The Hart Foundation is one of the most successful tag team tandems in the history of the WWE and their achievements with lengthy reigns as World tag team champions is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their legacy and influence on the sport. But even though Jim Neidhart and Bret Hart enjoyed decades in the spotlight both as a team as well as in solo competition, there is lots about this championship winning twosome that many may not realize.
From their earliest days in the sport, to the peak of their careers, here are 20 things that you didn’t know about the Hart Foundation – both the team, and later the faction.
In the history of World Wrestling Entertainment, there have been a number of great tag teams and factions to be created under the watchful eye of Vince McMahon. Among the most memorable to be developed as a product of the WWE – not an established team that arrived on the WWE’s doorstep as a package deal – is easily the Hart Foundation. While the duo of Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart established a formidable record as a pair, winning two WWE tag team titles, perhaps many fans remember them for their actions a decade later when they expanded their ranks to form a stable. Whether with Jimmy Hart in their corner, or going it alone, the contrast of Bret’s finesse and Jim’s unyielding power proved a winning recipe for success.
In one of the most divisive eras of professional wrestling – vehemently despised in the United States while valiantly heralded when they appeared north of the 49th parallel, there was something electric about the eclectic mix of talent assembled in 1997 when the original team members added Owen Hart, Davey Boy Smith and Brian Pillman to the mix.
There was more to the team than just their ability to simultaneously tread the line between good and evil and shift gears depending on the reaction of the crowd. In fact, there are lots of secrets that the fans may not know about the Hart Foundation. When you learn more, you may be scratching your heads to wonder why they aren’t following the Four Horsemen as a faction honored in the WWE Hall of Fame. From personal secrets, to forgotten sound bytes in the mainstream media, here are 20 things you didn’t know about the faction headed by ‘The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.’
20 Neidhart played in the NFL
Stu Hart loved the toughness of pro football players and many of the stars of Stampede Wrestling were pro footballers who converted to the squared circle. Neidhart came into wrestling with an impressive record in the NFL. He made it to the final round of cuts for the 1980 Dallas Cowboys squad that went to the Super Bowl against the Steelers. Neidhart had also played with the Oakland Raiders. Jim started his wrestling career in the football off season in 1978, while juggling his commitments in both sports until 1980.
19 Jim Married Bret’s Sister in 1979
Not long after his arrival in Calgary, Jim met and married Bret’s sister Ellie. Though married into the Hart family, Bret and Jim weren’t aligned as a tag team in Stampede Wrestling and each wrestler ventured out on their own path on the independent scene prior to separately arriving in the WWE. In fact, the duo only teamed up 16 times as partners while wrestling under the Stampede banner before the re-united as a team under Vince McMahon’s WWE banner.
18 They took Different Paths to WWE
While Bret is best known as a product of Calgary’s Stampede Wrestling territory, many do not realize that Bret had a very active touring schedule during the early years of his career. Bret’s travels included tours of Japan, Puerto Rico, Germany, England, New Zealand as well as stops in Texas, Hawaii, Georgia, and a few matches for Jim Crockett promotions.
Neidhart on the other hand, did a few international tours in Japan and Germany as well, but spent more time on the American territories including stays for Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling, in Memphis for Jerry Jarrett, and was wrestling for Championship Wrestling from Florida when he signed with the WWE.
17 Bret Never Wanted a Lengthy Ring Career
In an interview with Saturday Night magazine at the height of his career, Bret told the interviewer that early in his career he had told his brother Keith that he didn’t believe he would stick with wrestling for a long time. On the Stampede Wrestling circuit, Edmonton was a weekly stop every Saturday night, Bret told his brother, “That’s my party night”. Fortunately for wrestling fans around the world, wrestling night trumped party night and Bret went on to become one of the most prolific wrestlers of his generation, with more than 3,200 professional matches to his credit throughout his career.
16 Neidhart’s connection to Charles Manson
After being cut from the Oakland Raiders, Neidhart was involved in a fracas that landed him temporarily behind bars, in the same correctional facility that housed Charles Manson. Neidhart related his experiences to comrades on the road, noting the elevated security protocols whenever Manson was transported anywhere within the prison. While he only served 21 days in jail, perhaps it added to Neidhart's later persona.
