that you wanted to keep him. We have people leaving in the middle of the night and taking their belts and dropping them in trash cans on WCW. We can't afford for that to happen with the World Wrestling Federation Championship!"
Vince said, "There's nothing we can do about that. My hands are tied. What can we do about that?"
Shawn told Vince, "I'll do whatever you want. We'll just take it off him. I'll swerve him or whatever I have to. You tell me what needs to get done. You and this company have put up with so much from me. My loyalty is here with you. I will do whatever you want." Vince asked, "What are you talking about, Shawn?"
Shawn continued, "Whatever it takes. If we have to do a fast count or get him in a hold and tell someone to ring the bell, I'll do whatever you want me to do." Vince responded, "That's pretty serious. That has to be a last resort. I still have until Saturday to talk to Bret. That may have to be a real option. This cannot be discussed with anyone. Pat can't know, nobody can know about this but the three of us right now. It's something we will have to talk about."
Shawn and Hunter both believed that Vince was already thinking about swerving Bret, however he would never ask Shawn to do it. He needed Shawn to volunteer to do it. Shawn just did.
The Internet portrayed Bret's signing with WCW as a power struggle between Bret and Shawn, with the "Heartbreak Kid" coming out as the victor. Another reason being given for Bret's departure was due to his unhappiness over the current direction where the WWF's product was heading. The top reason for the Bret Hart/WWF split was that McMahon wanted to get out of a contract that in hindsight he wished he'd never offered. According to the "Wrestling Observer" newsletter, "In the vast majority opinion on-line from people who really had no clue as to what was really going on, Titan, McMahon and Michaels were coming off as major heels. The WWF's own on-line site, said to be the domain of young kids with no clue about wrestling, was besieged with reports about Hart leaving and the so-called marks were reacting very negatively toward Titan to the point Titan pulled all it's folders by the early afternoon which caused another outcry of censorship of opinions from wrestling fans. On November 7th, McMahon responded publicly on-line with a letter of his own stating- ‘Over the past few days I have read certain comments on the internet concerning Bret Hart and his "alleged" reasons for wanting to pursue other avenues than the World Wrestling Federation to earn his livelihood. While I respect the "opinions" of others, as owner of the World Wrestling Federation I felt that it was time to set the record straight. As it has been reported recently on line, part of Bret Hart's decision to pursue other options is allegedly due to his concerns with the "direction" of the World Wrestling Federation. Whereby each and every individual is entitled to his, or her, opinion, I take great offense when the issue of the direction of the World Wrestling Federation is raised. In the age of sports entertainment, the World Wrestling Federation refuses to insult it's audience in terms of "Baby Faces" and "Heels". In 1997, how many people do you truly know that are strictly "good" guys or "bad" guys? World Wrestling Federation programming reflects more of a reality based product in which life, as well as World Wrestling Federation superstars are portrayed as they truly are--in shades of gray...not black or white. From what I am reading it has been reported that Bret may be concerned about the morality issues in the World Wrestling Federation. Questionable language. Questionable gestures. Questionable sexuality. Questionable racial issues. Questionable? All of the issues mentioned above are issues that every human being must deal with every day of their lives. Also, with that in mind, please be aware that Bret Hart has been cautioned--on "numerous" occasions--to alter his language by not using expletives or God's name in vain. He was also told--on numerous occasions--not to use certain hand gestures some might find offensive. My point is, regardless of what some are reporting, Bret's decision to pursue other career options IS NOT genuinely a Shawn Michaels direction issue, as they would like you to believe! In the personification of DeGeneration X, Shawn Michaels character is expected to be living on the edge--which I might add Mr. Michaels portrays extremely well. The issue here is that the "direction" of the World Wrestling Federation is not determined by Shawn Michaels, OR Bret Hart for that matter. It is determined by you--the fans of the World Wrestling Federation. You demand a more sophisticated approach! You DEMAND to be intellectually challenged! You demand a product with attitude and as owner of this company--it is my responsibility to give you exactly what you want! Personally, I regret the animosity that has built up between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, but in the end, it is the World Wrestling Federation that is solely responsible for the content of this product--NOT Bret Hart --NOT Shawn Michaels--NOT Vince McMahon for that matter. May the best man win at the Survivor Series!' This only made the situation worse in regard to how fans were viewing McMahon and the company even worse."
