In Defense Of…7.24.05: Earl Hebner Screwing Bret Hart [REPOST]
In Defense of…
By JP Prag
EARL HEBNER SCREWING BRET HART (Part 1 of 1)
DISCLAIMER: This issue was chosen and partially written before news of Earl Hebner’s firing from the WWE broke this week. That being said, I am not capitalizing on the news, but I am not going to change my schedule because of it. The case still stands and has merit, although I have changed it significantly to match the recent news. Ok, back to your normally scheduled…
Hello faithful readers, and thanks for coming back to In Defense Of… Last week we finished the case of Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker, which of course can be found in Part 1 and the jumbo-sized Part 2! Maybe that could have gone into three parts, but I think I made my case.
And you want to know why I think that? With 81.5% of the vote, Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker has been found:
Less votes then the Finger Poke of Doom, that’s for sure, but still a good showing for a true legend. Sadly, the man I set out to do the case for, Steve Cook, voted guilty! Way to turn your back on the guy, Steve. Thankfully, Dusty had me and 81.5% of the audience on his side instead of you. And then I plug you anyway?! What’s the matter with me?
Well, no use fretting, we have plenty of other cases lined up.
But perhaps this is you first time clicking on In Defense Of…? Maybe you didn’t read about Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker, The Finger Poke of Doom, Kevin Nash, the Elimination Chamber, or even Eric Bischoff. It might be that you’re only interested in the biggest controversies of them all. Or you really like Canadians. Either way, for those new to the concept, this article has a pretty simple premise:
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum wrap. Certain writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
And that’s what I intend to do.
Me? I’m the One and Only JP, and I am listening to digital music channel Soundscapes while writing this article. Does that actually help? Better then getting distracted by watching Teen Titans.
Some dame walked into my office and said…
It all started when I got an e-mail from the promo-man himself, Tim Hamilton:
Some ideas I have thought of that would work well for you column include… the Montreal Screwjob and how Vince did what he had to do (obvious choice).
That was soon followed up when my number one detractor MATTHEW Roberts suggested a number of topics he felt were better then some upcoming cases I shared with him:
Defending McMahon, Michaels, Hebner, and Triple H against the Montreal [Screwjob.] Yes, Bret screwed [Bret]. [Bret] should have done business the right way instead of being a mark for himself. It actually helped [Bret]'s failing career. [Bret] should stop being bitter.
And even very recently I heard from Gino who had this to say:
I don’t know if you have done it yet but can you defend Vince for screwing Bret? If nothing else, it’s a challenge
And the answer to all of them is this:
Well, actually to MATTHEW Roberts it is “kind of”.
You see, I will not defend Vince for screwing Bret. Don’t get me wrong, it has nothing to do with what happened in the ring.
When Vince and Bret were backstage, Vince lied straight to Bret’s face and said Bret could have it his way, and that was the end of it. Right there, Vince lost any ground he would have had. I do not defend lies on this scale, despite intentions. He had the option to refuse Bret, to say he’d think about it, or to not give him any answer. Instead, he said Bret was right, and that it was fine and dandy. For that reason, Vince McMahon will not be defended here.
But don’t read into this too much; I am not anti-Vince. As you will see at the end of this week’s issue, he is defendable in many other circumstances. And I’ll be glad to defend him then.
Now, this week’s issue is NOT about whether or not the Montreal Screwjob should have happened. Vince should not have lied to Bret to his face, this is true. Bret should not have tried to leave with the title. Leaving with the title hurts a promotion (see Ric Flair: Real World Champion or Medusa and a trash can). Both of these parties were in the wrong for their wants and actions. But one man was stuck in the middle… literally. And one man still gets blamed for it all across the great white north.
You Screwed Bret
Until a few days ago, Earl Heber was employed by World Wrestling Entertainment as a referee on RAW. As part of the WWE circuit, the RAW crew found themselves in Canada three or four times a year. And every time they went there, Earl would hear this chant:
“You screwed Bret! You Screwed Bret!”
