Steve Austin – The Neck Injury That Changed His Life Forever

August 3rd, 1997 is a day “Stone Cold” Steve Austin will never forget. An Intercontinental Championship matchup was lined up between two seasoned greats, Owen Hart and Steve Austin, two men who knew how to dance in the ring. What was supposed to be a reverse that would feed into a piledriver led to an amazing gaffe that changed Steve Austin’s life forever. The original plan was for a Tombstone piledriver, which is why many speculate Austin positioned his head so. Instead, Owen turned the move into his Hart Driver, and the rest is history.

The Hart Driver that almost broke Stone Cold Steve Austins Neck
The botch that almost paralyzed Austin. SummerSlam ’97. [Photo courtesy of WWE Network]

Steve Austin and Owen Hart Each Tell Their Version of What Went Wrong

Read about the infamous botch, which resulted in a bruised spinal column and temporary paralysis for Steve Austin, and the thoughts of “Blue Blazer” Owen Hart after the incident occurred.

(Side note: Despite what is often reported, Stone Cold Steve Austin did not break his neck during this match. Austin himself has cleared this up numerous times on his Podcast.)

OWEN HART:

“The crowd was right where we wanted them. Everything was perfect. I could do no wrong.

Everything [Steve] did, the crowd responded to. He was the fan-favorite, and I was the bad guy.

It’s like [having] a dance partner. You go out there, and you do your stuff, and everything is going well. And then, all of a sudden in a split second…” [snaps fingers]

STONE COLD:

“I remember we went into the piledriver deal. I picked him up, and then we reversed that, and he picked me up…”

OWEN:

“I saw his neck – there was a bit of a push, an impact on my thighs – and his neck is so vulnerable. I knew that Steve had a bad neck prior to us going in the ring. He’d had a trapped nerve for a while — a few months — it was really bugging him. Even if you just shoved him from behind, if his neck kinked back, he would get lightning bolts [of pain].”

STONE COLD:

“My head was about, I dunno, six or eight inches below the bottom of his legs, and he jumped up and spiked me.”

OWEN:

“I dropped him on his head. The match went from utopia to hell in a second. I knew right then; there’s something wrong.”

STONE COLD:

“As soon as my head hit that mat, I was thinking Christopher Reeve. Cause I thought I was never gonna walk again, ever.

I couldn’t feel anything from my neck down.”

OWEN:

“He said, ‘I can’t feel my fingers.’

All of a sudden, my first concern became ‘Is he paralyzed?’

That twenty seconds- it felt like forever. Slow-motion, you know? What do you do? Do I look at the promoter and tell him this isn’t part of the match? There’s a point where you’ve gotta say, ‘What’s more important?’ – The guys’ health, or satisfying this crowd and the cameraman and everybody else.”

STONE COLD:

“Man, I’m laying there, and now pain’s starting to set in.

I couldn’t use my hands yet, but I could turn over and use my forearms to crawl. It took me a long time to straighten my knees to be able to… [but] there was no way I was gonna lay there and let some ambulance or bunch of paramedics carry me out of that ring.

And then finally, I can start using my hands. I hit him with the roll-up… it looks like shit.”

OWEN:

“My two-year-old daughter could have rolled me up better. He didn’t have the strength to do anything else. He grabbed me and pulled me down and pinned me 1-2-3…”

Stone Cold Steve Austin holding up the belt after his neck injury career ending match
Steve Austin: “I grab the belt, and I held it up in the air. When I looked back at that footage, if you look at my eyes – the lights are on, but there ain’t nobody home.”

STONE COLD:

“It took about three referees to pull me to my feet.

I grab the belt, and I held it up in the air. When I looked back at that footage, if you look at my eyes – the lights are on, but there ain’t nobody home. I’m pretty fucked up, and I’m really hurt, but I did it.”

OWEN:

“It was shocking to me. I felt terrible. I didn’t want to hurt a guy. Probably it’s just hindsight now, [but] I would never have pile-driven him knowing what was going to happen.

I certainly didn’t mean for it to happen. I felt terrible that it did.”

STONE COLD:

“I remember going to the back, I sat down on a bench, and I was in a world of hurt. And I was confused. I didn’t know what was gonna happen to me.

When you come that close to almost being paralyzed for the rest of your life, it really fucks your head up.

And I just remember I had this intense burning in my interior-delts, like fire.

That would last for about two weeks. After about two weeks, it kinda turned into a real dull itch, and then finally it went away. But at that point, after the MRI’s, X-rays, and visiting about 3 or 4 doctors, I was basically out of the ring for about 3 or 4 months.”

BRET HART:

“When we went home from the pay-per-view, I told [Owen], I said, ‘You’ve gotta call him.’

And Owen- he went home, and he never called.

He forgot.

When Owen went home, he was all about his family and didn’t think about wrestling once he left the arena. I don’t think he handled that well and I think that did change the relationship that Steve had with Owen. And I think Steve was always a little bit pissed off that Owen didn’t seem to care that he hurt him.”

STONE COLD:

“Owen almost paralyzed me. He called me only once to apologize while I was in the hospital.

If I almost break someone’s neck, I’m calling them 25 times to apologize.”

OWEN:

“People, they don’t know. They think wrestlers are superhuman, [that] this isn’t supposed to happen, there’s gotta be a catch – the guy’s gonna spring up and beat Owen.

We’re not magicians.

I watch it back and think, ‘There is no happy ending in this…'”

VINCE McMAHON:

“That incident really, really bugged [Steve], on so many different levels.”

STONE COLD:

“For a long time, I watched [the video] over and over. 20 or 30 times a day. I still like to watch it every now and then. These days I watch it just to realize where I’m at. It just kind of keeps everything in perspective. I consider myself really lucky.”

Despite the hardships and pain that Stone Cold Steve Austin went through after the injury, some say it was a blessing in disguise for him. The Texas Rattlesnake was forced to turn more into a stone-cold brawler as opposed to the technical wrestler he was pre-injury. This change in style can be attributed to one of the reasons why he became so popular.

A Tragic Irony: Steve Austin Breaks the Neck of Masahiro Chono the Same Way Owen Hart Would Injure Austin 5 Years Later

Five years prior to this match, Steve Austin was in the proverbial shoes of Owen Hart when the exact sequence of events that caused Austin’s injury caused Austin to seriously injure the neck of Masahiro Chono by using the same inverted piledriver sequence.

If you enjoyed this piece, be sure not to miss the following articles on our site:

Sources used in this article: Slam! sports/canoe.ca, documentary interview, Austin: 1998 interview, ‘Stone Cold Steve Austin: The Bottom Line on the Most Popular Superstar of All Time,’ Bret Hart HOF speech, On The Hour

Some quotes used in this article originally compiled by Matt Pender and shared here with thanks to our friends over at ‘Wrestling’s Glory Days’ Facebook page.


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