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LOUNGE Vault: Past, Present, and Future: The 1997 Survivor Series Screwjob Finish

Jan 1, 2004 - 11:12:00 PM

By Octavio Fierros, Torch Team Contributor

By popular request from PWTorch readers, I decided to post my take on the 1997 Survivor Series Screwjob Finish. I understand its a story that some wrestling fans are tired of reading about, but its easily the greatest story of last decade. After sending this column to several readers last week, I decided to take the week off (due to the holidays) and post this column that I wrote on November 8, 2002. I hope you enjoy as much I will enjoy reading your feedback on this.

Note: The original name of my weekly column is called, LOUNGE Flashbacks, but since this weeks column comes from my archives, its going to be called, LOUNGE Vault. I just want to clear any confusion.

Please send your feedback to:
LOUNGE Vault: Past, Present, and Future: The 1997 Survivor Series Screwjob Finish

After watching the WWF 1997 Survivor Series like a thousand times already, I can't help but notice that the Montreal Screwjob (or Survivor Series Finish, whatever you want to call it) is still one of the top stories in professional wrestling history. The internet was so small at the time, in terms of wrestling. I was confused, just like many wrestling fans were, that night when referee Earl Hebner called for the bell to make an improvise finish to the Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels match, thus getting Bret "screwed" by the WWF and Vince McMahon. I had to rely on one source that weekend, and that was my Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter with in-detail news of what truly happened that night. I was shocked! In the modern era, wrestling fans never seen this action take place before. The sharpshooter, the spit on the face, and the shock look on Bret's face were memorable and still stands on my mind today. What really happen that night? Why did Bret Hart get "screwed"? Why did Bret Hart decide to sign with WCW? How did Vince McMahon feel about Bret leaving the WWF? All these questions and more are asked in this Special Feature - Past, Present, and Future: The 1997 Survivor Series Screwjob Finish

The Bret Hart Sweepstakes Begin

After Bret Hart lost the WWF World Title to Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XII, he decided to take a vacation of sorts. During Summer of 1996, Bret was declared a free agent. The WWF was banking on a Bret Hart return, but they were unsure if he was going to come back or if he was going to sign with WCW. At the time, WCW started to dominate the WWF in the Monday Night Wars with the existence of the NWO as one of the best angles in wrestling history and the best in WCW history. Rumors went rampant during mid-1996 when WCW was interested in the services of Bret Hart. WCW Executive Vice President Eric Bischoff, who was known for "stealing" WWF wrestlers such as Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, wanted Bret to sign with WCW to be part of the NWO angle. WCW had so much interest in Bret that even the WWF started hinting his return for the Fall season. At that time, it was dubbed as the "Bret Hart Sweepstakes". The WWF negotiated with Bret Hart for a return. WCW negotiated for a Bret Hart debut on Monday Nitro as a huge surprise (a la Lex Luger the year before). The only difference between both negotiations was that WCW offered much more money to Bret than the WWF. Bischoff once stated that he offered Bret a deal he couldn't refuse. But refuse he did as Bret Hart decided to re-sign with the WWF. "I'm not greedy for money. I'm greedy for respect, and the only place I'm going to get respect is in the World Wrestling Federation." Bret said weeks after he became a free agent. Bret felt that by signing with WCW, he would betray his fans. Bret signed a 20-year deal with the WWF. The contract stipulated seventeen years as a front office worker and three years as a wrestler. It was known at this time that Bret Hart was going to stay with the WWF for life.

Welcome Back, Bret!

On the weekend of the In Your House: Buried Alive, Vince McMahon flew to Canada to meet with Bret. After more negotiations, Bret agreed to return on Raw on Monday, October 21, 1996. Jim Ross interviewed Bret that night on Raw and told his fans that he's here to stay. His interview was 90% storyline-based and 10% shoot because he did address his fans by staying in the WWF. Other than that, Bret said he returned to the WWF to kick "Stone Cold's ass!"

Bret Hart Turns Heel on USA Fans; Never Wanted To Turn

Bret Hart's return to the WWF was not so memorable to say at least. He was booed in some arenas around the country due to the rising popularity of one "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. The "raunchy" style of the WWF was emerging at the time as well. So Bret needed a change of character. Something Bret never wanted to do when he re-signed with the WWF. That was to turn Bret Hart heel. Bret disagreed with management to turn heel at first, but then he came up with the idea of becoming an Anti-American and only remain a babyface the rest of the world. Vince agreed and the Hart Foundation was formed with Jim Neidhart, Brian Pillman, British Bulldog, and Owen Hart. The words such as "ass", "son of a bitch" and Anti-American remarks were made. Bret didn't feel comfortable with his new character, but he had to do what he had to do. Bret Hart won the WWF Title for the first time as a heel, but there was a problem during his short and last WWF Title reign. Vince thought that Bret was getting the better end of the stick with the contract deal they made the year before.