On November 9, 1997 at Survivor Series, Shawn Michaels had Bret Hart locked in his own finishing move—the Sharp Shooter—and Hebner called for the bell. Shawn Michaels was declared the winner and new WWF Champion, and Heber was raced out of the ring.
He ran through the locker room and straight into a waiting car running in the parking lot that was set to drive him to the hotel to grab his things, and then straight to the airport. Hebner would have the next two days of RAW tapings off. Hebner was not quick enough at the hotel, and some wrestlers made it back there while he was still collecting his possessions. A good friend of Bret Hart’s confronted Hebner and asked him how he could screw over his friend like that. Fearing for his safety, Hebner said he was so mad about it, he would quit the company. This, of course, would not happen. But this was not some backstage dealings we are talking about, but the man’s safety. Hebner needed to get out the country, and he did.
Yes, Hebner was definitely in on the plot to screw Bret Hart, someone Hart considered one of his closest friends in the industry. Why would Hebner screw over his friend like that? Why would Hebner put himself at great personal physical risk for this? Why would he take the chance that he’d be ostracized from every other worker in the company?
Try thinking for yourselves before you pelt an innocent man with cigarettes!
Because Earl Hebner was doing his job.
And this is where people get confused. I think the best example comes from the film Clerks:
LISTENER 1: It's not that easy to quit.
ACTIVIST: Of course it's not; not when you have people like this mindless cretin so happy and willing to sell you nails for your coffin!
DANTE: Hey, now wait a sec...
ACTIVIST: Now he's going to launch into his rap about how he's just doing his job; following orders. Friends, let me tell you about another bunch of hate mongers that were just following orders: they were called Nazis, and they practically wiped a nation of people from the Earth... just like cigarettes are doing now! Cigarette smoking is the new Holocaust, and those that partake in the practice of smoking or sell the wares that promote it are the Nazis of the nineties! He doesn't care how many people die from it! He smiles as you pay for your cancer sticks and says, "Have a nice day."
DANTE: I think you'd better leave now.
ACTIVIST: You want me to leave? Why? Because somebody is telling it like it is? Somebody's giving these fine people a wake-up call?!
DANTE: You're loitering in here, and causing a disturbance.
ACTIVIST: You're the disturbance, pal! And here... (slaps a dollar on the counter) I'm buying some...what's this?...Chewlie's Gum. There. I'm no longer loitering. I'm a customer, a customer engaged in a discussion with other customers.
LISTENER 2: (to DANTE) Yeah, now shut up so he can speak!
ACTIVIST: Oh, he's scared now! He sees the threat we present! He smells the changes coming, and the loss of sales when the nonsmokers finally demand satisfaction. We demand the right to breathe cleaner air!
LISTENER 3: Yeah!
ACTIVIST: We'd rather chew our gum than embrace slow death! Let's abolish this heinous practice of sucking poison, and if it means ruffling the feathers of a convenience store idiot, then so be it!
DANTE: That's it, everybody out.
ACTIVIST: We're not moving! We have a right, a constitutional right, to assemble and be heard!
DANTE: Yeah, but not in here.
ACTIVIST: What better place than this? To stamp it out, you gotta start at the source!
DANTE: Like I'm responsible for all the smokers!
ACTIVIST: The ones in this town, yes! You encourage their growth, their habit. You're the source in this area, and we're going to shut you down for good! For good, cancer-merchant!
(The small crowd begins to chant and jeer in DANTE's face.)
CROWD: Cancer merchant! Cancer merchant! Cancer merchant!
In the grand scheme of things, the fact that Hebner was in on the screwjob and part of it does not make him one of the worst people on earth. Yes, always following orders is not the smart thing to do, and you should stand up for your beliefs. I was not backstage, but I am sure Hebner expressed his disappointment in what he was going to be a part of. Still, when you weigh your options, and you look at your choices, just because you chose the path of the bad guy it does not mean you are always bad.
Standing by and doing nothing is an atrocity, but no one’s lives were on the line. No nations were going to be overrun, no people oppressed and killed, and no years of war were going to follow. There was going to be backlash and regret, but at no point was Hebner putting anyone but himself at physical risk.
