Craig Wilson, Jamie Lithgow, Brian Damage, Amerigo Diehl, Russ Morgan and Benjamin Trecroci
This month marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most infamous moments in WWE, if not wrestling, history: The Montreal Screw job. In today’s Sunday Sermon, we take a look back at those events with the benefit of hindsight and look at the long-term impact of that night in Montreal on 9 November 1997.
Craig: What I find interesting isn’t just that it’s the 20th anniversary, more than this, this year would also have been the last year of Bret Hart’s 20-year contract. Sure, no one can predict injuries etc but Hart is now 60, can you really imagine him still in the ring? I guess it shows what Vince McMahon’s mindset was back on the day.
But, a great shout for a topic from Brian for this week’s Sunday Sermon. Watching Raw from 97 as I did for #Rawrewind a few years back, it was fascinating watching the often-explosive lead up to this event. It took place mere months before I got back into wrestling and it took me a while to find out about it. But, as a 14-year-old at the time, I was fascinated by finding out about the ins and outs that led to what transpired.
So, 20 years on. What does the Montreal Screwjob mean now? What was your reaction at the time?
Jamie: I recall hearing that Hart’s 20-year contract was not intended to have him as solely a wrestler. From what I’ve heard – I think The Wrestling Observer is my source – he would have transitioned into a backstage or trainer role. Imagine The Hitman helping guys in NXT?!
Having gotten back into Wrestling around 18 months after the infamous screwjob, my fascination has always been ‘what if’. What if Bret had offered to take a pay cut in order to stay in the WWF? What if Shawn Michaels had refused to be part of the scheme? What if Bret had decided to just do the clean job and return to the company in late 2000 when his WCW contract expired? What if Vince had Bret drop the title to Ken Shamrock prior to Survivor Series, which was reportedly considered? The last moments of the 1997 Survivor Series truly are a gold mine for this type of speculation, and I love it!
Brian: When the Montreal Screw job initially took place, I was convinced it was the beginning of the end for the WWF. Not only was the WWF losing yet another one of its top stars to WCW…I felt like the backlash of the event would cause fans to tune out for good. Instead, it was just the beginning of the WWF’s rise to prominence. Who knew?
The screw job was perhaps the best thing to happen to the WWF. It cut bait with Bret Hart…who never seemed to have a proper place in WCW and it drew eyes to the WWF to see how the whole situation would turn out. Hart’s departure led other wrestlers to get an opportunity to shine for the company.
As far as the 20-year contract goes, wow. What a mess that would have been for the WWF trying to move forward. I’m sure Bret would have had a couple of more runs as world champion but where else could they have gone with his character? A trainer? An on-air authority figure? A road agent? A color commentator? That 20-year contract of Bret Hart would have done more damage than a one-night screw job could ever do.
Amerigo: I’m with Brian, when it happened I too was convinced that the ship was on its way down to the bottom. The NWO angle was growing and getting over pretty well.
In the very beginning, there was a lot of he said/she said rumors and talk about what was and wasn’t planned, and who did and didn’t know. Not sure anyone at the time knew that it would light a fuse to ignite one of the best angles ever. Mr. McMahon.
The contract, and how WCW used the Brett character aside, I think what stands out the most for me was that it pretty much ended Kayfabe for good. No longer could Vince sit at the announcers’ table and say things like “Michaels is the favorite to win the title tonight”. Now everyone knew his role, and how he controlled the outcomes. No longer could companies hide behind “presidents” deciding important matches or disputes.
Just to touch on the 20-year contract, wow not sure how that would have played out. In hindsight I’m glad things happened the way they did, it made for some amazing matches and storylines.
Russ: I have to agree with the consensus. This kicked the WWF up a gear, it made it watchable. For me, Bret had done everything possible and was left in a really difficult position. It would have needed a massive swerve for him to become a fan favourite again and although I was seriously bummed at the time, I think it was great in the long term for the WWF.
Brian: Excellent points have already been made on this subject. The biggest I think was made by Amerigo about if not for the Montreal Screw Job, there more than likely wouldn’t be the creation of Mr. McMahon.
Imagine the WWF during the Attitude Era without the Stone Cold/Mr. McMahon storyline. Would the company have been as hot? I seriously doubt it. Bret Hart, as big of a star as he was for the WWF, needed to be cut loose for the company to move forward. It had no choice, it was forced to.
Jamie: I’m inclined to agree with most everything that has been said too. Screwing Bret was a hell of a gamble and I can totally see how people would have seen it as a bad move in the immediate aftermath. I do, however, wonder if Vince McMahon knew what he was doing by creating such a real-life controversy? Wrestling fans react to reality, that has been well established in recent times, but a precedent was already set for successful reality-based angles/moments with the formation on the nWo in WCW the previous year. Did the Montreal screwjob light the fuse that ignited WWF’s boom period? I’d say so. Was the creation of the Mr McMahon character as a result just a happy accident or a conscious decision? I have no clue, but it turned out pretty well regardless.
As regards to Bret’s future in the WWF should he have stayed; I think he would have done okay, at least in the short to medium term. A natural evolution for his character would have been to ease up on the Canada/anti-American gimmick but turn the volume up on his more conservative views – in comparison to the rest of the company at least. How over as a heel could Bret have been had he adopted a Right to Censor-esque gimmick in 1998 when the WWF was at its raunchiest?! That said, business was still good without him.
Benjamin: Not sure if anyone of you guys did this, but some cable systems allowed you to “listen” to a PPV over a scrambled signal. So completely remember listening to the main event between Shawn and Bret and the abrupt call by Jim Ross, thinking what the hell just happened? It definitely came across as a “shoot.”
Brian, remember thinking the same thing back then that this was a huge blow to the WWF and they might seriously be in trouble. Of course, it was a huge blow to the roster but in the long run, it was probably the best thing that could’ve happened for guys like Rock, Mankind, Triple H, etc.
Reports that Bret was not happy “The Attitude” that was changing in the wrestling industry and basically worked himself into a shoot. So, I’m not sure what was the best call in this situation. Bret and Shawn really seemed to be getting very personal and it was ready to explode, and it felt like one of them had to go. Unfortunately for Bret, he ended up drawing the short straw.
20 years later and the ‘Montreal Screwjob’ is still a “Butterfly Effect” event that if felt to this day…
You can read all previous Sunday Sermons here.