Craig Wilson, Jamie Lithgow amd Earl Marx
This past week marked 20 years since the 1997 SummerSlam. With that in mind, we look back on the show and, in particular, the moment where Owen Hart accidentally broke Stone Cold Steve Austin’s neck. In today’s Sunday Sermon, we discuss the long-term effect of that.
Craig: This week marked 20 years since SummerSlam 1997. A somewhat unremarkable event but one event did have a lasting impact on wrestling: Owen Hart’s piledriver on Stone Cold Steve Austin which broke his neck and would eventually cut short his career. Going down memory lane for a change with the sermon, let’s have a what if type affair – what would have happened to both Austin and Hart had that moment not taking place.
The injury hit Austin just as he was on an upward trajectory in the WWE and didn’t prevent him reaching that very top point of the mountain. However, by 2003 – just six years after his SummerSlam match with Owen Hart, he called quits on his career, aged just 39.
So, everyone, what could have happened to Austin had he not had that injury and also, did it prevent Owen Hart from getting his spot at the top as well?
Jamie: On the surface, you could dismiss this topic by just saying that Austin would simply have gotten their sooner and Owen Hart may have been given a fairer crack at the main events. However, this topic has so many knock-on effects that I personally had not initially thought of.
So, had Austin not gotten injured he would not have lost any ring time in late 97, but then you have to consider that this injury was at the route of his lay-off during 2000, arguably the WWE’s creative and commercial peak. This was the year The Rock cemented his spot at the apex of the company, but would he have done so with Austin around? Would Austin have simply turned heel, but then what of Triple H?
Then you have Owen Hart’s situation, which for me is even more interesting. It has been well documented that Austin did not want to work with Owen after this incident then after Survivor Series, Shawn Michaels would block his other route into main events. But imagine Austin stayed healthy and was receptive to working with Owen, then a few months later HBK gets shelved with a back injury. Would that have opened doors for Owen at the top of the card? His initial gimmick after Montreal looked like a winner, so imagine the Soul Survivor had no road blocks in his way…
Craig: The Owen Hart aspect is certainly very interesting too. His return at In Your House DX in December 97 was hot but by the following month he was in a programme with Triple H and Jeff Jarrett. Not main event stuff. Maybe they wouldn’t have had the same heat or chemistry as Bret Hart vs Stone Cold but an Austin vs. Owen feud could definitely have worked out.
The knock-on effect on The Rock is also interesting. Am sure he’d have still have reached the top but maybe not quite as early as he did?
Jamie: It makes you wonder what WrestleMania 16 would have looked like had Austin been fit and healthy. That said, The Rock vs Triple H for the title wrote itself but they still cocked that up and made a fatal four-way instead. Hypothetically, with Austin still fit in 2000, as well as The Rock, Triple H and The Undertaker I can’t also help but wonder about the fate of Kurt Angle.
Going back in time, 1998 is considered a great year for WWE based on their growth in popularity. However, it didn’t half stink in the ring. Imagine if Austin did not have to change his ring style due to injury. As fun as his brawls were to watch, maintaining that string to his bow certainly would have given 1998 WWE an extra dimension.
Craig: I’d absolutely agree regarding the quality of the in-ring work but, like you, recognise that a lot of that was due to Austin no longer being able to work the sort of style that he had against Owen’s brother at WrestleMania 13.
Ultimately, SummerSlam 1997 was, for the majority of it, fairly unremarkable. But the one long-term fallout of it was the Owen Hart piledriver breaking Austin’s neck. Personally speaking, as a huge mark for Owen Hart, I would have loved to have seen him, by the summer of 1998, inserted into a programme with Stone Cold Steve Austin over the WWF title. On the back of the Montreal Screwjob, the company could really have made more of a star out of Owen and by the following summer, he could have absolutely been a top star and deserving of a title shot.
Sadly, though, it wasn’t to be. Hart would soon find himself teaming up with former nemesis Jeff Jarrett and chasing the tag team titles after the demise of his short-lived spell in the Nation of Domination while at the same time Austin would hurtle to global fame and the figurehead of the Attitude Era as the WWE fought back against WCW.
So much changed in that split second at SummerSlam 1997.
Earl: I guess I’ll just throw a little bit in on this. “What if..” situations are always interesting to book. On one hand, it’s hard to say considering we know what happened based on the history that’s happened. On the other hand…it’s fun just to throw a few things out there!!!
Now I have to access wikipedia and my childhood memory banks to remember Summerslam 1997 (yeah..I could watch it on the Network, but…no). I remember Austin being a fairly big deal for me around the time, although seeing him in a matchup with Owen wasn’t on the top of my list. If Austin did NOT get hurt in this match, we wouldn’t have gotten the classic “Owen 3:16” shirt which gave Owen another edge he utilized. If Austin didn’t get hurt, we wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to MISS him. Check this link out..
The pop he got entering and the pop he got winning….a LOT of wrestlers would kill for something like that. No injury..no pop. Not saying he NEEDED to get injured or that he wouldn’t have more raucous ovations in his career, but this was the BEGINNING (for me). I think Austin had IT…so this injury was a setback (and ultimately the downfall) for him, but he would have been huge star no matter what. Now, as much as I am an Owen fan, I don’t know if this incident stopped Owen. I think Owen, as a heel, was near his best as the “King of Harts” and that had nothing to do with Austin and much to do with feuding with his brother. If there was a time Owen should have been the man, it was around that time. Besides that, he was an excellent hand to slide in anywhere (although I was a not a fan of the Blue Blazer business).
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.