15 Bret Suggested the Team to Avoid “Cowboy” Fate
George Scott, the creative director of the WWE was a former wrestler from Hamilton, Ontario who had spent time touring for Stampede Wrestling in the 1950s and 60s. Upon Bret’s arrival to the WWE, George assigned a role of “cowboy” to Bret, owing to Calgary’s reputation as the home of the annual Calgary Stampede rodeo. However, Bret told Scott that where he’s from, if you wear a cowboy hat, you’d better be a legitimate cowboy. Bret suggested the team with his brother in law to avoid the fate of being known for a largely generic and forgettable gimmick and have the opportunity to make a real impact in the WWE.
14 Wearing Pink was Intended as a Joke
While pink and black would become the signature look for the team and later for Bret in his solo career, the choice of pink was originally a joke by Jim Neidhart intended to get a rise out of the administration. However, the reaction from the ticket buyers was so strong, that the decision was made to go with it. Pink and black would become such a signature look for the team in both tag team and solo competition that to see the early photos of the duo in black or in blue almost seems disorienting.
13 Their Rivalry with The Bulldogs was a Family Feud
The Hart Foundation first made their mark in the WWE shortly after their formation as a team in battles against the British Bulldogs. Some fans may not realize that the aggressive and competitive nature of these wars could be attributed in part to the fact that all four were related through marriage. Neidhart was married to Bret’s sister Ellie, Davey was married to Bret’s sister Diana and the Dynamite Kid was married to the sister of Bret’s first wife Julie.
12 Neidhart Earned his Nickname at the Calgary Stampede
For publicity, Stu Hart entered Neidhart into an anvil throwing competition at the 1982 Calgary Stampede Rodeo and Fair. Neidhart won the contest by shotputting the steel implement 22 feet, thus earning himself the moniker that he would carry for the duration of his ring career. In one WWE pre-match interview, Neidhart remarked: “Think? They don’t pay me to think. They pay me to be tough like an anvil. Hence the name, right?” His one time feat of strength to generate some visibility and notoriety for the Stampede Wrestling promotion became an enduring trademark attached to his own identity.
11 Bret Hart wasn’t trained by Stu
Stu Hart is credited with launching the careers of dozens of wrestlers from his infamous Dungeon, a wrestling training room in the basement of his Calgary home. Many may assume that Bret’s career was also launched by Stu but that’s not the case. Instead, Bret was taught the ins and outs of the sport by Mr. Hito and Kazuo Sakurada, two wrestlers who were touring with Stu in the late 1970s.
10 Jim Neidhart was Afraid of the Dark
Many don’t know that the Anvil was afraid of the dark and as a result during his career would rarely go to bed earlier than 5 am. The conflicting schedules of both members of the team would eventually see them travel and room separately during their run as a team. You wouldn't expect this out of someone looking as intimidating as The Anvil did. Fortunately, the two were still able to stay very close on the road, as Bret has often said Neidhart's the reason he survived so many days on the road.
9 Owen Had To Work Extra Hard For A Chance in WWE
Owen Hart, while still wrestling in Stampede Wrestling, was awarded the Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine Rookie of the Year award. His victory marks the only time in history when a Canadian independent wrestler captured this award. By the time of his award victory, he had already toured extensively for his father’s promotion and had completed a tour for New Japan Pro Wrestling.
He had also appeared on select cards for the WWE in Washington State and Ontario, besting Moose Morowski and Steve Lombardi, respectively.
8 Owen Started Really Young
While officially debuting in April 1986 just a week prior to his 20th birthday on a tour for Stampede Wrestling, Owen’s first documented matches as a pro actually took place when he was 17 years old on a tour in England with his brother Ross. One of Owen’s first known matches took place on January 7, 1984 in Macclesfield, England against Steve Logan. Family wrestling lore among the Hart brothers have confirmed that Owen would occasionally join his brothers on tour while still competing as an amateur, for those occasions, wrestling under a mask by the name (ironically) “The British Bulldog”, though no record of these matches has been found to date.