Bret to break WWF contract? Will Bret sign with WCW?

Vince McMahon and Bret Hart had talks entering the first year of his contract. Vince felt that Bret was earning too much money with the WWF, plus rights to his merchandise. Vince told Bret to break the contract, give him less money, and stay with the WWF. He had another option, though. Vince encouraged Bret Hart to negoatiate a deal with WCW and see if they take him. Bret was upset at first, telling Vince that a "deal is a deal". But then again, Bret was upset with the direction of his character and the direction of the company. The WWF was getting raunchier every week on Raw with the likes of Steve Austin and Degeneration X. Also, the WWF was pushing for a Bret Hart racist angle with the Nation of Domination at the time. Bret refused to take part of the NOD-Hart Foundation angle days before the 1997 Survivor Series. So Bret decided to negotiate with WCW and see what happens after that.

Bret signs with WCW, to wrestle his last WWF match on December 7

Bret Hart struck a deal with WCW on Halloween night, October 31, 1997. That was just ten days before his match against real-life rival Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series. His last WWF match was going to be at the December 7 PPV. When asked if he wanted to job clean to Michaels at Survivor Series, Bret refused because it didn't seem right to lose in front of the Canadian crowd (Montreal, Quebec). Vince and Pat Patterson (head booker) tried to convince Bret to lose the match, but they failed. Any wrestler who is leaving the company, must job during their last matches of their WWF days and according to McMahon, that is called "time-honored tradition". That was an exception for Bret, though. In his contract, he had "creative control" for the last 30 days of his contract, which means he can win or lose before leaving the company. That was Bret's only back-up and Vince had no choice but to go with Bret's decision.

Bret Hart finally accepts! Will lose to Michaels, but at the Dec. 7 PPV

The original plan was for Bret to forfeit the WWF World Title at the November 10 Raw live from Ottawa, Ontario. Bret was going to tell fans that he was going to "another organization". It was said that Vince didn't believe Bret one bit and he thought that he was going to take the WWF World Title to WCW Monday Nitro. Bret was given a list of wrestlers that he felt deserved to win the WWF World Title from him. The list had Vader, Ken Shamrock (he was facing him on house shows prior to Survivor Series 97 and on the November 3 Raw), Steve Austin, The Undertaker, and Dude Love. The major candidate was Steve Austin, but Bret made a decision that raised eyebrows. Bret decided to job to Michaels, but at the December 7 PPV. That way, both parties can have a safe and happy ending with Bret not losing in Canada, but dropping the WWF Title to Michaels in the United States.

The night before: Michaels meets with McMahon, Patterson while Bret wrestles his last WWF house show

On November 8, 1997, Bret Hart wrestled his last WWF match in a house show in Detroit, Michigan. While Bret was probably saying goodbye to his WWF fans in the USA, Shawn met with McMahon and Patterson at the Montreal Marriott. There was speculation that Vince went over the finish of the match to have Michaels walk away with the WWF World Title. It was not known at the time what went down that night, but it looked like it was going to be a riot the following night.

November 9, 1997: Before the Survivor Series Screwjob Finish

Backstage, Pat Patterson met with both Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart to review the match and the finish. The finish was scheduled to be like this: Michaels was going to apply the "sharpshooter" on Bret, then Bret was going to reverse the submission hold. Triple H, who was part of Degeneration X at the time, was going to interfere in the match, then the Hart Foundation was going to jump in, causing a double disqualification. After the review, Bret smelled a rat, and had a gut feeling that something was going to happen. Bret went to Earl Hebner, his best friend, and told him to referee the match fair and square. Hebner gave him his word. He promised on his family that he was going to be fair during the match. Bret felt better, thinking that Hebner was going to be fair during his match. Vince was not commentating that night, which was a hint for Bret. When asked by Michael Cole during the PPV on who was going to win this match, Vince said, "I don't know." McMahon was nervous backstage all day.

