Raw Magazine-Back in Black- 5/02

Sunday, February 17, 2002
Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
6:59 p.m. C.S.T.


It felt like the WrestleMania main event. Backstage, the normally boisterous locker room was bathed in complete silence. Out in the arena, the 15,291 fans who had jam-packed the Bradley Center for No Way Out were creating the sort of buzz found only at heavyweight world championship fights. And in the usually placid Gorilla position, the last stop for the Superstars before heading to the ring, throngs of Federation officials strained their necks and stood on their toes in the hope that they would be able to tell others that they witnessed the moment the nWo debuted in the World Wrestling Federation.

It had been a long time since Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash appeared nervous at a sports-entertainment event. But as Vince McMahon uttered his final instructions to the trio in the Gorilla position, it was obvious that the butterflies were churning. Hogan, gently swaying and occasionally nodding his head, looked off into the distance, perhaps recalling the many other times he had been called on to rejuvenate the business. Nash, standing to Hogan's left, was walking in place, asking an occasional question, and flashing the kind of smile that belied the tension that everyone was feeling. Hall, closest to the curtain and to the left of Nash, stood still and focused like a laser on Vince.

From behind the desk, a Federation official screamed, "Thirty seconds." Vince offered some final words of encouragement and advice, and then the trio huddled together as one, showing each other their goosebumps of excitement. A few seconds later, the first few strains of their theme music blared from the arena's loudspeakers, and the official yelled, "Go!"

Hogan, Hall and Nash had arrived, and with a long thunderous ovation that rocked the Bradley Center to its foundation, the Federation faithful let them and the world know it. Days later when asked why he and his cohorts decided to return to the Federation, Kevin Nash would reflect upon the crowd's reaction and say, "That is why we do this."

When Vince McMahon announced that he was bringing the nWo to the World Wrestling Federation, he turned the sports-entertainment world on its head. Longtime fans of the trio were ecstatic. Others who didn't like them loudly voiced their disapproval. Rumors of backstage grumbling and a barrage of mainstream media coverage soon followed. Always lightning rods in the business, Hogan, Hall and Nash had proved once again that when it came to drawing publicity and crowds, they still had few peers in the industry. Sunday, February 17

12:03 p.m.

Bradley Center


Hogan, Hall and Nash were fully aware that not everybody in the Federation family was happy that they were back. No one had spoken any ill words to them directly, but having been in the business for so many years, they didn't need to have the situation spelled out for them. Many in the locker room and front office viewed them as real poison.

Earlier in the day, they had gone to a local gym to train their bodies. But from the looks on their faces and the tension surrounding them, it was obvious that the physical exercise they endured was as much to clear their minds as it was to tone their bodies.

Now, as they traveled the few blocks from the hotel to the Bradley Center, whatever peace of mind they may have garnered at the gym was quickly vanishing. Normally gregarious, they were strangely silent. For better or worse, they were about to find out whether they would be accepted by their peers.

Their reception in the locker room turned out to be what they expected. The few Superstars with whom they had kept in contact over the past few years welcomed them back with open arms. Longtime Federation officials, who they hadn't seen in years, also gave them a warm welcome. Many others, however, were distant, a sure sign that they were far from being one of the boys."

As the day wore on, the chill backstage warmed ever so slightly. There was a lot of work to do before the pay-per-view, and once everyone had come to grips with the reality of the trio's arrival, business returned to a somewhat-normal state. That's not to say that Hogan, Hall and Nash were now just another three Superstars' in the locker room. They were under a microscope, and they knew it. At times, it seemed as if a spotlight was shining on them wherever they went, but they did their best to fit in and deflect attention from themselves.

6:52 p.m.


Eight minutes before No Way Out was to begin, the atmosphere changed. As Hogan, Hall and Nash made their way to the Gorilla position, a different tension permeated the backstage area. Questions about being accepted in the locker room were replaced by questions about how they would, perform in front of a live audience. None had been in an arena in over a year, and it had been much longer since they had appeared in front of a Federation audience. There was a lot riding on their performance, and friend and foe knew it. How they would respond was anyone's guess.

7:06 pm HEY, YO

The nWo had made it through the Gorilla and into the ring. For a full five minutes, the Bradley Center crowd had been at a fever pitch, but as Kevin Nash handed the microphone to Scott Hall, the building became silent. Everyone wanted to hear it; Scott Hall wanted to say it. He milked the silence for only a few seconds and then gave the crowd what it wanted: "Hey, yo!"

"To be honest, I wasn't really sure I was going to say it, because of the serious tone we were going out there with," Hall recalled. "Normally, we always jacked off and just laughed our way through things. But when Kev handed me the mic, I looked out into the crowd and saw `Hey Yo,' `Survey' and nWo signs. When I got the mic, I could feel the people waiting for it.