Hart was booked on a half hour TSN (The Sports Network, the Canadian version of ESPN) talk show called "Off the Record." Host Michael Landsberg said he had received more than 1000 calls to ask Hart if he was leaving for WCW. Hart would not commit to saying that he was leaving. He told Landsberg that he had given his 30 day notice to the WWF. He said that he was reviewing offers from both groups and is strongly leaning going one way. Bret was quoted, "I'd like to really come more clean on this as I can, you know, that I have, but I have to do this thing by the book kind of thing." Hart said his decision wasn't a monetary one. He explained that he and the WWF had, "reached kind of a crisis or we've reached professional differences as to what direction that the wrestling shows are taking. You know, I'm not saying I'm always right, but I feel that some of the content of the shows goes against my belief in what wrestling should be and can be." Bret talked about his dislike for the WWF's new direction. "Wrestling is often scoffed at as a form of entertainment sometimes. Or it used to be. I believe it came way up and I was very proud in the direction, which has a lot to do with where I am right now today. Wrestling was cleaned up and it became something families could watch." Bret talked about the having to trust the guy you are working with because you give them your body and said the real animosities and hatred that exists have to be set aside. Everything he has said about Shawn Michaels is about the Shawn Michaels character, but he believed that Michaels has said things that have hit a raw nerve with him to the point it's unprofessional. When talking about a racial angle on RAW, which implied that Hart was a racist, Bret said, "I think that racial tension is something to be very, very careful with. When you start messing around with racial things, that I don't like." Hart admitted that he stopped watching RAW about five weeks earlier because he didn't like the direction of the product. Bret said, "I don't mind if anyone pokes fun at my dad. Jerry Lawler's made a living the last two or three years saying comments about my mom and dad but he's always fairly humorous about it. Actually I used to get offended at some of the things he used to say about my mother--until I realized that my mother thought they were humorous and then it was kind of OK with me."
On November 8, 1997, the WWF ran a house show in Detroit at Cobo Arena, that would Bret Hart's final match in the United States for the World Wrestling Federation. According to David Meltzer, "Tensions were really high and the prospect of a double-cross were looming by this time in many of the more paranoid types. But really, this was 1997 and this was the World Wrestling Federation. That's stuff from the 20's where the real bad guy low-lifes were running the business. The days of making Lou Thesz world champion because you needed someone who could handle himself in the case of a double-cross had been over for more than three decades." Bret Hart talked to his most trusted front office contact, Earl Hebner.
Bret and Earl Hebner had been genuinely close friends for years. Hart actually use his influence to get Hebner to referee the match, specifically because he wanted someone in the ring that he could trust. Hebner told Hart "I swear on my kids lives that I'd quit my job before double-crossing you."
According to Michaels' autobiography, there was a production meeting at the hotel the night before the pay per view. "As everyone was leaving, Vince asked me, Hunter, and Jerry Briscoe, a longtime agent and close confidant of Vince's to stay. We sat down and talked."
"He's (Bret) not willing to bend. Are you willing to do what we discussed?" Vince asked Shawn. Michaels responded, "Yeah, I'm willing to do what it takes." Vince continued, "This is serious. I don't know what's going to happen, but he is going to flip. Jerry can show you some holds." Shawn told McMahon, "I'm not worried about that. We can run Hunter down to the ring if anything happens."
Vince told Shawn, "I don't want you telling anybody about this. When it happens, you deny you knew anything about it until the end. This is my decision, but I can't physically do it. I don't want the heat going on you. Some is going to go on you inevitably because of your history with Bret, and because you are the guy doing it, but this is my decision. I don't want you telling anyone. If anyone asks you, you didn't know anything about it. When it's over with, it's over with. Bret's going to be hot. You have to put the heat on me. He needs to be mad at me. He's going to be mad at me, and he's going to want to hit me. I'm going to let him. I owe Bret that much."