November 9, 1997: During the Survivor Series Screwjob Finish

The match was pretty good overall. Michaels began the match by taunting the Canadian crowd and wiping his ass with the Canadian flag. Michaels drew serious heel heat all night. Some fans in the crowd had signs that said, "Why stay? Leave now Bret!", "Benedict Bret", and "Good luck, Bret!" During commentary, Jim Ross was saying that there were rumors of Bret wrestling his last WWF match here. JR also knew about the finish, which was kept very quiet during the night. A brawl took place before both men entered the ring. McMahon and Sgt. Slaughter were surrounding both men and they looked very suspicious. After 25 minutes of action, the finish came. Michaels applied the sharpshooter and Hebner called for the bell quickly as Bret was reversing the move. Bret didn't tap out and he was shocked. When Bret saw that Hebner and Michaels fled the scene quickly, he found out he just got screwed. He saw McMahon at ringside and he spit on his face. Gerald Brisco told Michaels to raise the WWF World Title belt before heading to the back. The pay-per-view telecast faded as JR wondered what the hell just happened.

November 9, 1997: After the Survivor Series Screwjob Finish

The Hart Foundation, who was scheduled to interfere too, joined a furious Bret in the ring to console him. Bret snapped in front of his Canadian crowd. He went to the announcing booth and started destroying monitors. He went back to the ring and wrote the letters "WCW" in the air, signifying that he was heading to his new alliance. Bret went backstage and told friends that if he sees Vince McMahon after he takes a shower, he's going to kick his ass. Bret also confronted Michaels and asked him if he was part of whole fiasco. Michaels told Bret he was shocked just like he was. Just to show that he never was part of the plan, Michaels promised to make his Raw appearance the following night without the WWF World Title belt. After the shower, Bret confronted Vince. He punched him on his eye and they brawled for a few seconds. Owen Hart and British Bulldog separated Bret from Vince and Shane separated Vince. The Bulldog sustained an injury while separating the brawl. Bret left the arena, never to return to the WWF ever again.

Michaels breaks his promise and brings the WWF World Title belt to Raw the following night

So was Shawn Michaels aware of the Survivor Series Screwjob Finish? He did give us a clue the following night on Raw when he broke his promise. After telling Bret that with the respect he has towards him, he was not going to carry the WWF World Title belt with him. He wasn't even going to address the situation from the night before and was going to focus his new storyline with Ken Shamrock. We still didn't know if Michaels knew about the finish, but he did deliver a part shoot, part work interview on Raw. Michaels told the Canadian crowd that he drove Bret out of the WWF. "I drove Bret out of the WWF and went to wrestle those old dinasours. The only two that are not dinosaurs over there are my buddies and they're going to kick your ass down there." Shawn said that he hates Bret and his frustrations will be delivered by buddies Kevin Nash and Scott Hall from WCW.

Eric Bischoff acknowledges Bret Hart's departure on WCW Monday Nitro

Eric Bischoff, who was part of the NWO, welcomed Bret with open arms to join his faction. The NWO sang "Oh, Canada" to appreciate what Bret has done for the wrestling business. It was still unknown when Bret was going to debut on Nitro.

Vince McMahon addresses the Survivor Series Screwjob Finish on Raw, told fans that Bret refused to lose

The November 10 WWF Raw drew a 3.4 rating, the highest rating in months. That told a whole different story. Bret Hart's WWF departure drew high ratings for Raw and they were going to continue addressing the situation even more for the November 17 Raw. Not only was Raw taped, but Rick Rude made an appearance with DX that night and appeared on the live Nitro defending Bret Hart that night and ripping on the WWF the same night. Vince also was interviewed by Jim Ross. Vince, with a black eye, told the viewers at home that Bret Hart broke the "time-honored tradition" by refusing to lose during his last match in the WWF. "Bret screwed Bret", said Vince. "He can look in the mirror and know that." After a good length of a shoot interview from Vince, the WWF knew they drew yet another great rating. They did, staying at 3.4 for the night again, staying competitive against Nitro.

The WWF fools the fans by "bringing back" Bret Hart

On the November 24, 1997 WWF Raw, Michaels came to the ring with a big smile on his face. Michaels said that according to internet reports, yes, Bret decided to return to the WWF. Instead of Bret returning, a midget Bret look alike came out. The WWF continued that trend of high ratings and they didn't stop mentioning Bret at all. The following week on Raw, the "true story behind Survivor Series" was told.

Bret Hart debuts on Nitro, to referee Eric Bischoff vs. Larry Zbysko at Starrcade!