"I used to milk it for minutes and minutes, and that makes for a much louder pop. This time, though, I don't know all the guys in the company. A lot of them might be thinking that these prima donnas are cutting into their ring time. So I just did a slight milk, and then said it. Of course when you do something and it's successful, it feels great."

7:09 p.m.


While Hogan, Hall and Nash were raising a ruckus in the arena, they were silencing the Superstars and production crew in the back. Everyone, it seemed, was gathered around a television monitor, curious to see how these three men were responding to the pressure and how the crowd would react.

11:50 p.m.

Interstate 94 between Milwaukee and Chicago


The nWo had cleared the first hurdle. They had navigated their way backstage and had shaken off the butterflies in front of a live audience. It may not have been a home run, but the three men, who had been counted out by many, felt that they had hit a solid double.

Earlier in the day, Nash had commented that until they stuck their heads through the curtain, they could neither be accepted in the locker room nor could they consider themselves to be back in the business. Now that they had, it was obvious that they were happy to be back.

"Coming through the curtain for the first time was awesome," Nash said. "It felt like the first time. I felt like a f*****' Beatle. We heard the music pop and the crowd rumble, and I looked over at the guys and said, `You can't buy this.' There's nothing like it on earth."

By the time the limousine arrived at their Chicago hotel, it was after 1:00 a.m. Years ago, they might have headed out to enjoy the local nightlife. But at this stage in their lives and with so much at stake over the next two days, they headed right for bed. Monday night could make or break their comeback, and they wanted to be at their best.

Monday, February 18

8:45 pm

Backstage at Allstate Arena

Five minutes before the Babe Ruth of sports-entertainment was set to deliver the most important promo of his career, he stood alone on a delivery ramp wondering whether he was up to the task. Questioning whether he could go one-on-one with The Rock. Questioning whether the fans still gave a damn about Hollywood Hulk Hogan.

Scott Hall came by to offer the Hulkster a few words of encouragement. "You're a pro, you can do it no problem," he told Hogan. "Thanks, brother," Hogan responded with a nod. Outwardly, he appeared to regain confidence, but his mind was still racing: "All I have going for me are past accolades. I don't even have a match from last week. Do they still remember me? Do I still have that stroke? If I blow this, are we done?"

Even as he strode to the ring, the questions persisted. Perhaps for the first time in his career, Hollywood Hulk Hogan was seriously worried.

8:50 p.m.

Section 202


Dennis Argerson has been a Hogan fan since the early 1980s. When he bought tickets for himself and his two sons, Theo, 15, and Brett, 13, a few weeks ago, he had no idea that his favorite Superstar would be back in the Federation. For years, he's had an ongoing debate with his sons about who "the man" in sports-entertainment really is. Dennis had tried his best to convince his sons that Hogan is "the man," but they have remained steadfast in their support for the Federation's newer Superstars, specifically Stone Cold Steve Austin and The Rock. Tonight, Dennis was hoping that Hogan would be able to teach his sons a lesson or two.

All three rose to their feet as the Hulkster entered the ring and the chants of "Hogan! Hogan!" echoed through the arena as the crowd swelled with excitement. Dennis turned to his sons and smiling, cupped his hand to his ear, Hulkster-style. Theo yelled something back, but by now the chants were so loud that Dennis could only shrug in reply.

As Hogan began to speak and pay homage to the faithful, Theo and Brett appeared awestruck. The chants grew louder, and it seemed as if they were about to be swallowed by the throngs of Hogan and nWo fans who were, by now, jumping up and down and yelling their hero's name at the top of their lungs.

But, suddenly, Hogan stopped thanking the fans and started to berate them. The mood changed. Theo and Brett took advantage of the silence and began to boo the Hulkster with the same passion thousands were just using to cheer him. Soon, they were joined by many others. Brett yelled something about having the last laugh, but little did he know, the roller-coaster ride was just beginning.

8:55 p.m.


When The Rock burst through the curtain and made his way into the Allstate Arena, the place exploded. Many of those who had cheered Hogan got caught up in the emotion and began chanting the name of the "Great One."

What happened next was one of those rare moments that will forever stand the test of time. Hogan and The Rock. The Rock and Hogan. Back and forth they went, each time taking the crowd to a higher level. As they stood toe-to-toe and eye-to-eye in the ring, it was as if time stood still. The past, present and future all melding into the moment. Dennis, Theo and Brett no longer went back and forth with each other. They, along with the rest of the crowd, simply rode the emotional wave. Louder and louder. Higher and higher. This was the World Wrestling Federation at its very best. Hollywood Hulk Hogan, The Rock and the sellout crowd lifting each other into the rarefied air of sports-entertainment immortality.

