20 Years Later: A Look Back At WWE Smackdown September 13th, 2001

Two days ago was the 20th anniversary of the horrible terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11th, 2001.

This past Friday on Smackdown, WWE had tributes for the 20th anniversary of that faithful day with the show taking place at Madison Square Garden in New York City, which is where two airplanes flew into the World Trade Center. It was a stacked show with Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns facing off, an incredible match between Edge and Seth Rollins, and the return of “The Demon” Finn Balor. It was probably the best episode of Smackdown of the year and rightfully so. I can still remember exactly where I was that day twenty years ago when I heard about the attacks. I was 15 years old in high school and going to my second period class. I remember going into my history class ironically. The teacher had the television on the news which was weird because that wasn’t common for him to do during class. I remember seeing on the news about the devastation that was being caused in New York City. It was surreal to me that something like this could happen in my lifetime. I watched on the television as they were talking about the first plane hitting the World Trade Center when the second plane hit the World Trade Center. At that point, the rest of the school day was just watching the news and talking amongst ourselves in class.

Everything was canceled. The NFL, MLB, college sports, all sports leagues that were running games put a stop to all league activities that day. Nobody knew what to do or where to go. Planes were grounded, nobody knew what was safe and what wasn’t. The WWE (WWF at the time) were scheduled to tape Smackdown on Tuesday night. Obviously, that wasn’t going to happen as they had to cancel their taping. Vince McMahon decided that they would air a live episode of Smackdown from Houston, Texas on Thursday, September 13th, 2001, which means today is the 20th anniversary of that show. It was the first mass the show and not knowing what to expect. What will it be like? Are they safe? You never know because you don’t have anything to compare it to.

I watched the 9/11 documentary by WWE on Peacock this weekend. You can just tell how chaotic it was just getting everything ready for that night. They enlisted the help of Mattress Mack, Jim McIngvale to help with the promotion of the show. Jim has helped out with numerous events in the Houston area because he is such a staple to the community with the various work he’s done.

Watching the documentary put a lot of things in perspective about that day. They interviewed former ESPN anchor Trey Wingo as well as the aforementioned Jim McIngvale. You rarely see Vince McMahon do sitdown interviews or get emotional, yet you saw that here. Hearing Paul Heyman speak as a native New Yorker and getting choked up was rough to watch at times. This was toward the end of the WWF vs Alliance story as it was over in November of that year at Survivor Series 2001. Your WWF Champion was Stone Cold Steve Austin, and your WCW Champion was The Rock.

The documentary showed clips of the September 10, 2001 edition of Monday Night Raw. This was the show where Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Alliance delivered a beatdown to Tazz. Who knew what would happen just several hours later? I knew people who were affected by those attacks on 9/11. I had an uncle in the military who was not far from the Pentagon. I had friends who lost loved ones in those Twin Tower attacks. It was unbelievable that such a malicious and coordinated attack on our country was even possible. President George W. Bush urged all of us to get back to our lives and live without fear.

I watched that Smackdown more intently than I have any other. Jim Ross mentioned on his recent Grilling JR podcast with Conrad Thompson that originally Michael Cole and Tazz were the commentators for Smackdown, but that Vince McMahon personally believed JR should be on the call that night, so they went with the Monday Night Raw commentary team of Jim Ross and Paul Heyman. I think that was the right call. Jim Ross was thevoice of a generation. Most certainly the voice of the Attitude Era WWF so there really wasn’t a better option to do the show that night.

The matches were what the matches were. That wasn’t the story that night. The Alliance versus WWF story took a backseat that night as it should have. There were several videos of WWF Superstars offering their condolences and their thoughts on the attacks in a manner that is similar to the Owen Hart and Eddie Guerrero tribute shows. It was a way for certain WWF superstars and agents and even John Mcingvale himself to express how they truly felt. Chris Jericho really got his point across about wishing he was in New York helping the first responders. Michael Hayes gave one of the best monologues when he went over the history of American wars. He really hit it home when he said we are not perfect people, but we are good people. There are some bad people in this country. I’m not going to lie and say we are perfect but I am damn proud to be an American. Michael Hayes then finished it with two important sayings: United We Stand, Divided we Fall, and Be Careful what You Ask for because you just might get it. It was a very impassioned speech that drew a loud applause from the audience. You could see the emotion on the faces of guys like The Rock who told everybody to stay strong. Ivory broke down and cried. Bradshaw (now known as JBL) made what was probably my favorite one of the night. He gave a very passionate speech in which he told the critics of the show to go to hell and spoke of the strength of the American people. You can say what you want about JBL, but he is a very patriotic man. He was the main force behind the annual tribute to the troops episodes that still air to this day.