Vince told Shawn that Earl Hebner didn't know anything about the swerve, so Shawn offered to clue him in. Later in Shawn's hotel room, Jerry Briscoe told Shawn, "I'll be in the Gorilla position if anything goes down. I'll get down there, but I'm not as fast as I used to be. Is there anything I can do for you?" Shawn declined, "No. Jerry. If it happens, it happens. I'm not worried about it." Briscoe informed Michaels, "You've been a bear to deal with, Shawn, but this is different. You've never done anything like this. This is wrong, what Bret's doing. I'll be there." "I'll be there too," Hunter let Michaels know.
After many stressful weeks, the date of Sunday, November 9, 1997 had finally arrived. According to Shawn Michaels, there was tension all over the building throughout the day. While no one knew what Vince, Shawn, and Hunter had planned, mostly everyone expected something to be going down. Most figured that all of the years of true life hatred between Shawn and Bret was finally going to come to a head. After all, Bret didn't want to job the belt to Shawn, which would tick Shawn off. If Bret hit Michaels, what could Vince do, fire him? Despite not knowing anything about the potential swerve, Ron and Don Harris, who had a beef with Michaels in the past, approached Shawn. They told him, "We know that Bret isn't doing right by the company. We've got your back no matter what happens. If anything goes down, we'll tear him limb from limb." The only time they left Shawn's side that day was when he had to attend private meetings.
According to Shawn Michaels, when Vince saw him that day, he asked, "Have you thought about it? Do you have any ideas?" Shawn responded, "Yeah. I know it isn't glamorous, but usually when I wrestle Bret, I throw the figure-four on, and maybe we can ring the bell real quick and say he gave up. Or, maybe we can work a spot where I hit him with the kick and when I cover him, I'll just hold him as hard as I can and quick count." Vince asked Shawn if he spoke to Earl Hebner yet. He told Vince that he hadn't, because he was waiting for Bret to arrive to the building to go through the match first.
According to the "Wrestling Observer" newsletter, McMahon talked to Bret that afternoon and said "What do you want me to do? You've got me by the balls." Hart told Vince he just wanted "to leave the building with his head up." Hart said, "let me hand you the belt on RAW. Everyone knows I'm leaving. I'd like to tell the truth on RAW Monday." McMahon said he agreed. Vince said it was the right thing to do. They shook hands, and ended the meeting.
When Michaels finally saw Bret, they met in private. They talked about their past, and Bret apologized about how badly things had gotten between the two. Bret said, "Part of me feels that this is a big work on the part of the office. They made it worse. They knew we didn't want to work together and they kept adding fuel to the fire." In his autobiography, Shawn admits that this may be true. However, he didn't blame the office for exploiting their hatred, as it was good for business.
When talking about not wanting to put over Shawn at the Survivor Series, Bret continued, "It's not about you. I can't do it (put you over) here in Canada. I am a hero here. They don't understand how Canada is. It's different here. It's not like the States. Don't take it personally. It's no reflection on you. Everyone will make it out to be because of you, but that's not why. And I didn't want to leave, but I'll tell you, Vince is sort of forcing me out. Yeah, I got a good deal in WCW, but I'd rather stay here. Vince just made it clear to me that if I stay here I am not going to have the title."
In his book, Shawn said, "At the end of our conversation, it got a little warm. We had done this several times before, but it felt genuine this time because Bret was getting shown the door. There was a trace of humility on his part. Vince was pushing him, not me, out."
Bret asked Shawn, "Can I trust you?" Shawn answered "Yes. We're going to go out there and tear it up." In Shawn's autobiography, he said, "I immediately felt guilty. Despite all of our problems, I really felt bad for him because I knew this was the end and he had no idea what was coming."
After leaving his meeting with Bret, Shawn went to see Hunter. He told Helmsley what had just occurred. He told Helmsley "I am going to look like the biggest heel in the world." A few minutes later, Shawn went to see Bret in order to go over their match. While going over the blueprint of the match, Bret mentioned a spot where Shawn gets Bret into the Sharpshooter, and then Bret reverses the hold after grabbing Shawn's leg.
