Summer Slam Memories (1997): Austin Breaks His Neck and No One Wins A Million Dollars

Alfred Lord Tennyson (not to be confused with Lord Alfred Hayes) once remarked “In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”And as July turns to August, naturally the young wrestling fan’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of Summer Slam. Thinking back on my days as a young man just out of high school, I recall the only Summer Slam I ever attended live in person, 1997’s Summer Slam: Hart & Soul, from the (former) Continental Airlines Arena.

I’ll admit to not remembering all that much from the event, so I made use of the ol’ WWE Network Subscription to re-watch the Biggest Party of the Summer. The event was probably most notable for Owen Hart inadvertently injuring Stone Cold Steve Austin’s neck during a piledriver and was main-evented by Owen’s big brother Bret challenging The Undertaker for the WWF Heavyweight Championship. And while this event just didn’t seem like a big deal (can’t quite put my finger on why), it was a pretty well-rounded card as the Attitude Era was beginning to take form. The show also had quite possibly the worst segment on any WWE PPV and possibly in live TV history.

Summer Slam – August 3, 1997

Commentators – Jerry Lawler, Vince McMahon, Jim Ross

Venue: Continental Airlines Arena – East Rutherford, NJ

Summer Slam Memories (1997) Austin Breaks His Neck And No One Wins A Million Dollars, HHH, Mankind, Chyna

You’re My Boy Blue

The show opened with a bit of foreshadowing, as Mankind and Triple H (then still curtseying and going by his snooty blueblood name of Hunter Hearst Helmsley) would come to dominate much of the spotlight in the years to come. Here, they were the opening bout, in an old-school WWF Blue Cage bout. Compared to the cages they use now, the blue version looks really short and a bit silly. However, I gotta admit I have a soft spot for ‘ol blue, as there was certainly less give to it than its contemporary. You really got some stiff shots from banging into it, the roughest on this night coming when Chyna slammed the blue door on an escaping Mankind’s head.

Mankind had the match won, when he decided to come back into the cage to give tribute to Jimmy Superfly Snuka, ripping his shirt and performing a flying elbow from atop the cage. Much like teenage Mick Foley jumped off his roof as Dude Love, adult Mankind would do the same off the top of the blue cage, as Dude Love’s music would escort Foley to the back.

Summer Slam Memories (1997): Austin Breaks His Neck and No One Wins A Million Dollars, Christie Todd Whitman

The True People’s Champion

As I re-watched the next segment featuring the Headbangers, Todd Pettengill, Gorilla Monsoon and NJ Governor Christie Todd Whitman, I assumed that things couldn’t get any worse than this moment. Boy was I wrong (read on to find out what ridiculous moment topped this). In New Jersey, where I was born, raised, and still reside today WWF was absent for about eight years (in terms of putting on live shows). Basically, WWF was treated like other “real” sports and expected to be regulated and taxed like the NFL or NBA. WWF had to admit in court that they were a non-sport and for their candor, WWF was deregulated by the state and the special tax they had to pay to hold events in NJ was lifted.

So to celebrate (hey, this was a big deal to wrestling fans in NJ), WWF trotted the governor out (with the Headbangers for some reason; someone had to make faces at the camera I guess) to receive an honorary WWF belt. In true New Jersey style, she was roundly booed, probably not because of any particular political stance but because it was frankly something political at a wrestling show. Whitman was crowned the “true people’s champion “ (so yeah, The Rock was definitely ripping off Whitman) and boasted to the crowd of “body slamming the entertainment tax.” Oh, and Todd Pettengill was there to yuk it up, so this segment was well…only the 2nd most awkward of the night.

Summer Slam Memories (1997): Austin Breaks His Neck and No One Wins A Million Dollars, Goldust, Brian Pillman

Fun With Dress Up

Lots of stipulations to keep straight with this PPV. So in the Brian Pillman vs. Goldust match, Pillman would have to wear a dress the next night on Raw should he lose. This would be the precursor to a weird turn in the rivalry where eventually Pillman would “win” Marlena to be his slave for 30 days. The storyline ended abruptly due to Pillman’s untimely death in early October.

Watching Pillman, it’s a shame he died so young as he was very quick in the ring and had the unhinged persona Dean Ambrose can only dream about. Jim Ross also reminded us that we can call the Superstar Line and hit “option 5” if we wanted to hear from Pillman “uncensored” after the match (it’d be creepy if that number and option still worked). Anyway, Goldust won this match after Marlena whacked Pillman in the head with a loaded purse. Yup, this is wrestling.

Summer Slam Memories (1997): Austin Breaks His Neck and No One Wins A Million Dollars, Godwinns, LOD

Slop

Next up we had the Godwinns squaring off against the aging Legion of Doom. L.O.D. could still kind of go in the ring, but it was becoming clear that the WWF was turning a page and they weren’t taking Hawk and Animal with them. They were good at yelling their promos though and they would prevail with a spike piledriver.

