Montreal. Every wrestling fan knows the story but perhaps more importantly, every fan has an opinion. Even if you never saw it happen, the "You screwed Bret!" chants every time the WWE goes to Montreal would probably tip you off that you were missing out on something pretty big. And I'd say the Montreal Screwjob is bigger than big, but the real question is why? Now that's a fairly vague question to ask, but I'm going to give my take on it now while Wrestling with Shadows and the reactions we heard in class are fresh on my mind.
Now I'd seen this documentary before, but it was probably in 1999 or early 2000, somewhere around there. I didn't know a whole lot about the backstory of what was going on but I remember getting enough vibes from the documentary to understand that Bret got screwed and he didn't deserve what happened on his last official night with the WWE. And that's the only thing I remembered (besides the visual of Stu Hart stretching guys until they were beat red in the face - that's tough to forget). I'm glad we got the chance to watch it in this class and that I could go back to it with a much different perspective than I had when I was around twelve.
I think in order to understand why the story of the Montreal Screwjob is still popular today and still being talked about, you have to understand the allure of the story to begin with. Ten years later, it's become this legendary story that's a part of WWE's history. It's become natural for fans in Montreal to despise Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon, and Earl Hebner, to the point where no matter how much of a fan favorite Shawn is, he pretty much always has to be ready to be showered with the "You screwed Bret" chants that are practically tradition now. It makes you wonder how much of that is legit emotion from Bret's fans who refuse to forget that night, or how much of that is due to the fans being expected to act that way towards anyone that was involved with the Screwjob. I know that personally, when I see that they're in Montreal, I'm pretty much expecting to hear the chants. More often than not, I'm rarely disappointed.
The most curious part of all of this is how some fans think it was all planned from the beginning. I admit, I always thought it was strange how Vince pretty much seemed to push Bret right into the hands of his competition, even when Bret was willing to take a pay cut to stay with the WWE through thick and thin. You would think that during the Monday night war with WCW, Vince would do whatever he possibly could to keep Bret on his side. Instead, it seemed like he just served Bret up on a platter and handed him over to WCW, like he didn't want to deal with him anymore. That's the very strong impression I got from watching Wrestling with Shadows, and that's something I still can't completely understand. There doesn't seem to be logic in this, and that only fuels the fire for those who keep thinking it was all planned from the get-go.
It would make sense. The timing of the release of Wrestling with Shadows, the phenominal longevity of the story of Montreal, the explanation that seemed like an excuse for Bret to leave, it all sides with this all being planned. I would think that if Bret had just forfeited the title like he originally wanted to do, his exit from WWE would be nowhere near the level that was garnered by the Montreal Screwjob. In a time when storylines are forgotten by the month and dropped for no reason, and remembering things that happened a year ago seems like decades ago, the fact that Bret's story is still so strong in everyone's memories makes his exit from the company that much bigger to where it's almost legendary now. Of course, the drawback to this is that for some fans, Montreal is the only thing they remember Bret for and his 14 years of hard work for Vince are sometimes lost in the shadows to that particular night at Survivor Series.
I personally don't agree with that viewpoint. I'd like to think that if Vince truly pulled off such an elaborate storyline and planned this from the beginning, he would've cashed in on a huge comeback for Bret a long time ago. That screams of money in the bank, and being the shrewd businessman he is, Vince doesn't seem like he'd pass that up. And to think how long it took for Bret just to agree to appear on WWE TV again at all for the Hall of Fame makes it hard to believe that what happened wasn't legit.
I've always been torn on this controversy since I happen to be a huge fan of both Bret and Shawn, so I'm going to try and avoid getting into personal "so and so was right" viewpoints. It's just interesting how there are fans who want this story dropped already, but it's apparent that the WWE brings it back because the fans themselves bring it back. After all, if the fans haven't let it go ten years after the fact, why should they? It reminds me of 2005 when Shawn was doing his storyline with Hulk Hogan, and he came out to a hostile Montreal crowd and started off with, "Who's your daddy, Montreal?!" He then proceeded to insult the crowd and brought up that infamous Survivor Series match, only to get practically booed out of the building. And then, they cued up Bret's music, and the place exploded. For a moment, everyone thought he'd be coming out... but of course, it was just a ruse. Even so, there were some fans who were crying from the disappointment that Bret wasn't really there.
With that kind of emotional investment, it's no wonder the Montreal Screwjob is still talked about. As much as Bret, Shawn, and Vince would love to forget it and move on, maybe it's the fans that are making that particularly hard to do.