Bret Hart appeared on the December 15 Nitro as yet one more star power came to WCW. He will referee the match between Eric Bischoff vs. Larry Zbysko at Starrcade. "You don't know how it feels to be screwed by a referee!" said Bret during his debut. On a side note, Jim Neidhart and British Bulldog left the WWF in disgust and followed Bret to WCW. Neidhart was wrestling without a WWF contract so he wasted no time in going to WCW. The British Bulldog had to pay $10,000 to get released from his contract. Neidhart was just a WCW Saturday Night jobber and unfortunately for the Bulldog, he suffered a back injury in the ring, thanks to a trap door used for Ultimate Warrior's entrance. Owen Hart stayed with the WWF and received a bonus. Sadly, nineteen months after Bret left the WWF, Owen Hart died when he fell from the rafters during a PPV.

Bret comes out with documentary "Wrestling With Shadows". Talks about his WWF days, most importantly, the Survivor Series Screwjob Finish

Bret Hart had to make a documentary. Since we heard Vince's side of the story on that edition of Raw, Bret gave his side of the story during his documentary, "Wrestling With Shadows". Bret Hart spoke the truth on this one, but had many wrestling fans believe that this was all a work and not a shoot. In my opinion, just by watching this documentary like ten times, it made me think that yes, it was a work. But, it's also hard to figure out if it's a shoot or work since Bret Hart perfected this documentary with some pros and cons. One of the pros in this documentary is that he told the story like it is, which was very good. One of the cons were that Bret Hart portrayed himself as a hero and Vince as a villain. "Wrestling With Shadows" was good, but I'm still waiting for Vince's documentary as well.

Bad luck plagued Bret Hart during his WCW stint

Here's a list of bad luck trends that Bret Hart suffered after the Survivor Series Screwjob Finish and after his career was over:

1. Bret Hart's career was sabotaged by Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff.
2. Owen Hart's tragic death in the ring during a WWF PPV. Bret hated Vince even more after this incident.
3. Bret divorced Julie after his WCW stint.
4. Goldberg's stiff kick to Bret Hart during a WCW PPV that caused a concussion.
5. The British Bulldog passed away and was a major player in the Hart family.
6. Mother Helen Hart died of a heart attack.
7. Bret suffered a stroke recently.

The Aftermath: Bret Hart didn't get his fair share with WCW

After 14 years with the WWF, Bret Hart wanted to explore and reinvent his character by wrestling new and old faces down in WCW. Ted Turner's organization had more pure athletes than in the WWF at the time. This was the perfect time for Bret to wrestle the likes of Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, a rising star in Chris Jericho, and other technical wrestlers. But it didn't take long for WCW to sabotage Bret's career. With backstage politics surrounding WCW, Bret had no chance. At one point, Hulk Hogan even refused to put Bret over and wrestle each other at a PPV. In fact, the tables turned so sudden that Bret was asked to turn heel in WCW. I'm not sure if Bret wanted to turn heel but that was one of the disagreements he had with the WWF a year before. Bret joined the NWO and became Hogan's sidekick instead of becoming his nemesis. To find something bright in Bret's WCW career, he faced Chris Benoit on Nitro for the memory of his brother Owen Hart. Two years after he got screwed at Survivor Series, Bret Hart won a 32-man tournament for the WCW World Title. But bad luck continued for Bret. When he wrestled Goldberg at Starrcade '99, he took a stiff kick to the head, which drove him out of wrestling. Bret was never the same after this match.

Bret Hart will always be in our hearts, despite the tragic deaths of mother Helen and brother Owen. Despite going downhill during his WCW career. Despite the loss of his brother-in-law British Bulldog. The best thing to do is to look at the best memories Bret gave us during his WWF days. Winning the WWF World Title from Ric Flair in 1992. Winning the 1993 King of the Ring. Pinning Yokozuna at WrestleMania X in one of his greatest matches. That is the Bret Hart we admired. One day, Bret will be back in that "very ring" to erase those dark memories. One day, Bret will be back...

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Credit: Pro Wrestling Torch Newsletter for information on this story.
NEW FEATURE: LOUNGE Flashback Ticker

The LOUNGE Flashback Ticker will give you a tidbit on this Week in WWE History

JANUARY 1, 1996: WWF starts airing Billionaire Ted skits on Monday Night RawJANUARY 2, 2002: Al Wilson gets married on the nude with Dawn Marie on SmackdownJANUARY 4, 1999: Mankind won the WWF World Title over The Rock on Raw, while Hulk Hogan pinned Kevin Nash in seconds on Monday NitroJANUARY 6, 1997: Vader scored a stunning upset over Bret Hart on RawJANUARY 3, 2000: Triple H defeated The Big Show to win the WWF World Title

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