There were guys Lance Storm, who is Canadian, get choked up during his interview really drove home what this meant not just to America but the world. Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Michael Thornton giving his thoughts was a nice touch. He resided in Houston, so it was probably easy to get him to film his thoughts. Of course, there was controversy among some that reared its head when word of the WWE documentary on that show came about.

Stephanie McMahon gave her thoughts on the terrorist attacks and compared it to the Steroid Trial that almost sent her father, Vince McMahon, to prison. In hindsight, it was probably a poor comparison, but if you get past the McMahon family hate for a second, you’ll realize that she was only 24 years old at the time. I can’t even tell you my mindset when I was 24 years old. That means she was around 15 or 16 years old when the steroid trial was going on. Now, imagine you’re a teenager and you’re sitting in a courtroom. You’re sitting in a courtroom listening to all of these accusations against your father. The realization starts to set in that he might be going to prison and the empire that he built was about to come crashing down. As a 15-year-old boy, I thought my father was perfect. Yeah, we had our disagreements, but nobody could tell me my dad wasn’t the greatest man on earth. So I can only imagine what Stephanie felt during that trial. Could she have worded it differently? I think so. I also think she was comparing it to the only other traumatic event in her life and on that day that was probably all she could think of. We should give her a break.

As I mentioned earlier, the matches were okay. There were no real standouts. Lilian Garcia did a masterful job of singing the National Anthem. Even watching it back on the WWE documentary got me choked up a little bit 20 years later. The biggest highlight was probably Olympic Hero, Kurt Angle main eventing the show against Rhyno from The Alliance. Kurt was fully over as a babyface by this point. However, tonight was another level with the loud “USA” chants that were prevalent throughout the night. It was a memorable experience with Kurt Angle winning the match with the Angle Slam. The USA chants were loud after the match as it was a great way to send the Houston, Texas crowd home happy, even for one night.

The September 13 2001 edition of Smackdown wasn’t about WWF vs The Alliance even though most of the matches were Alliance vs WWF talent. It was more about giving the people an escape from reality. An escape from the reality of the horrific events that happened two days prior. I don’t think there has ever been a prouder moment in WWF history than that night. It represented strength. It represented hope. It represented the fact that we were stronger together than we ever were apart. We were never more united than we were during that period. From that Smackdown to the WWE event a month later in Madison Square Garden to the World Series appearance by the New York Yankees just over a month after the attacks. It was a great boost of morale for a city that desperately needed it. It proved above all else that we can be a strong nation. It reminded me somewhat of the Coronavirus pandemic where all sports shut down and yet companies like WWE and AEW took the reigns and led the charge of keeping the entertainment aspect alive.

Professional wrestling has always been the backdrop when everything else falls. It’s 52 weeks a year, no offseason, no breaks. One thing you can always count on is a professional wrestling show and that is one thing that makes me happy to be a wrestling fan.

I think WWE deserves more credit for what they were able to pull off just 48 hours after these terrorist attacks. September 13, 2001, will not go down as one of the best Smackdowns ever. It will, and should, go down as the most monumental Smackdown ever because of what it gave the fans and what it represented for America. You can say what you want and make all the jokes you want. One thing you cannot say is what America gives up. We are resilient and we have been through a hell of a lot, especially in the last 18 months. We got through those attacks, and we came out stronger because of it. I firmly believed then as I do now that if we made it through that, we can make it through anything.

My condolences go out to anybody who lost loved ones in the attacks of September 11, 2001. God bless all the first responders who were on the front lines trying to save as many lives as possible. God Bless the military who work tirelessly to make sure we are safe. Most importantly of all, God Bless the United States of America.

The WWE 9/11 documentary is on Peacock/WWE Network and was also posted on WWE’s Youtube channel. I have posted it below.


Thanks for reading. I’m very active on Twitter @GiftedMoney talking about wrestling among other things, so feel free to message me on there with any thoughts or comments.