Paul Heyman has recalled the emotional night SmackDown took to the air just two days after the devastating 9/11 terror attacks befell Heyman’s own New York City.
SmackDown emanated from Houston, Texas on the 13th of September and was the first public assembly of its size in the US following the attacks on New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania.
In attendance for that show was Paul Heyman who was part of The Alliance on-screen at the time as well as being a commentator alongside Jim Ross. With WWE ready to return to its spiritual home of Madison Square Garden in The Big Apple, Heyman has discussed with Sports Illustrated what it was like to be on SmackDown that night at such a harrowing time for his home city and his country:
“I didn’t know how to convey that on the air, and I didn’t know if it was my place to do so, but as a New Yorker, I felt obligated to identify myself—not only from the perspective of New York as a locale in which I reside but also that deep down, the person you see talking at the moment is culturally, physically, spiritually a New Yorker at heart. I hardly remember anything about that night, other than the memory of Lilian Garcia singing. I don’t even remember what she sang, whether it was ‘God Bless, America,’ ‘America, The Beautiful,’ or the national anthem—I just remember she sang. When she was singing, she did it flawlessly. Her voice carried the emotion of the moment to such a degree that it moved me and woke me up. It also made me a complete emotional wreck.”
“I can’t tell you one match that happened on that show. All I remember is the bolt that went through my system when I heard Lilian sing, which reminded me I had an obligation to deliver. Then I heard Jim Ross say, ‘Just follow my lead, kid, and you’ll be fine,’ which is the same thing he’d said to me during my first broadcast on Raw. Afterward, I can still remember Vince McMahon in my headset saying, ‘That was great. Now it’s time to entertain.’ From that point on, I hope J.R. and I did justice to the job for which we were tasked, but I don’t remember doing it all.”
Lillian Garcia’s stirring rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner left barely a dry eye in the house as the stars of the company led by Vince McMahon and The Rock watched on from the stage.
WWE has announced that they are producing a documentary about that emotional SmackDown – Never Forget – WWE Returns After 9/11 airs on Peacock and the WWE Network on the 10th of September.