The 1997 angle which saw Bret Hart turn heel against Steve Austin at WrestleMania 13 and embrace foreign countries, while verbally degrading America every chance he got, is one of the most fondly remembered storylines in WWE history.
At the time, the then-World Wrestling Federation had never seen a storyline that utilized the element of a polarizing audience to the degree of that storyline.
Speaking with Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp, Bret Hart recalled how much fun it was coming up with intelligent verbiage for that angle.
"I remember in the beginning they would have me say stuff. I remember I’m walking this line between being a babyface and a heel, and I remember a lot of times saying, 'I’ve got to say something smarter than that. I can’t just go out there and say stupid stuff. I’m kind of still a babyface. It has to be done in a very intelligent way,'" said Bret. "I think there was an effort to keep it pretty smart in the beginning. That was where it kind of petered out was when they cut the power on me. Vince mysteriously ran out of ideas about the end of August. They didn’t really push the US / Canada promos for me. Vince was the one that came up with the idea of the storyline about giving Pittsburgh an enema. I remember I was like, ‘Geez, that’s a bit strong.’ ‘Cause I always liked Pittsburgh as a city. It’s like, ‘Yeah, you gotta say that.’ It was always one of the things, I’m not sure I’ve ever been forgiven in Pittsburgh for saying that."
That angle would take Bret Hart from WrestleMania 13 to the Survivor Series in 1997 or he would have the infamous match with Shawn Michaels in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, otherwise known as the “Montreal Screwjob.” Bret Hart says that Vince McMahon was very Hands-On with his anti-American gimmick until the end of summer and his match with The Undertaker at the 1997 SummerSlam event.
Bret Hart would work with "The Patriot" Del Wilkes at the In Your House: Ground Zero event and then compete in a tag team Flag Match alongside Davey Boy Smith against Vader and The Patriot at In Your House: Badd Blood, but by then, Bret Hart was beginning to feel like all of the steam had been taken away from the story.
"But, Vince was hands-on telling me how to do the whole US / Canada thing. One of the things that happened after SummerSlam, after I worked with the Patriot and the Undertaker. But, that time period they just cut the power. If you watched my promos for the next two months, I’m walking out there and it’s the same thing as I had in WCW where I don’t know what I’m talking about," said the five-time WWE Champion. "I don’t have anything to say other than I’m saying what I said the week before. It’s just ranting about Canadians being better than Americans. It lost a lot of its power because ultimately Vince McMahon, he’s the idea guy. He was a big part of the success of that US / Canada thing working ‘cause he was giving me a lot of ideas. I think it was part of my intentional grounding was to go, ‘Okay, now we’ll cut the power on him. Let him go out there and he doesn’t know what to go out there and say.’"
He continued, "It’s too bad. I’ve always thought that was one of the smarter storylines. I always loved the line I had about ‘they don’t shoot each other and kill each other on every street corner’ and all that stuff. Turned out to be pretty fitting stuff for the times. Even in those days, when I think of the United States today and how much problems with the political tensions that they have right now, if I go back to remember those days, I can remember in some of those places like Montgomery, Alabama, and places like that, getting in my car to drive off after the show and I would have hillbilly guys in trucks follow me for miles, shaking their fists at me and trying to drive me off the road. It was dangerous stuff."
Bret Hart further explained how his promos on television would really incite the anger of some American fans.
"These guys are really mad that I’m bashing America. They were like redneck nutjobs. I had a lot of whackos that, as soon as I started putting down America, was like serious stuff to them. I’m glad that nothing bad every happened from it. I can remember telling Vince that was becoming a problem for me to leave the buildings at night at the end of the show. ‘Cause I was all by myself at the end of the night and I’ve gotta drive to the next town and there’s fans that would follow me for 50-60 miles, shaking their fists at me and trying to cut me off. Again, it was part of the strange job sometimes where they don’t understand the stuff you gotta go through on a twenty-four-hour basis."
As for what “The Hitman” really thinks about Canada/America relations, Bret Hart says that Canadians are just the more laid-back version of Americans, calling Canada "the bastard child" of Britain and America.
"Canadians have always been the more gentler, laid back version of Americans anyway. We’re really the bastard child of Britain and America. ‘Cause we’re like Americans, but we’re [Britished Americans.] It’s a unique place. Canadians always have a good temperament. I think we’re a better place ‘cause Canada, for the most part, we don’t mind wearing masks. It’s not that big of a deal."
You can see our full interview with Bret Hart at the top of the page. To hear more from Bret Hart, you can subscribe to his website and hear Confessions of the Hitman. He also has appeared on Corner Gas Animated on CTV Comedy in a cameo role.