Craig Wilson, Russ Morgan, Brian Damage, Jamie Lithgow and Benjamin Trecroci
In today’s Sunday Sermon, the team head back in time 20 years to the crazy world of wrestling that was in 1997. WCW are on top, there’s the upstart ECW all while WWE tries to recapture the magic of old. Today we look at the reformation of the Hart Foundation and the unique reaction that group received.
Craig: I have to admit, 1997 is probably one of my favourite wrestling years. WCW hasn’t yet completely transcended into the madness we’d see in later years, ECW was bubbling under the radar while over at Titan Towers, signs of progress were evident
The company had moved on from poor years in 1995 and 1996 with the emergence of potential top talents in Rocky Maivia, Stone Cold Steve Austin, Mankind and Triple H. In addition, there were established acts like Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Owen Hart and The Undertaker.
After feuding since 1993, Bret Hart and his brother Owen reunited – along with Davey Boy Smith, Brian Pillman and Jim Neidhart – to form the Hart Foundation. Coming hot on the heels of Bret’s heelturn at WrestleMania 13, the group quickly captured virtually every belt they could lay their hands on and run roughshod over the company.
The unique aspect, though, whilst American fans jeered the group out of the building, they were treated like absolute heroes in Canada and Europe. In today’s Sunday Sermon, we look at what the group did, the strengths of the individual members as well as the crowd dynamic.
So, is the Hart Foundation stuff some of the best aspects of 1997 and at are your personal memories of that year in wrestling?
Russ: Survivor Series 1997 was when I first got back into wrestling after a hiatus, what a way to come back! As a 15-year-old, I was captivated by how guys like Bret and Shawn had grown from 1993. The WWF was changing, especially with some guy called Stone Cold Steve Austin stomping some ass. Being British, I guess I always had an affiliation with the Hart guys, especially Davey Boy Smith. Bret for me was always my favourite wrestler and I couldn’t believe the events that transpired. Obviously, I tuned in right at the end of the USA v Canada storyline, so I had to go back and find some videotapes to catch up.
Brian: The entire Canada versus USA storyline was a stroke of brilliance as far as I am concerned. The way the WWF played up the Hart Foundation in both the States and in Canada was fantastic. The funny thing was the Harts were basically preaching the same things in both areas. It’s just that the Canadian fans embraced Bret Hart’s philosophies while the fans in the U.S. were starving for change.
It was surreal seeing such a popular anti-hero like Stone Cold Steve Austin getting booed in Canada but it worked and it was effective! It was one of the truly great angles of all time in the WWF because of the creative team and the wrestlers themselves of course…were able to get two different emotions out of two very different crowds.
Jamie: What I find amazing, and quite refreshing actually, is that WWE has never tried to directly recreate this angle. I would argue that present day John Cena has a tendency to be presented a little like Bret Hart from 1997 (minus the bitterness), but I cannot think of any examples of WWE trying to rehash this angle as they have done with other successful storylines from the late 90s e.g. heel authority figures.
I’m not saying the Austin vs. McMahon feud wasn’t good or hasn’t aged well, but because it has been re-done so many times I personally do not find it as fun to revisit. The Hart Foundation stuff was completely of its time, organic and not really comparable to anything else in wrestling since. Yes, WCW did a Team Canada gimmick and WWE has seen a fair few foreign heels, but the magic of The Hart Foundation was just how beloved those guys were outside of America. They weren’t just faces in Canada because they were Canadian, they were faces because of who they were and what they stood for. It was an angle with a magic that will probably never be recreated.
Russ: I think it’s almost impossible to rehash this story-line. For one, Bret was leaving to go to the direct competition, so was more or less the rest of the group. The business is far, far different now, there is no direct competition. Bret was also in a very powerful position. No way WWE would invest so much time into a guy leaving the company. The dynamic was great, being hailed in Canada as a hero and in the US as a villain.
Jamie: If we’re talking specifically about the Montreal aspect of this then CM Punk heading into Money in The Bank 2011 springs to mind in terms of guys approaching the end of their contract. That said, Vince was wise enough not to stick the belt on him prior to Punk signing on the dotted line. I found that situation utterly fascinating, so I can only imagine what it would have been like to be a ‘smart fan’ watching the 1997 Survivor Series. Bret Hart and The Hart Foundation were red hot, Michaels was red hot in his new heel persona, the pair had a personal beef and Hart was approaching the end of his contract. I just can’t imagine a cocktail of ingredients like that heading into a match in modern day WWE.
On the subject of the ‘screwjob’, that’s one of those angles WWE recreate all the time yet have strayed away from recreating the actual Hart Foundation. Again, it speaks volumes of the men involved that it just can’t be re-done using any old wrestler(s).
Benjamin: Funny, I’m actually in the middle of re-watching this angle on the WWE Network going back and forth on the Monday Night Wars.
Was always a huge Brian Pillman fan so once he joined the fray I was definitely in! Also, always really enjoyed the Canadian crowds which now would be called “hijacking” or “smart crowds.” Don’t think this could be redone nowadays with all the PC crowds and overreactions.
Seeing Bret Hart go in on the American crowds was amazing and it seemed extremely ‘real.’ People can say what they want, but once Bret was into a story, he was all the way in. 1997 was one of the most important years for so many reasons and this Canadian story was a major highlight.
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.