Summer Slam Memories (1997): Austin Breaks His Neck And No One Wins A Million Dollars, Sunny, Sable, Todd Pettingill

The Worst (Non-Wrestling) Segment in WWE PPV History

Now, maybe I’m forgetting something obvious, but this next segment  (Your SummerSlam Million Dollar Chance) made the whole Mean Gean/Gobbledy Gooker reveal seem like the (insert name of TV finale you thought was amazing, here). So basically, the WWF was going to try to give away a million dollars to a lucky fan. Todd Pettengill gets to yuk it up again in front of the live crowd (I really don’t remember this bit…maybe I blocked it out), but is this time accompanied by Sunny, Sable, two contest “winners” flown out to the event, and a coffin filled with a million dollars (rest in…luxury).

The contestants had to choose from 50 keys that could potentially open the coffin. Ok, not great TV, but not train wreck worthy just yet, despite Pettingill’s repeated jokes about Sunny’s boobs with a 12-year-old kid standing next to him.

Where it really starts to unravel though is when they decide that two contestants aren’t enough. Nope, they needed two more. And instead of just getting them from the crowd, Todd Pettengill was just going to dial random phone numbers live in front of 20,213 people (a record for WWF at CAA; which isn’t saying much being that there hadn’t been a WWF show there during the decade). And wouldn’t you know it, the first two numbers he tried were a ‘no answer’ and a ‘disconnected’ respectively. The third try actually got through to someone who had no problem telling Todd that he was NOT in fact watching the PPV. When all was said and done, not one of the four people who “won” a key ended up hitting paydirt and Your Summer Slam Million Dollar Chance ended up being just that…a chance. Also, this segment took up 9 minutes of the show, or approximately .05% of the 169 minute show.

Summer Slam Memories (1997): Austin Breaks His Neck and No One Wins A Million Dollars, Ken Shamrock
Photo: WWE

Doggone Crazy

Ken Shamrock and The British Bulldog faced off, vying for the latter’s European title. Somehow the setup for this match involved dogfood (hey, at least it didn’t involve Pepper the dog, right?). Davey Boy had humiliated the former MMA star in the build to Summer Slam by covering him in dog food (he’s the British Bull-DOG people) and Shamrock was none too pleased. So in another stipulation match, The British Bulldog would be forced to eat said dog food should he not defeat Shamrock. WWE was really into humiliation back then!

Everything was going well for Shamrock until the match spilled outside. When Smith attempted to attack Shamrock with the dog food (conveniently sitting ringside) that’s when Shamrock lost it and began pummeling the Bulldog with the dogfood. Cue the DQ. But the night wouldn’t be over for Shamrock as a bloody Shamrock would then choke out Davey Boy before suplexing Pat Patterson, Jerry Briscoe, and any referee stupid enough to get in his way, thus earning him the biggest pop of the night thus far. Yay, Shamrock rage!

Summer Slam Memories (1997): Austin Breaks His Neck and No One Wins A Million Dollars, Los Boricuas, DOA

Race War!

After Crush and Savio Vega were fired by Faarooq and the Nation of Domination, they both went on to found their own factions, the Disciples of Apocalypse and Los Boricuas respectively. The DOA was a bunch of big biker dudes (the white faction), while Los Boricuas were random Puerto Ricans (some of whom were strangely hairy). The WWF then made the viewing audience decide the uncomfortable question of which race to root for. Go Blacks! Go Whites! Go Puerto Ricans!

This match also featured a stipulation that whichever side lost would have to change races for 30 days (OK I made that one up). Anyhow, the Nation would interfere in the match (this was shortly before The Rock was on board) and after a Los Boricuas distraction-infused-win the scene would devolved into chaos. However, until all of the races of the WWF can get along, I declare that NO ONE was the real winner of this match.

Summer Slam Memories (1997): Austin Breaks His Neck and No One Wins A Million Dollars, Steve Austin, Owen Hart

He’s Almost Drawn A Bullseye On Austin’s Neck

The most important, life/career alternating moment of the night surely came during the Stone Cold vs. Owen Hart battle for Owen’s Intercontinental strap. Again, there was a stipulation, this time if Austin failed to capture the title, he would kiss Owen’s ass on Monday Night Raw. Lawler really wanted to see this happen….I mean he was really really into it. This match was a classic in the making, and like Pillman, you really start missing Owen watching this match. Despite being a bit smaller in stature, Owen really was the total package (with all apologies to Lex Luger). He was quick, technical, had great ring psychology, and of course played the sniveling heel to perfection. The youngest of Stu and Helen’s offspring would work the hand and middle finger of Austin before turning his attention to Austin’s neck later in the match. Jim Ross would offer the prescient line “He’s almost drawn a bullseye on Austin’s neck and he’s shooting for it.”

