By Nick Perkins, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@WesternRebel)
“Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?”
- Auld Lang Syne
Ten years ago, the unthinkable happened. Bret “The Hitman” Hart returned to the WWE, throwing rock salt on hell after it had just frozen over. For years, fans were conditioned to believe that this would never happen, despite being repeatedly told to ‘never say never.’ That was all well and good, and maybe that directive could be applied to most things in WWE. But when it came to Bret Hart, most fans felt pretty confident in saying that he would never return. But he did and, for that one night, it was magic for wrestling fans.
More than that, though, it must have felt like magic to Bret Hart. For many years, Hart held a lot of anger in his, um, heart towards WWE and Vince McMahon and much of that anger was justified. Hart was truly never the same after that fateful night in Montreal, so returning to the company must have felt like the weight of the world being taken off his shoulders. He probably returned for many reasons – a paycheck and peace of mind among them. But I believe the biggest reason Hart returned to WWE was because he didn’t want to just be remembered for the Montreal Screwjob. More than that, he simply didn’t want his legacy, his real legacy, to be forgotten. He said just as much in his return promo, in fact.
“This is a chance for me to say to all of my fans, all around the world, thank you so much for never letting me be forgotten.”
- Bret Hart, January 4, 2010
More than six years later, another long shot legend returned to the company. Bill Goldberg, a WCW staple who had a less-than-stellar year in WWE back in 2003, was another performer that had so much bad blood with Vince McMahon, he could have kept The Brood in business for years. But, again, McMahon made peace, let bygones be bygones and gave Goldberg the closure that he sought for more than a decade. Closure and peace, much like with Bret Hart, were important to Goldberg. But not being forgotten was just as, if not more, important to him as anything else.
“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. It’s been a long time and you didn’t forget!”
- Goldberg, October 17, 2016
And it’s those two instances that I’ve been thinking about as we enter into the new decade. I caught Goldberg’s interview with Steve Austin on the WWE Network and he spoke at length about wanting to end his career on a high note. He wanted to show his wife and son what he did and, in his words, he wanted to be “a super hero” to kids across the world one last time. What struck me about that interview was how vulnerable Goldberg allowed himself to be. And when they showed the clip of his return, back in 2016, I was able to look at him in a new light. And it was because of that word – “forget.”
This industry, more so than any other sport, relies heavily on their legends. Men like Goldberg, The Undertaker, and so many more legends continue to lace up their boots and, while money certainly plays a large factor in their decision, I believe it’s their legacy that is on the forefront of their mind. Of course, the irony is that every time they step back into the ring, they risk damaging that same legacy. But that is a price they are seemingly willing to pay, in order to not be forgotten.
That fear of being forgotten about is a very real, very relatable one. All of us want to do something that matters. We want to make an impact, we want to leave a legacy. When we die, we want to approach the gates and have somebody, anybody, tell us that we did a good job.
That’s what many of these professional wrestlers want. They want to know that they did a good job. As the years pass and the profession evolves and audiences continue to flock to whatever is new and shiny and different, it’s easy to forget about the stars from yesteryear, even megastars like Bret Hart and Goldberg. That’s why these guys and girls return year after year, anniversary show after anniversary show or, in some cases, WrestleMania after WrestleMania. They want to still feel like they’re a part of the only world they’ve ever known.
As fans, it’s easy to roll our eyes or point our fingers or tell these men and women to hang up their boots. But we don’t know what it’s like to walk, or to wrestle, in those boots. That’s why I roll my eyes when I scroll through Twitter and see snarky writers make comments about The Undertaker or Goldberg or Kurt Angle or Sting, or Tully Blanchard or Arn Anderson or any number of wrestlers who are holding on for as long as they can.
We don’t get to decide when their stories have been written – they do. And no, I don’t want Goldberg wrestling The Fiend for the Universal Championship at WrestleMania. But if wrestling a match once a year lets him and people like him feel like they still belong, like they still matter, like we haven’t forgotten about them, who are we to tell them no?
So, this year, let’s try to be a little kinder – to each other and to our favorite or even least favorite wrestlers. We need to remember that these people we see on our television screens may look like superheroes, but they’re still people, just like you and me. They have the same fears, insecurities and vulnerabilities that we do. Let’s try to have a little grace when The Undertaker puts in a ten-minute match at Mania because who is it really hurting? Let’s let these men and women hold on until they no longer can; let’s let them be legends until the lights finally start to flicker and eventually fade. Most of all, let’s remember them, because that’s all they really want. It’s all that really matters, according to another legend of this business.
“I don’t wanna die, but I’m not afraid to because, what’s left, man? What do you do when they quit chanting your name?”
- Scott Hall, October 16, 2011
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