That was all Shawn needed to hear. That was the opening that Shawn needed to put into effect the plan to swerve Bret Hart. While many people, like Vader (who saw swerves during his time in Japan), warned Bret of a swerve, he didn't listen. Bret's biggest concern was a sucker punch by Michaels, not a fast count or fake submission. After all, his good friend Earl Hebner was the official.
Shawn went into Vince's office to tell him the plan. Shawn said, "You are not going to believe this, but he (Bret) came up with a spot where I get the Sharpshooter on him and then he's supposed to reverse it by pulling my leg. When I put him in it, when I turn him over, we can ring the bell right there."
Vince said, "That's it. That's the one." He then asked Shawn, "Have you told Earl yet?" Shawn told him that he didn't, because he wanted to get the okay from Vince first.
Shawn went into the lockerroom to find Earl Hebner. Shawn told Earl in a low voice, "Earl, I need you to listen to me very carefully. We are doing a big swerve tonight. I am going to get Bret in the Sharpshooter, and I need you to ring the bell."
In a normal voice, Earl said, "Wait a minute."
Shawn continued, "Earl, be very quiet. I need you to listen. This is very serious. Earl, we are swerving Bret tonight. We are going to be having the match, and you have to ring the bell. We are taking the title off him tonight. He doesn't know. Can you do it?"
Hebner asked, "What are we doing?"
Shawn explained, "I am going to get him in the Sharpshooter, and I need you to ring that bell. I need you to ring that bell and just get out of there."
Earl asked again, "Are you serious?" Shawn answered, "Yes." Earl responded, "Okay, I'll do whatever I have to do. Does Vince know about this?" Shawn confirmed, "Yes, of course. You can confirm that with Vince. I'll let you know if anything changes, but for now that's what we are doing, no matter what you hear."
Shawn and Bret met up one final time to go over the match. Pat Patterson was there to help lay out the match. While Shawn, Hunter, Vince, the Hebner brothers, and road agent Jack Lanza now knew about the double cross, Pat Patterson was the lone top official that didn't know about the screw job ending. Patterson was close to both wrestlers, and would not have gone along with the plan. He liked both men, and wished they could each get along with the other.
During the final meeting, Bret asked Shawn if he was going to do anything with the Canadian flag again. He told Shawn, "When you stuck the flag up your nose in that one match, you got a ton of heat up in Canada. I'm telling you they were just livid. You want to do it?"
Shawn said, "Sure, I'll do whatever you want."
It was a weird night. Shawn walked to the Gorilla position, with Hunter and Jack Briscoe already there. Vince and Patterson shortly followed. They were met by Davey Boy Smith, Jim Neidhart, and Owen Hart. This was extremely rare. The run-in wouldn't take place for another twenty some minutes, so there was no reason for any of the other wrestlers to be at the Gorilla position at this point.
Once inside the ring, Shawn asked Earl, "Are you ready to do this? Are you ready?" Earl confirmed, "I'm ready." Shawn reiterated, "You have to do it, Earl, you got to do this, don't worry. Just do it and get out of here." Shawn did the act with the flag as Bret had discussed with him earlier. When Bret hit the ring, they brawled to the floor, and into the crowd. Vince came out with Sgt. Slaughter, and yelled at Bret to get back into the ring. The match was going exactly as Bret and Shawn had planned it. Shawn locked Bret in the Sharpshooter, and then the match went according to the real plan; the swerved plan.
With Earl Hebner lying flat on the mat, a second referee, Mike Ciota was supposed to hit the ring. While listening on his headpiece for his cue to run in, Ciota heard the backstage director scream to Hebner it was time to get up. Hebner, listening himself, immediately got up. Ciota started screaming that he wasn't supposed to get up. Owen Hart and Davey Boy were getting ready for the run-in were also confused to see Hebner rise to his feet. Tom Prichard was freaking out backstage saying that wasn't supposed to happen. Bret still not realizing anything was wrong laid in the hold for only a few seconds to build up some heat before the reversal. Michaels glanced at Hebner and then looked away. He then fed Bret his leg so he can reverse the hold. Hebner quickly looked at the timekeeper and screamed "ring the bell." At the same moment McMahon sitting next to the timekeeper elbowed him hard and screamed "ring the fucking bell".
