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“The Montreal Screwjob” turns 18
[Occurred November 9th, 1997]

If you were born on November 9th, 1997, congratulations. You are now a legal adult. 18 years ago, you were born, but there was a controversy taking place in pro wrestling that would forever change wrestling history.

The WWF Champion at the time was Bret “Hit Man” Hart. Once a beloved fixture in the WWF, Hart’s championship reign took place during the downfall of a hero, as Hart had turned his back on the American audience. Although the fans hated Bret in America, they loved the Hit Man in Canada, which is where the now-infamous “Montreal Screwjob” took place.

Hart had plans to leave the WWF and retire from the company as its champion, but having been burned by former WWF Women’s Champion Madusa (who famously trashed the title belt on WCW Nitro), WWF Chairman Vince McMahon was nervous that Hart might do the same and soil the reputation of the company even further. Had that taken place, had Hart arrived at WCW and publicly destroyed the WWF Championship, the Monday Night Wars may have gone significantly different and Hart’s career may have lasted several years after. It’s also possible that Bret’s brother Owen may have jumped ship, and thus, wouldn’t have appeared at the Over The Edge event where his tragic death took place.

Instead, at the annual WWF Survivor Series pay per view, Hart’s championship reign came to an abrupt end. Depending on who you ask, someone (Michaels, Gerry Brisco, Vince Russo, Triple H, or a short list of others) came to Vince McMahon with an idea: to end the match in favor of Hart’s opponent and long time rival, Shawn Michaels, when the Heartbreak Kid applied Hart’s signature finishing maneuver, The Sharpshooter, to the champion. Business went as it typically did between Hart and Michaels, as the two had a strong disdain for one another, but when the hold was applied, referee Earl Hebner called for the title, and immediately fled the scene. For years after, in Montreal and several parts of Canada, Hebner, Michaels, and McMahon would receive “You screwed Bret!” chants.

Following the match’s end, Hart was visibly upset. Vince McMahon, who was standing ringside, acted puzzled at the decision, but Hart suspected an issue and immediately spat in the face of the WWF Chairman. It was because of the incident that the Mr. McMahon character was born, thus building a character that would play off of Stone Cold Steve Austin and add some extra gusto to the rising superstar. Shawn Michaels was escorted to the back and feigned irritance, though he later admitted that he knew the plan from the get-go. Hart began destroying televisions and expensive equipment at ringside, turning to the hard camera and spelling “WCW” with his fingers, signaling that fans of Hart would have to tune into Nitro to see the superstar any further.

Backstage, Hart asked Michaels if he had any idea what happened was going to happen. Michaels lied and said he didn’t, and told The Undertaker the same thing. When McMahon and Hart came face to face, Hart slugged McMahon in the face and a brief altercation happened between McMahon’s son Shane and Bret’s Hart Foundation brethren and brother in law, The British Bulldog. Following the incident, The British Bulldog would soon leave the WWF, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was soon to follow, and the last remaining member of The Hart Foundation, Owen Hart, would continue to be employed for the next two years.

Bret Hart wouldn’t return to the WWE for over a decade. The only time the Hit Man would resurface at all was in late 2005, when a DVD documentary was released about him, and at the 2006 Hall Of Fame where he was inducted as a member of the Class Of 2006. Four years later, Hart would return to WWE Raw in the first episode of 2010, coming face to face with Shawn Michaels and shaking his hand in a famous moment that shocked wrestling fans worldwide.

The reaction Bret gets when he steps out onto the stage brings a tear to my eye. The reaction of the fans during the entire conversation, and its conclusion, is so appropriate. Fans were seeing a moment take place that by any definition was monumental. It was a conversation that could have occurred in private, but one that was a real treat for fans who followed the careers of both men, both before and after the Montreal Screwjob. Michaels and Hart burying the hatchet but to bed a long staked rivalry between fans, both of their work and some who believed one side was right over the other.

As it stands today, The Montreal Screwjob is the most infamous moment in pro wrestling history, and for a number of reasons. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels are arguably the two biggest stars of the 1990′s, and definitely the best that the WWF had for their era. To see or have heard of either brings a gleam to the eye of fans who haven’t even watched wrestling since either man’s heyday, and a smile to the face of fans who still watch today.