By the time Hogan, Hall and Nash had finished off The Rock with their signature moves, the Allstate Arena was in complete bedlam. When the nWo left the arena and the show went to a commercial break, Dennis, Theo, Brett and the rest of the crowd finally settled back into their seats. Everyone, it seemed, was either shaking his head or had a smile on his face. The Rock fans, Hogan fans, it didn't matter. What mattered was that they had just been a part of something that they would remember for the rest of their lives. Their smiles and their looks of wonderment gave their thoughts away.

11:17 p.m.

In the limo on the way back to the hotel


Hogan, Hall and Nash's demeanor was markedly different than it had been 24 hours ago. There was a bounce in their step, and looks of relief had been transformed into looks of genuine satisfaction. If Sunday's efforts had produced a double, then today's had produced a grand slam. From the Hogan/Rock promo to driving the semi into The Rock's ambulance, everything had exceeded their expectaions. Even the locker room had begun to thaw a bit. Hall and Nash were giving all the credit to Hogan.

"it was a team effort," Hogan responded. "Me, you guys, everyone involved. It was a team effort all the way."

Thursday, February 19

1:30 pm

Interstate 90 on the way to Rockford


With two days under their belt and a few hours to relax on the way from Chicago to Rockfors, Illinois, n Wo's thoughts turned from the moment at hand to the past specifically, to the reasons why they had left the Federation in the first place. "It was bittersweet leaving," recalled Hall. "I'll never forget the last night at Madison Square Garden. It was hard to say good-bye. Vince had made us stars, and it was difficult to tell him good-bye. It was tough to say good-bye to everyone."

"But I think Vince understands that this is a business, and it wasn't personal or anything underhanded, or anything like that," Nash added. "That's one of the great things about Vince. He doesn't hold a grudge, and he understands the business better than anyone."

"I'll tell you one thing, though," said Hogan, "it sure is good to be back."

4:37 p.m.

Backstage watching Raw at the Rockford MetroCenter


"It felt like when I bodyslammed Andre the Giant in front of 93,000 at WrestleMania III. I used to wrestle guys who would tell me, `Hulk, you're the only guy we've ever been in the ring with that the hair actually stands up on our neck when we hear that crowd.' That was the way I felt being in there with The Rock, except that the hair stood up higher, even higher than when the 93,000 people ran wild with me and Andre. And it buzzed me so much that it passed to everyone else."

2:30 a.m.

Interstate 90 on the Way Back to Chicago


Nash: I don't think there's ever been a time in my career when I felt more under the microscope.

Hogan: Going into No Way Out, not knowing what was going to happen. Whether we were going to get over or whether we were going to be accepted. That's some serious f****' s***.

Hall: I certainly felt the heat diminish as each day went by.

Nash: There's one thing that's always been the rule in the WWF, and that's if you can go, you're accepted.

Hall: They might not want to have dinner with you or travel with you, but if you can work and you're contributing to the company in a positive fashion, you'll be accepted.

Nash: At the same time in this business, I've always felt that if you go to a bar and there'd be one of the boys that you didn't get along with, if a fight broke out, and he was involved, there's still that fraternity. It's a small fraternity, so despite your differences, you'd still have each other's back.

Hogan: Here's my deal. Another twist in the road for me. Having to go out there and talk for so long after getting slapped in WCW. Getting slapped down there was a real shock to the ego, whatever you want to call it. Then all of a sudden to come in here and have a chance to work on top or have a chance to come in full tilt, but having these three days be the big question mark. If I went out and blew that promo, do you know where I'd be right now?

Nash: They'd be second-guessing the direction. Although Vince rarely does it, they put a lot of eggs in the nWo basket.

Hall: Against a lot of people's advice.

Hogan: I got a call from Jim Ross in the middle of last week, and he was telling me what his office did and if I had any questions to just go through his office. It was a real general conversation. I love the way he does stuff; everything he's told me has been right down the middle. He was talking and one thing he said was, "Tentatively, you're still booked." He kept on talking, but did I pluck tentatively out of the conversation when I heard it. I didn't really know what that meant. To me, tentative meant that I could still screw this up.

Nash: I knew you could do it. If there's one thing the three of us can do it's f*****'talk. When we went out there on Sunday, we did out-of-character interviews, which is pretty hard to do. None of us has cut a promo in a year - minimum - and we're doing them out of character. It's not even our verbiage, and nobody missed a beat. They say a lot of things are like riding a bike and, to a degree, this business is.

It felt like we left the Yankees, and now it's like we're back in pinstripes, and we had our first three-game series against the Red Sox and did pretty well.

There's nothing like this f*****'business when it's good. Nothing.

4.00 a.m.

Chicago, Illinois


By the time Hollywood Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash arrived back at their Chicago hotel, they were completely exhausted. The strain of the last three days had worn them down. To a man, they were pleased with how the previous days went. At the same time, they knew it was only a beginning, and that more tests in the locker room and in the arena lay ahead. But worries about the future could wait. They needed some rest.

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