The bell rang as Bret grabbed Shawn's leg for the reversal. Michaels fell face first on the mat to be put into the Sharpshooter himself. Michaels music played immediately and was announced as the winner and new World champion. Hebner sprinted out of the ring, into the dressing room, through the dressing room, and into an awaiting car in the parking lot that already had the motor running. Michaels and Hart both got up off the mat. Each looked equally mad at the match being stopped. They both cursed in McMahon's direction and angrily looked at him. Hart spit right in McMahon's face. Vince screamed at Michaels to "pick the fucking belt up and get the fuck out of there." Michaels, with a mad look on his face was ordered to the back by Jerry Briscoe, who told him to hold the belt up high and get to the back. The show went off the air about four minutes early.
What the crowd at home didn't see on this night was the exciting aftermath. Hart began smashing the television monitors until Owen, Davey Boy and Neidhart hit the ring to calm him down. Hart thanked the fans, gave the I love you sign to the fans, and finger painted "WCW" to all four corners of the ring. He then went back to the dressing room.
The first person Bret confronted was Michaels. Shawn said, "As God as my witness, I didn't know anything about it, Bret." Michaels, told Hart that he gets heat for everything that happened but this time it wasn't his fault and he was as mad as Hart about the finish. Shawn said that he didn't want to win the belt that way. He was disgusted by what happened, and to prove it would refuse to bring the belt out or say anything bad about Hart on RAW the next night. Hart said that Michaels could prove whether he was in on it or not by his actions on television the next night. The entire dressing room was furious at McMahon by this point.
Undertaker was furious, pounding on Vince's locked office door. When Vince came out to talk with him, the Undertaker told McMahon that he needed to apologize to Bret. Vince went to Hart's dressing room. Davey Boy Smith answered the door, and Hart said he didn't want to see him. Vince and Shane McMahon came in with Sgt. Slaughter and Briscoe despite Bret's wishes. Vince started to apologize. He explained that he had to do it because he couldn't take the chance of Hart going to WCW without giving back the belt, and he couldn't let Bischoff go on television the next night and announce Hart was coming while he was still his champion. Vince told Bret that it would kill his business. Hart shot back that he had no problem losing the belt and told McMahon that he was going to dry off and get his clothes on. He warned McMahon "If you're still here I'm going to punch you out." Hart then called McMahon a liar and a piece of shit. He talked about working for Vince for 14 years, only missing 2 shots the entire time, and being a role model for the company and the industry. He said, "This is my payback." McMahon said this was the first time in 14 years that he ever lied to Bret. Hart countered that by naming 15 lies over the last year alone when Vince lied to him, without even having to think about it. According to the "Wrestling Observer" newsletter, "Those in the dressing room watching were stunned listening to Hart rattle those off and McMahon not offering a comeback." Hart got dressed and told McMahon to get out of the lockerroom. Hart got up and they locked up like in a wrestling match type style. Hart broke free, and threw a punch to Vince's jaw. Shane McMahon jumped on Hart's back, but Smith pulled him off. Not realizing there would be trouble, Smith had already taken off his knee brace and hyperextened his knee in the process of pulling Shane off. Bret almost broke his hand from the punch. Vince's jaw was thought to be fractured or broken. After the punch, Bret Hart asked Vince if McMahon was going to screw him out of all the money he owed him. A groggy Vince said "No". Bret told Shane and Briscoe to get that "piece of shit" out of here. He threatened both of them that if they tried anything they'd suffer the same results. In dragging McMahon out of the lockerroom, someone accidentally stepped on Vince's ankle injuring it as well.