Dante was just selling cigarettes, it was people’s choice whether or not to buy them. He personally did not agree with them, but was not about to force his opinions down their throat. He’d be out of a job with nothing to show for it. No one would stop smoking from listening to him. Even the Chewlie’s Gum representative couldn’t do it, as one of the pelting parties bought a package of cigarettes immediately following this scene.
If Earl Hebner had made a moral stand, what would have happened? He would have been fired. I turn you to Week Forty-Two of Fact or Fiction:
6. Earl Hebner should not have been fired by WWE after the loyalty he showed in the Montreal Screwjob.
Stephen Randle: FICTION. Hell, the Montreal Screwjob actually sets the precedent. Nobody (except Vince's family, and I wouldn't hold him to it) is untouchable. Loyalty, friendship, they don't mean anything if you do things like publically (sic) embarass (sic) the company, get in the way of company plans, or, in this case, apparently steal from the company. Steal a car, go to jail. Steal from Vince (or any boss, really), go to the unemployment line and be thankful you aren't in the spoon position with Jimmy Hoffa.
Randle has it right. Hebner would have been fired on the spot for not doing his job. And two things would have happened. One, the screwjob would still happen because some other ref would be in there who would listen to Vince. Two, Hebner would have no where to go. WCW was full of referees at the time. Being fired means he would not have been part of the angle, so there would be no interest from that perspective to bring him in. Referees are not like wrestling personalities, and although they play an important role in the pace and layout of a match, they do not add enough that a company would just hire more. Even though WCW was making money hand over fist at the time, they still would not just hire anyone. Maybe Bret could have pulled some strings, but that was not a guarantee, and he might have been upset with Hebner for not telling him in the first place. There was simply too much risk.
On the same note, Earl could not go back to the independents. He had worked for years on the independent scene to get to the WWF, but there was no guarantee of work there either. There were plenty of young refs out there already who worked cheap enough part time that Earl would never find any work. Also backstage, his brother Dave worked in a management capacity. Dave, too, would feel the backlash effect of Earl’s actions, just like he has now with the merchandizing scandal.
But why should we listen to another outsider? Let’s ask Referee Scott Dickinson his thoughts:
Question 11: Earl Hebner: Loyal company employee, or backstabbing two-faced phony?
Scott Dickinson: Earl did what he had to do under very tough circumstances.
Question 31: If you were in Earl Hebner's position and had a family to support and your career on the line, would you have gone through with the double-cross, knowing you'd lose your best friend?
Scott Dickinson: Since I was never full time its hard to answer but I would [probably] be a company guy.
Just because you are doing a job, it does not make you responsible for everything. Earl Hebner was told to do something, and it was going to happen with or without him. He weighed his options, and saw what he was doing was not the worst thing in the world. Even the man he was hurting, Bret Hart, was going to be fine. Bret already had a $3 million a year guaranteed contract waiting for him. There really was not that much to worry about, aside from his own personal health.
In an interview with Alan Wojcik, Dennis “Mideon” Knight had this to say about the Montreal Screwjob:
The only bad thing that no one talks about is Earl Hebner who refereed that match, he almost quit the business. He took tons of heat but he did what the boss told him to do. How did Bret get screwed when he left and went into the way to the highest contract in wrestling history?
The seeds were planted 10 years beforehand
What is even more amazing, though, is that this type of action is not out of the nature of Earl Hebner the character. I refer you to yesterday’s Saturday Sentinel with Professor Newton Gimmick (which was lifted from 1wrestling which in turn lifted it from Wikipedia):
Hebner debuted as a referee during a WWF World Heavyweight Championship match pitting champion Hulk Hogan against challenger André the Giant, which aired live on February 5, 1988, on NBC's The Main Event. Hebner's twin brother, Dave, was the assigned official, but unbeknownst to Hogan, André's manager, Ted DiBiase, had bribed Earl to take his brother's place. Earl then counted André's pin against Hogan, even though Hogan's shoulders were clearly off the mat. As André and DiBiase were celebrating (with André quickly "selling" his title to an overjoyed DiBiase), Dave Hebner - whom DiBiase had locked in a closet prior to the match - ran to the ring and confronted Earl. Hogan turned around just in time to see the two brothers arguing and Earl knock down his brother.