7 Bret Hated the first WWE-branded Poster for the Team
The first poster released by the WWE featuring the Hart Foundation displayed Bret, Jim and their manager Jimmy Hart. Playing off the old adage of ‘hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil’ it showed Neidhart plugging his ears, Bret covering his eyes and Jimmy covering his mouth. Bret, who was very popular with the female fans in the WWE was dismissive of the sales potential for the poster which largely covered his face.
6 Davey Boy Smith Was Discovered by Bruce Hart
The British Bulldog’s North American career may not have happened at all had it not been for a visiting Canadian wrestler touring England in the late 1970s. Bruce Hart, elder brother of Bret and Owen had been on tour in the U.K. when he discovered the Dynamite Kid and was captivated by his style. Bruce paved the way for Dynamite to get his start in Canada, which opened the door for Dynamite’s cousin Davey Boy to seek his fortune in North America as well in 1982, first landing in Calgary, Alberta where he gained experience, and considerable size, while wrestling for the Hart family’s Stampede Wrestling promotion.
5 Brian Pillman’s Hart Foundation Connection
When the WWE re-launched the Hart Foundation as a faction in 1997, re-uniting Bret and Jim and adding younger brother Owen Hart and brother in law Davey Boy Smith seemed like a natural fit to bring the family together. The addition of Brian Pillman to the fold may have confused some new fans to the sport. However, Pillman had a long association with the Hart family, making the transition from professional football to the ring in Calgary. Pillman was trained by Bruce Hart and toured and often teamed with Owen during their early careers.
4 The team could have had multiple configurations
When Bret launched his career on the Stampede territory in the 1970s, he most frequently teamed with his brother Keith. Bret and Keith would capture the Stampede Wrestling International tag team titles and feud with some of the top teams in the territory at that time. Keith also regularly teamed with older brother Bruce. At the time that the WWE took over the Stampede territory in 1984, any of the brothers or all three could have been signed to a contract for the syndicated wrestling franchise. Keith and Bruce made only sporadic appearances in the WWE, most famously at the 1993 Survivor Series, paired with Bret and Owen.
3 Neidhart partnered with a later rival
Jim Neidhart was wrestling in Florida when he got the call up to the WWE in 1984. At that time, he was successfully campaigning with a different partner, one which would be among his fiercest rivals in the WWE. He held the Championship Wrestling from Florida tag team titles with Krusher Kruschev (Minnesota’s Barry Darsow), who would later rise to fame in the WWE as a member of the tag team Demolition – Smash. Few people remember, but the duo of Neidhart and Darsow were reunited for three nights in 1989 in matches against Tully Blanchard and Arn Anderson, when Darsow’s partner Ax (Bill Eadie) was unable to appear.
2 The Hart Foundation is still not in the WWE Hall of Fame
Though topping a WWE vote of the company’s greatest tag teams, the Hart Foundation has still not been inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. This is a particular slap in the face for the duo who served as a dedicated tandem for the company from 1985 to 1991, and then being re-united again just prior to the start of the attitude era but have been passed over for teams that do not lay claim to a track record of any kind in the WWE.
In 2016, the Fabulous Freebirds were inducted, despite spending less than a month in the WWE in 1984. Initially being managed by Cyndi Lauper’s manager David Wolfe, the Freebirds were touted for big things under Vince McMahon’s national expansion which failed to materialize. Still, they have been inducted and the two time WWE tag team champions still await the Hall of Fame nod.
1 The Hart Foundation lives on … The Owen Hart Foundation
While the Hart Foundation is still actively discussed by long time wrestling fans as one of the greatest tag teams of their era, the name has gone on to hold greater significance in association with one of their junior members, Owen. The Owen Hart Foundation was established by Owen’s wife Martha after his passing. The Foundation, which was established to provide “opportunities for hard-working people who have limited resources and unlimited potential” has issued more than $3 million in grants for eligible recipients and continues to ensure that the ‘Hart Foundation’ is an establishment that will be spoken about in reverent tones.