I found a great relief from forgiveness. Forgiving the whole thing and making peace with it and moving on. What a therapy for me, I felt a million pounds come off my back when that was over. I think Shawn Michaels was carrying a lot of grief and he felt really lousy for his role in everything. How he screwed me over and how he looked that day, it bothered Shawn for a long time. When we made that truce and hugged on Raw, I can see that grief that he carried for so long was all lifted. I realized a few months later what a good thing that was for us. I recommend that to anybody out there who has issues where they can’t forgive someone, try to forgive; it’s really good for your soul.” - Bret Hart on calling a truce with Shawn Michaels

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eBook Inventor, Project Gutenberg Founder, Michael Hart- R.I.P.

Obituary for Michael Stern Hart

(Written by Dr. Gregory B. Newby)

Michael Stern Hart was born in Tacoma, Washington on March 8, 1947. He died on September 6, 2011 in his home in Urbana, Illinois, at the age of 64. His is survived by his mother, Alice, and brother, Bennett. Michael was an Eagle Scout (Urbana Troop 6 and Explorer Post 12), and served in the Army in Korea during the Vietnam era.

Hart was best known for his 1971 invention of electronic books, or eBooks. He founded Project Gutenberg, which is recognized as one of the earliest and longest-lasting online literary projects. He often told this story of how he had the idea for eBooks. He had been granted access to significant computing power at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. On July 4 1971, after being inspired by a free printed copy of the U.S. Declaration of Independence, he decided to type the text into a computer, and to transmit it to other users on the computer network. From this beginning, the digitization and distribution of literature was to be Hart’s life’s work, spanning over 40 years.

Hart was an ardent technologist and futurist. A lifetime tinkerer, he acquired hands-on expertise with the technologies of the day: radio, hi-fi stereo, video equipment, and of course computers. He constantly looked into the future, to anticipate technological advances. One of his favorite speculations was that someday, everyone would be able to have their own copy of the Project Gutenberg collection or whatever subset desired. This vision came true, thanks to the advent of large inexpensive computer disk drives, and to the ubiquity of portable mobile devices, such as cell phones.

Hart also predicted the enhancement of automatic translation, which would provide all of the world’s literature in over a hundred languages. While this goal has not yet been reached, by the time of his death Project Gutenberg hosted eBooks in 60 different languages, and was frequently highlighted as one of the best Internet-based resources.

A lifetime intellectual, Hart was inspired by his parents, both professors at the University of Illinois, to seek truth and to question authority. One of his favorite recent quotes, credited to George Bernard Shaw, is characteristic of his approach to life:

 "Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world.  Unreasonable
people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress,
therefore, depends on unreasonable people."

Michael prided himself on being unreasonable, and only in the later years of life did he mellow sufficiently to occasionally refrain from debate. Yet, his passion for life, and all the things in it, never abated.

Frugal to a fault, Michael glided through life with many possessions and friends, but very few expenses. He used home remedies rather than seeing doctors. He fixed his own house and car. He built many computers, stereos, and other gear, often from discarded components.

Michael S. Hart left a major mark on the world. The invention of eBooks was not simply a technological innovation or precursor to the modern information environment. A more correct understanding is that eBooks are an efficient and effective way of unlimited free distribution of literature. Access to eBooks can thus provide opportunity for increased literacy. Literacy, and the ideas contained in literature, creates opportunity.

In July 2011, Michael wrote these words, which summarize his goals and his lasting legacy: “One thing about eBooks that most people haven’t thought much is that eBooks are the very first thing that we’re all able to have as much as we want other than air. Think about that for a moment and you realize we are in the right job.“ He had this advice for those seeking to make literature available to all people, especially children:

 "Learning is its own reward.  Nothing I can
say is better than that."

Michael is remembered as a dear friend, who sacrificed personal luxury to fight for literacy, and for preservation of public domain rights and resources, towards the greater good.

This obituary is granted to the public domain by its author, Dr. Gregory B. Newby.