Back at the hotel, on his way out of town, Earl Hebner was confronted by one of the wrestlers who asked how he could do that to one of his best friends. Hebner swore that he knew nothing about it and was going to quit. Patterson, Michaels and Prichard all denied any knowledge to the boys. Everyone denied it. However, according to David Meltzer, "it was clear everyone had to know from the production truck to go off the air several minutes early, to the director to get the shot perfect of the sharpshooter where you couldn't see Bret's face not quit, to Hebner in particular, to the ring announcer to get the announcement so quickly to the man handling the music to have Michaels music all cued up, to the agents who were surrounding the ring knowing the possibility of something unpredictable happening. When Hart got back to his hotel room in a total daze he was furious at McMahon because he knew he was screaming at the timekeeper to ring the bell but almost recognizing it as a reality of the business that he should have known better than anyone. But when he had a tape of the finish played to him he clearly heard that it was Hebners voice screaming "ring the bell" and at that point was personally crushed."
On the DVD "The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be," Bret talks about the Survivor Series over nine years ago. "I had so much pride in this company, and never wanted to leave this company. There was never any possibility or consideration that I was going to show up in WCW with the belt. When people throw out this ‘time honored tradition' thing, Bret Hart never refused to do anything, ever. All I can say is that I fought for the traditions of the business, and to do what is right. I stood up for myself. I stood up for all of the wrestlers in the dressing room, or at least for the majority of them. I stood up for everything that this business is all about. About trust, and respect. It was about personalities. It was about lack of respect. Survivor Series wasn't about Bret Hart losing in Canada. God knows, I lost in Canada enough times in my career. It wasn't necessarily the factor. That's something I never expected. It's not how I saw my career ending in this company. It was a very hurtful time for me. I felt, and I still do, deserved a little more then that. I'll always believe it was totally unnecessary. I'm too much of a professional. I'd given too much. I'd have given too much, dedicated too much. It was hurtful too much. Not only to me, but my father, and my family, even Owen. It was a really difficult time. To try and understand that, and not be affected by that. If anybody had to walk in my pair of shoes. I hear people make comments, and judge what happened that day. They make conclusions on who's right and who's wrong. Or what happened, that it was about my ego, or my money, or Canada. They don't know the circumstances. Of all of the years that I was in the business, I think the disrespect and the insult that was, it didn't just go through me, but it went through my father. It affected Owen. It affected a lot of people, and I had it suggested that what happened between Vince and I in the dressing room wasn't right to have that happen. I'm sure it was a very difficult thing for Shane McMahon to have to witness this breakdown of this almost father-son relationship that I had with Vince. It's a shame, but people always need to remember that my kids were in the audience too, and I'll always stand by what I did. It was a lack of communication is what Vince talked to me about. I think that there was a lack of communication. I believe that I conducted myself in a respectful way, and I did it with integrity, and I stand by how I behaved, and I stand by my actions. I suppose there is always going to be people that are going to look at it from different sides. It's one of those things. You're either on one side of it, or you're on the other side of it. Either way, whose ever side you are on, you probably don't know the facts behind it. For people to second guess, and put themselves in Vince's shoes, or for people to second guess, and put themselves in my shoes. You can't do that. That's why I understand that Vince wouldn't change what he did. And, that's fair enough I suppose. He did what he thought he had to do, or felt he had to do. But, I would never change anything I did. My position is that history speaks for itself, and I stand by what I did."
The WWF just experienced the most controversial event in the company's history. Most fans and wrestlers were outrage. Many fans were talking about no longer watching the WWF product, and switching to WCW. In an instant, everything looked bleak for the WWF. At the same time, WCW and Eric Bischoff came up smelling like roses. Bret Hart was no longer an anti-American sympathizer. He was now a fallen hero, who was screwed over by his vile boss. Eric Bischoff was the man who was going to make Bret Hart live out the rest of his career riding a glorious wave. Within a few months, the black cloud surrounding Vince's swerve of Bret Hart would disappear, and turn into the golden goose that helped sway the balance of power in the "Monday Night Wars."
Sources used for this article included www.thehistoryofwwe.com, www.wikipedia.com, www.brethart.com, the "Wrestling Observer" newsletter, "Bret Hart: The Best Thre Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be" DVD, and "Heartbreak & Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story."