The infamous Montreal Screwjob changed the course of professional wrestling forever. The double-cross led to Vince McMahon infamously turning heel on the fans of the company he ran. Backstage reports and a camera crew who happened to be present at the time gave fans unprecedented access to a wrestling event that truly transformed the business.
Referee Earl Hebner found himself in one of the most unfortunate spots as the plan unfolded. He was to ring the bell, signaling a Bret Hart submission as Shawn Michaels applied his signature sharpshooter. Long-time WWE employee and Vince McMahon confidant Gerald Brisco talked about the incident on Bruce Pritchard’s “Something to Wrestle” podcast. He said the ref was given no choice but to betray his friend Bret.
“As the match was getting ready to go to the ring, Earl was getting ready to get in there. I grabbed Earl by the arm and I took him just a few steps from the Gorilla position where Bruce (Prichard) was sitting, and Davey Boy and Owen, so I couldn’t talk to him right in front of them because they would alert Bret somehow that Brisco was talking to the referee and to be aware of something.
So I took Earl back in a little corner and Earl did not want to do it. Earl was not going to do it. I just started laying it out in black and white to him. I said, ‘Earl, you have a mortgage on your house, right? If Bret takes his title down there (WCW), and like I said, we’re not in the greatest shape financially, we being WWF, is he going to pay your mortgage? Is he going to pay your electric bill? Is he going to feed your family when he takes off and he’s down there making billions of dollars? What’s going to happen to you if you refuse to do this and I have to replace you?’
I went to Timmy White and asked Timmy to stand by. I told Timmy, ‘We might have a ref bump so I might need you to stand by.’ That’s how I covered it with Timmy to be on standby to referee the match just in case something happened. Timmy of course being a company man said, ‘Yea, I’ll be glad to.’ He said, ‘I hope nothing happens.’ I said, ‘Well I do too, but I might need you as a standby.’”
The WWE hierarchy clearly painted Earl Hebner into a corner. Brisco went on to add that they had referee Tim White on standby, just in case Hebner refused to play along. He ultimately did and has said it’s the biggest regret of his career.
What do you think of the way WWE treated Earl Hebner? Let us know in the comments!