We lived in a different world in August of 2001, and not just because a tragic event which would forever change the world was still weeks away.
In pro wrestling, the biggest “war” the business had ever known just recently wrapped when Vince McMahon in reality, and Shane McMahon in kayfabe, purchased WCW. After a pause to allow WrestleMania X-7 to go down as planned, the Invasion storyline fans had long dreamed about finally started in June.
By the time we got to SummerSlam, there were already signs this wasn’t going to be the angle many wanted it to be... unless you’d always envisioned perennial fan favorite Diamond Dallas Page as a stalker. Or the then-WWF’s biggest star leading the charge for Ted Turner’s old company.
It was Stone Cold Steve Austin’s turn at July’s InVasion pay-per-view (PPV) which set up my favorite Raw moment, and also why it encapsulated all the good and bad, brilliant and bull$#!+ we’ve come to expect from WWF/E’s Monday night flagship.
After betraying Vince’s team and siding with Shane’s Fed, by then allied with Stephanie McMahon and Paul Heyman’s ECW as “The Alliance”, Austin entered into a feud with Kurt Angle. The Olympic Hero was a focus of Stone Cold’s paranoid turn, as he claimed his old nemesis Mr. McMahon was grooming Angle to replace him as the face of the company. After a build that saw Kurt win the WCW title in his hometown of Pittsburgh and then drop it back to Booker T (who was feuding with just-returned B-movie action star Dwayne Johnson - told you it was a different world), the two were set for one of the top matches at SummerSlam.
Where Austin kept stunning and blasting referees with the belt until he got disqualified and kept his championship.
The next night (Aug. 20) on Raw in Sacramento, The Rattlesnake proved his heel chops by hosting an “Austin Appreciation Ceremony”. Stone Cold got an introductory promo from Heyman, pledges of fealty from the assembled wrestlers - including a “Who Better Than Austin?” shirt from Kanyon - and a rendition of “Wind Beneath My Wings”, retitled to “Wind Beneath Our Ring” and belted out by Steph herself.
Sounds great, right? It was... but upon rewatching it years later, it also goes on a bit too long and is noteworthy for reminding us how SCSA cursed us with the “What?” chant.
And Austin “What?”-ing Tazz for not wearing an Alliance-approved t-shirt at the end of a segment which had run its course a few minutes earlier is the perfect moment for Angle and his milk truck to drive down the ramp...
Kurt’s run-in, or “MILK-O-MANIA!!!” as Jim Ross dubbed it, is pretty much perfect. It’s a great callback to Austin’s own highlight of a couple years before (just named top moment in Raw history on WWE Network), and Angle goes all in on copying Stone Cold but also making it his own. It’s silly and dumb and smart as hell. More than 16 years later, I grin like an idiot and sagely nod my head whenever I’m reminded that he actually did climb on the hood of the truck to smash two cartons of milk together and chug them like they were Steve-weisers.
Stone Cold plays the scene differently than Rocky and Vince did, however, and angrily glares at his rival while milk pours down his chrome dome and jean shorts. It’s crucial to making it it’s own thing, specifically designed to piss off Austin and further his paranoia about Angle replacing him, rather just a re-creation.
This led to another Angle win in The ‘Burgh at September’s Unforgiven that for me personally was one of the first times I remember smiling after 9/11. But anything which followed Aug. 20, 2001 isn’t really essential to making Kurt’s Milk Truck my favorite Raw moment.
Especially since in the time after that, RVD got involved in the feud, and William Regal turned on WWF to cost Kurt the belt, and... mostly, it became crystal clear “The Invasion” was just a different frame within which we’d get stories about Vince’s company and stars, not anything remotely resembling the Sting vs. Undertaker, nWo vs. D-X inter-promotional battle we’d long dreamed about.
So, to recap...
Goofy, but also kind of genius? Check.
Features something that many thought to be great at the time, but some part of wrestling culture would run into the ground? Check.
A great part of an initially promising/highly anticipated storyline that would eventually be considered a bust? Check.
Top notch performers going all out for our entertainment? Check.
WWE RAW, EVERYBODY!
Get ready for Raw 25 by checking out more memorable moments from the cSs team: