After so many years, I finally got some background on the Montreal Screwjob, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels and Vince McMahon. I'd heard tell of this hushed myth, this moment in time that was summarized by its name, but never really explained. And I guess, even after watching 'Wrestling with Shadows', it's still not fully explained, but at least I now know what they've been talking about all those years.
I actually never really knew Bret Hart, he was before I became a fan, so while he was mentioned frequently, I never knew his character. To me 'The Hitman' Hart sounded like a heel, but I guess I was wrong. Hart aimed to be and was the superhero good guy, a cool hero the kids could look up to, almost like the Hulkster (without the steroids, I mean, vitamins). The WWF at the time was treading the same classic path of clear-cut good guys and bad guys, black and white morality plays.
And then of course, WCW came along, and raised the stakes. Their show was different, edgy, with dancing girls and a plethora of pilfered WWF personalities. Vince decided to shake things up, countering the nWo with DX, letting Shawn Michaels and Hunter Helmsley run amok, crotch-chopping all over the world. Enter Stone Cold Steve Austin, the would-be heel who became the ultimate finger-flipping, beer swilling hardcore redneck anti-hero. These changes helped bring the WWF back from the brink in the ratings war, and people seemed pleased all around, except apparently Bret.
According to Bret, he didn't like the creative direction the company was going, especially since he couldn't enjoy the programming with his kids, feeling it was too risque and inappropriate. He had qualms about the changing structure of heroes and foes - it was no longer black and white, but shades of grey, as Bret experienced with the crowds cheering Austin, the booked heel, but booing Bret, the booked face. Eventually, in their Wrestlemania Submission match, a magnificently built match culminated in the double-turn of the two, with Austin officially becoming a fan favorite by passing out instead of submitting to the Sharpshooter and Bret settling into the role of heel that had been building for him, by kicking Austin while he was down after the match.
Bret didn't want to be heel, he wanted to be the hero. But the WWF's heroes at the time were guys like Austin, and that just didn't sit well with Bret. Eventually he decided to accept a lucrative offer from WCW, and tried to organize a fitting departure for his character as he and Vince agreed. Needless to say, that didn't happen. Vince wanted Hart to drop the title to Michaels at Survivor Series in Montreal, but then agreed to Bret's request that he later forfeit the title and leave the WWF not as a defeated champion, but by 'graciously' stepping down.
Well, that may have been the plan. Or maybe Vince really was worried that Bret would take the WWF belt with him onto WCW tv, as a few others had already done. But either way, instead of Bret retaining the belt via disqualification, as Michaels held Hart in his own Sharpshooter, Vince had them ring the bell as if he had submitted, when he clearly had not. It's painfully obvious that they just pulled a fast one, and speaking of fast, Sean Michaels grabbed that belt and booked it out of there. It's unclear how much he actually knows about the circumstances of that night.
Vince broke his word to Bret, and gave him a crappy exit from the company that he had served so loyally for so long. So I think that hearty spit in the face and punch in the eye was well deserved. Why did Vince _really_ do it? Was he just flexing his power, showing Bret who's boss? Was he diabolically scheming his own momentous heel turn down the road, cemented during the interview where he stated that "Bret screwed Bret"? We may never know. But that incident, that Screwjob, fueled the rage against Vince for years, and did allow him to use it and become a pivotal heel character to Austin's anti-hero, establishing one of the most successful and profitable feuds in wrestling history. Whether he planned that way or not, Vince did screw Bret out of his graceful departure, and used his humiliated carcass as a step over WCW and toward phenomenal success for the WWF/E.