Hey Vince! We remember Montreal
Big Daddy's Beefs
By DONNIE ABREU --
For SLAM! Wrestling
Why do the WWF Entertainment executives continually insult the intelligence of their unbelievably loyal fans and media? Just prior to Wrestlemania, the Toronto Sun's Perry Lefko wrote several compelling articles based on his one-on-one interview with WWF owner Vince McMahon. McMahon made several comments over the course of that interview that absolutely infuriated me. The best example was when he talked about his history with Bret Hart.
Vince McMahon told Lefko "Only a few inside people remember the Bret-McMahon incident. You'd probably have to ask the Montreal fans".
Is that not the most ridiculous thing you've ever heard?
"Inside people"? I've never met a wrestling fan that didn't know about the screw-job heard around the world!
I believe Vince may have confused "forgotten" with "forgiven". For the most part, it would seem that wrestling fans forgave the WWF for doing the unspeakable -- changing the result of a match halfway through without telling one of the participants. Almost five years later, that doesn't sound like a big deal but at the time the WWF was getting it's corporate ass handed to them in the form of the weekly ratings courtesy WCW Nitro. The departure of Bret Hart from the federation and his imminent arrival in the Atlanta-based promotion had fans and insiders alike believing the WWF was about to die, once and for all. If not for WCW's sheer inability to capitalize on the event and if not for the emergence of "trash tv", the WWF may very well have faded into oblivion.
Times have changed. WCW is a memory and the WWF is king. Bret Hart is more likely to be seen watching a junior hockey game than in a wrestling ring. Die hard Canadian fans who swore life long allegiance to The Hitman have attached themselves to other outstanding Canucks -- including Chris Benoit, Chris Jericho, Lance Storm and Edge. So maybe Vince was right. Look around. Everything's fine, right? The people didn't stop coming. The Canadian fans didn't boycott the shows. Ratings didn't fall right off the chart. So, that must indicate that we all just forgot what happened.
Reality check: The McMahon - Hart incident from the 1997 Survivor Series in Montreal will never be forgotten by wrestling fans anywhere. It is still one of the most talked about moments in wrestling history by even the most casual fans. Thanks in part to all the press and Bret's 'Wrestling with Shadows' documentary it became one of the rare times that a wrestling story had been deemed a news story by the mainstream press. I can't begin to tell you how many non-fans have asked me about that event, just moments after learning that I have worked as a member of the wrestling media for seven years. It has managed to transcend the Internet smarks. It has become part wrestling's illustrious and infamous history.
For the Federation's top man to suggest that fans outside of the ones in Montreal have all but forgotten what happened says that his own fans don't respect or care about his product. He's saying that WWF fans aren't rabid and passionate and dedicated to the brand. Would any football fan ever 'forget' the 'Immaculate Reception' ? Will any Canadian hockey fan ever 'forget' the 1972 Summit Series? Will any baseball fan ever forget where they were when Joe Carter cranked a Mitch Williams offering over the left field wall to win the 1993 World Series? Of course not. True, those are all glorious moments, but fans also have long memories when it comes to recalling those painful times. Find a Toronto Maple Leaf fan and talk to them about the '93 playoffs. They may not remember what the scores were of the games, or who the goalie was for the other team but they ALL remember Wayne Gretzky scoring a game winning goal when he should have been in the penalty box for spearing Doug Gilmour! Find a Buffalo Bills fans and just say the words "Wide right" ... then RUN!
The reason we remember these bizarre moments before our own anniversaries or parent's birthdays is because as fanatics, we are insanely passionate.
Wrestling fans while overflowing with passion and emotion, are often criticized for not being educated and not having the same historical background that other sports fans have. For the most part, those are the newer, more casual fans. They are the exception - not the rule. True die-hards, which make up the bulk of a regular WWF live event (not a Skydome sized show), remember every bad gimmick, every 5-star match (as few and far between as they have been) and every stipulation that was later ignored (I'm looking in your direction Stephanie McMahon! I hope you enjoy your vacation!).
Also keep in mind, that the WWF has always been one of the worst organizations at sharing their rich past with their younger fans. How many times have you heard the name Vince McMahon Senior on WWF TV over the past few years? I'm sure you could count those references on one hand. How many times have you heard the names Bruno Sammartino, Ricky Steamboat or God bless his soul, Owen Hart? All great men who helped shape the future of the company and all great men (among dozens of others) who have been forgotten by those who produce WWF broadcasts.
That being said, the one incident we have not been allowed to forget is the Survivor Series 1997 fiasco. We've seen countless references to it in the Federation, in WCW, in the WWA on hundreds on indy shows all across North America, etcetera. The Rock versus Mankind at Survivor Series 1998 is a perfect example. Every time the Rock tries to slap on his pathetic version of the Sharpshooter, we are reminded of Bret and what the company did to him. Who knows how many times we've seen Vince dawn a referee's jersey or signal to the time keeper to ring the bell early - all in an attempt to remind everyone - he screwed one guy, and he COULD screw others. The controversial match was even included on the WWF's 'Best Of Survivor Series' video while many other great stars of the past and other great moments were ignored. The WWF successfully transformed that stunt into the greatest running gag since GTV.
Problem is, it's not funny.
When the WWF was in Montreal for RAW on March 18th, the fans began to chant (as expected) "You Screwed Bret!" in the direction of McMahon and the Survivor Series official, Earl Hebner. Jerry Lawler (who just a few months ago was Bret's co-worker in the WWA) flipped off with "Oh, Get over it!". For years I wrote articles telling fans to do exactly that, and on many levels, I agree with the King. We've had sufficient time to deal with the loss and move on. We've had sufficient time to stage and protests or get ourselves into the Ally McBeal plotlines in an attempt to stop watching Monday night wrestling all together. That hasn't happened. We have forgiven and moved on...but no one has forgotten Vince. No matter how hard the company tries to re-write it's own history books on a regular basis, this is one event that can never be glossed over. Long after we have forgotten who was in the main event at Wrestlemania 18, we will remember the night in Montreal when all the rules changed and the day that Vince McMahon tried to tell us that we didn't.
By the way, the WWF was not available for comment on this story because they don't do that anymore.
March 13 ... Tough talent choices lay ahead for WWF
March 6 ... What's wrong with Wrestlemania?
Feb. 28 ... Random targets
Feb. 15 ... I hate 'WHAT?'