Little did he know he know that the piledriver delivered to Austin shortly thereafter would leave Austin temporarily paralyzed and put him out of serious action for months. Austin would abandon the more technical aspects of his offense and develop into more of a brawler, and actually go on to his greatest success. Hart would hang around the mid-upper card and eventually regain the IC strap before losing it to a returning Austin at Survivor Series.  Sadly, Owen would die during a stunt as the Blue Blazer about two years later.

As for this Summer Slam, after the piledriver left Austin writhing in pain on the mat, Owen stalled by playing to the crowd. “Now he’s gonna kiss my ass!” Austin would then execute the saddest roll up you’ll ever see as Owen basically laid on the mat without trying to fight out of the pin. As a fan seeing this live, I do recall being confused, as it wasn’t known that Austin had been legitimately hurt.

Also, of note: A young, goateed Michael Cole made an appearance, attempting a pre-match interview w/ Stone Cold Steve Austin. Austin, as you’d imagine was none too pleased.

Summer Slam Memories (1997) Steve Austin Breaks His Neck And No One Wins A Million Dollars, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels
Photo: WWE

Oh, Canada

On paper, the main event was a match between the WWF Heavyweight Champion The Undertaker and Bret Hart (w/ special guest referee Shawn Michaels). However, based on the pre-match video package, it was clear the Undertaker was not really important to this story. The real story and feud was between HBK and Hart. In the final stipulations of the night, Hart promised to never wrestle in the United States if he couldn’t win the belt off Taker, while Michaels would suffer the same fate if he didn’t call a fair match (was Earl Hebner sitting in the back grading his performance?).  

The match was your typical Bret Hart working over the big guy match and was fairly stiff by today’s standards. The match seemed a bit unnecessarily long (perhaps to cover for Owen and Austin, or maybe that Million Dollar Challenge was supposed to take a full half hour), including half-hearted run in attempts by Undertaker’s ex-manager Paul Bearer and Pillman and Owen (I guess Bulldog was too “passed out” to help out…though he showed up at the match’s conclusion ten minutes later).

As the match entered its final moments, Hart would strike Taker with a rough, direct chair shot to the head, behind the injured Michaels’ back. After coming to, Michaels would find the steel chair in the ring and question Hart about it’s use. An irate Hart spit the biggest, grossest loogie (Bret Hart is to spit, as Knowshon Moreno is to tears) you’ll ever want to see, right in Michael’s face, causing Michales to attempt a chair shot on Bret. However, Bret ducked, the chair hits Taker and Michaels is begrudgingly forced to count 1-2-3 on the Deadman.

s slam logoSummer Slam Memories (1997): Austin Breaks His Neck and No One Wins A Million Dollars, Bret Hart Undertaker

The Aftermath

Michaels went on to feud with Undertaker, defeating him in a no. 1 contender’s match in the first ever Hell in a Cell match at Badd Blood: In Your House. This would lead to Michaels continuing his other feud with Hart, defeating him at Survivor Series for the championship in the infamous Montreal Screwjob.  

More importantly, after Undertaker and Steve Austin were forced to vacate their tag titles (due to Austin’s neck injury) to the winners of a four team tag tournament, the Headbangers. The Headbangers would of course go on an epic 28-day run with the titles (likely inspired by Governor Whitman’s tough stance on taxes), redefining tag wrestling as we know it….until the Godwinns defeated them and went on their own epic 2 day tour with the belts.

Summer Slam Memories (1997) Austin Breaks His Neck And No One Wins A Million Dollars, DX, Shawn Michaels

While probably not one of the top Summer Slam’s of all time, it was significant in setting the table for what would develop into the Attitude Era. By the end of 1997, Bret Hart would leave the company, The Rock and HHH would begin their rise, Austin-McMahon would heat up, and DX would form and even get a PPV named for themselves (December’s D Generation X: In Your House).

On a personal note, I think the only thing I remember from attending this event was the botched Austin/Hart ending and the governor bringing wresting back to NJ. Seventeen-year-old me really needed to pay better attention to his wrestling

Summer Slam 1997 Results

Mankind defeated Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Steel Cage Match)

NJ Governor Christie Todd Whitman becomes the “People’s Champion”, predating The Rock

Goldust defeated Brian Pillman (Pillman forced to wear a dress on the next night’s Raw)

Legion of Doom defeated the Godwinns

No one won a million dollars

The British Bulldog defeated Ken Shamrock (by disqualification)

Los Boriquas defeated the Disciples of Apocalypse

Stone Cold Steve Austin defeated Owen Hart (to become new Intercontinental Champion)

Bret Hart defeated The Undertaker (to become new Heavyweight Champion)

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