May 23rd 1999 I would like to say it’s a date that lives in infamy for wrestling fans but I know too many fans who would just ask me what happened and I am sure that is the case with some that are reading this column right now. With that being the case I will say 2 words that I know live in infamy in professional wrestling forever: Kemper Arena. It has been almost 10 years exactly now since Owen Hart took that tragic fall from the rafters. To some it feels like yesterday and they can?t believe that 10 years has gone by already, to others so much has transpired that it feels like longer. I don?t hear enough in remembrance about Owen Hart anymore and well we should. We are talking about a wrestler who was actually a genuine good guy in and out of the ring. No drug problems, not a malcontent in the back, nor a politician. Just a good guy, it can be said that Owen Hart was the last of the good guys in wrestling?you?re reading ?Wrestling Rumblings?.
I didn?t know Owen Hart anymore than any of you did but I always held a special place for him amongst my favorite wrestlers. You see Owen Hart was the first wrestler I ever met. November 27, 1993 Madison Square Garden it was my first ever wrestling show. I had probably been watching wrestling for 8 or 9 years at that point but never had a opportunity to attend a show much less one in the famed Madison Square Garden. This was back when Madison Square Garden really meant something to wrestling and although the then WWF was not coming to the garden as much as it used to in it’s heyday it still was a venue that meant much to them also. Survivor Series had just transpired 3 days earlier and everyone saw what had transpired between Bret and Owen in the Survivor Series elimination match up and we all knew the feud was near but at the time angles were built slowly so we weren?t quite there yet. Even still it’s funny how easy it was with fans back then because just an argument with Bret at Survivor Series was enough to make Owen Hart one of the top heels in the business all of a sudden. People may want to argue that point but I don?t care I was there and I saw how much animosity everyone had towards Owen because back then that is how beloved Bret was. It should be pointed out also that Bret didn?t even work this show which was really weird to me since it was a MSG show but it was also smart as the powers that be kept those two apart long enough for the angle to play itself out on TV. You just don?t see that anymore.
I?m getting a bit off topic though so let’s backtrack where was I? Oh yeah me my cousin (who incidentally would go on to become an independent wrestler in his own right) my aunt and my cousin’s friend made our way to the Garden early and well like any 11 year old kid in that position I was awestruck looking around. I mean this is the place where Sammartino, Backlund, Morales and Hogan all sold out countless upon countless shows. Yes I was young but I was already becoming a student of the game and definitely knew the history of MSG and it was a big thing for me to be inside that building even if it was for a meaningless TV house show. Of course being the sneaks that we were we tried sitting in someone else’s seats which were almost ringside but not quite ringside and while we were getting settled someone caught my vision maybe 10 rows away from me?that’s right you guessed it we saw Owen Hart in a wife beater just walking around the arena like he didn?t know who he was. At that point in time I was not the brave guy that would go on to speak to countless wrestlers so I was in so much awe I didn?t say anything. It was almost like a mirage to me I mean why would Owen Hart the same Owen Hart I watch on TV every week be just moseying around the seats. He should be getting ready for his match but he was there and of course after he had gone about 20 rows out my cousin’s friend finally noticed him and said ?Hey isn?t that Owen Hart?? To which my cousin and me looked and readily agreed that it was and yelled about as loud as we could for him to come over. Now I want to stress something here Owen could have acted like he didn?t hear us. He was practically almost out of the area at that point. Who the hell were we that he should come back? After all he had a match to prepare for. Furthermore he was a heel at a time where kayfabe was still occurring from time to time. How many times has Bret said in the past how when he was doing the angle with Owen they wouldn?t even travel together? So he could have just played the heel and just kept going instead he did the opposite and came back.
I could just say he came back and gave an autograph and left but it was more than that. He actually came and talked to us. I am not going to exaggerate and say we had a half hour conversation but I won?t say he didn?t take an interest. He seemed happy at that point to be recognized. After all it wasn?t really all that long ago that Owen Hart was under a hood as the Blue Blazer and before his match at Survivor Series all he did was jobs on TV for the most part. It is no wonder many fans just sort of sat idly by while what would go on to be one of the greatest performers skated on by them. Anyway he came and talked to us and I was so awestruck I couldn?t even say ?Hello? and shake the guy’s hand. He had to literally find my hand and shake it and introduce himself no less as if I didn?t know he was Owen Hart and after autographing all our ticket stubs (Except mine because I was so in awe I never had the sense to hand him mine but my aunt came through and gave me hers thanks!!) He was on his way again. All I could think of afterwards was how great this man was to us and how it didn?t matter what he was doing in the ring we had to support him.
Of course later on that night Owen Hart worked with Marty Jannetty who was kind of winding down off of his big run with Shawn but still had some value to him. They had a nice little match and there was a chant that started in the arena when Owen got heat ?Shadow?. You see when everything went down with him and Bret at Survivor Series Owen had cut a promo proclaiming that he was living in Bret’s shadow and tired of it so of course because the fans all sided with Bret he got this chant. He wrestled his match and I forget the finish but needless to say Marty was on his way down and Owen was on his way up so he went over. It should be pointed out that the comfortable seats we had originally claimed were taken from us by the people who paid for it so me and my Aunt had returned to our less than glamorous seats while my cousin and his friend continued to forage towards ringside so I didn?t get to catch up an compare notes with my cousin until later on in the evening on the way home. The first thing my cousin’s friend says to us is ?You should have seen Lou, Owen Hart had Marty in a headlock and the fans started chanting ?Shadow? and when it got really quiet Lou did it again by himself and Owen for a brief minute stopped what he was doing and shot Lou the dirtiest look that guy is never giving autographs again?. I look at it now and it was so funny because I swore at the time that Owen was pissed but looking back on it with what I know now it was a testament to what kind of performer he was that he got someone who typically cheered the heels as my cousin was known to do who he met, talked to and gave an autograph to boo him. I mean that’s amazing all we ever hear about is how wrestling is about suspension of disbelief and trust me people Owen is, was and always will be my cousin being the exception for obvious reasons the nicest wrestler I ever had the pleasure to meet and yet he was able to get us to hate him again. I think that’s one of the best compliments I can give any performer.
Anyway the Owen Hart autograph became a prized possession of mine for years and Owen went on to have a spectacular career. Sure he never won a world title but at the same time he didn?t really need it. He was the funniest wrestler on the card at times, there were times when he was the most intense, and one thing everyone can say was there wasn?t a single time where he wasn?t entertaining. Of course that all came to an end that fateful day in Kemper Arena. What would have happened if Owen just said no and didn?t perform that stunt? Who knows maybe he would still be performing, maybe he would have actually won a world title the world will never know. Those are the unimportant things in the end though. The important things are he would have been around for his kids and who knows maybe just maybe he could have healed the dissension that would later grow in his family. The one thing I know?the one thing everyone knows is that we all really miss him. R.I.P Owen you were and are the King of Harts.