And I had almost forgotten this! Earl Hebner the character debuted in a screwjob, that is his MO. Not only that, Earl was such a successful con artist that over time he convinced us that he was the good referee and that Dave was actually the evil one that DiBiase had paid off. We had been fooled for almost ten years into believing that Earl was actually a good man looking out for the best interests of the faces. But he often chose interesting methods to get there.
Let us not forget that he later intentionally screwed over Triple H in favor of the Rock. Or that he was often seen “toasting” in the ring with Steve Austin. Hebner the character definitely had personal biases and never hid them. He would kick a heel’s hand off the rope who was using it for leverage instead of making them break the hold. That goes far beyond refereeing, and straight into full blown personal interference.
The character of Earl Hebner was definitely the type to do the screwjob. He had done it before, and would do it again.
An issue without talking about buyrates?
Meanwhile, back in the real world, Hebner the person was rewarded for his actions and for protecting the company. As we have recently learned, Earl was making upwards of $500,000 a year, even more then Johnny Ace, head of talent relations. Earl could not have known this was going to happen, as he just wanted to protect his initial paycheck and his family. But the rewards were there for him proving that he at least did the right thing for his own personal life.
Yes, he did lose a good friend in the process, but even Bret Hart has forgiven Hebner for his role in the Montreal Screwjob. In an interview with Steve Gerweck, the Hitman had this to say:
SG: Are you still friends with referee Earl Hebner?
BH: No, I'm not friends with any of them. At the same time, I don't carry around a lot of anger. Earl Hebner is really just a victim.
If Bret Hart isn’t bothered that Hebner screwed him, then why are any of us?
The old 1-2-3
Earl Hebner was a man with one of the best jobs in the world: a referee for the WWE. He did not want to jeopardize his career or his family in 1997, and knew nothing was going to stop the oncoming storm. So he weighed his options, saw that everyone was going to be safe and monetarily secure in the end, took a big personal physical risk, and then screwed Bret Hart.
But in the end, Hart forgave Earl, and knew Earl had to do what he had to do. The character of Earl Hebner also knew that this is what he had always done and would do again. Everything made sense on the camera, and the world was safe backstage.
Earl Hebner screwed Bret Hart. No one is denying that. But for Earl Hebner the person and character, it was the correct choice to make, and he was justified in his decision.
Hebner may have lost his way over time with his large paycheck, but that does not change history. What happened in 1997 occurred just as it was supposed to: with Earl Hebner as the ref that screwed Bret.
The defense rests.
Well everyone, that wraps up our sixth case. So what do you think?
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VERSUS EARL HEBNER SCREWING BRET HART, HEBNER HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING JUST LIKE A NAZI FOR FOLLOWING ORDERS TO END THE MATCH IN MONTREAL AND NOT DOING THE RIGHT THING FOR BRET HART AND THE WRESTLING WORLD.
YOU THE JURY FIND EARL HEBNER SCREWING BRET HART
That was actually really hard to figure out how I wanted to word the final accusations against Hebner. Well, let’s see what you think! But please do not let the current news stories of Hebner cloud your judgment in this case. This is just about Hebner being a part of the Montreal Screwjob, not a complete character biopsy of Earl Hebner the human being.
And like I said above, to prove that I am not anti-Vince on all accounts (even though I am a self-admitted WCW mark), next time we begin a two part case in favor of Mr. McMahon. Not only that, but it’s about the InVasion.
So tune in next issue for In Defense of… Vince Not Buying Out WCW’s Contracts (Part 1 of 2)!!
Until then, the next time you read some throwaway line out there presented as fact, challenge it. The truth matters, and you have a right to know.
Know a particular person, event, organization, storyline, etc… in wrestling history that needs a defense? E-mail the One and Only JP at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be glad to hear your case.