When WWE framed Jeff Hardy for a drunken hit-and-run on Smackdown, it was a PR disaster waiting to happen.
Addiction angles are never a good idea in wrestling. Besides the sheer tastelessness of using real-life struggles to get heat, there’s always the risk that the wrestler relapses for real.
In 1996, when the WWF took a premature victory lap for Jake the Snake’s sobriety, Jerry Lawler rained on Jake’s parade with Jim Beam. Sure enough, within months, Roberts was back to his old demons.
And in the case of Jeff Hardy, WWE had no excuse not to know better. After all, they’d already worked Hardy’s drug problems into a storyline in 2009, only for Hardy to be charged with drug trafficking. It was sheer luck that his arrest came just days after the angle ended and Jeff’s contract expired.
But in May 2020, undaunted by Jeff’s two DUIs in as many years, Smackdown opened to the scene of an accident.
Elias lay motionless in the parking lot, a wrecked car wrapped around a street sign. Actually, the car didn’t have a scratch on it…
…but who could even notice such things when Elias’s life hung in the balance?
Police were already on the scene, where they discovered an open liquor bottle and Jeff Hardy’s rental agreement.
Within minutes, they discovered their suspect in some bushes, hauling away Hardy in handcuffs as he screamed incoherently.
After a commercial break, Smackdown’s entire midcard locker room lined up on either side of Adam Pearce to hear the bad news about Elias and Jeff Hardy. Conspicuously unsympathetic was Sheamus, who repeatedly called Hardy a junkie.
Pearce agreed to hold a battle royal to replace Jeff Hardy in the Intercontinental tournament, but only after five minutes of bickering. This was early on in the Pandemic Era, after all, when WWE would pad their shows with segments that could have been emails.
Sheamus won the battle royal and wrestled Daniel Bryan later in the night, only for Jailbird Jeff to show up, cost him the match, and brawl with the redhead.
The next week, Jeff spoke frankly about his addictions but claimed he was in recovery. “My name is Jeff Hardy, and I’m an alcoholic”, he said before putting over Alcoholics Anonymous. If he’d ever been to an AA meeting, though, he’d know they don’t use last names. Suspicious.
Last week, Jeff said, he had been attacked from behind coming out of his car, then woke up in the bushes doused in alcohol.
He then said that he passed all the police’s sobriety tests, and that eyewitnesses came to the jail to report a man with red hair and a red beard behind the wheel of Jeff’s car.
Sheamus, having just been implicated in major crimes, dismissed the accusations. For all we knew, Erick Rowan’s body double could have grown his hair out and tried to kill another Superstar.
But if Sheamus thought he could avoid arrest…
…he was exactly right, as police never even questioned him for the remainder of the storyline.
I mean, it was still a pretty far-fetched scenario. Were we to believe Sheamus committed:
- attempted vehicular homicide, and
- leaving the scene of an accident
…on the off chance he could re-enter a tournament and win a secondary title?
But what Sheamus couldn’t avoid was a match with Jeff Hardy, unless of course, Junkie Jeff failed a Wellness test.
Sure enough, at their contract signing, Sheamus trotted out a real medical doctor, with a white lab coat and everything.
Sure, they’d found booze on the scene and not pills, but Sheamus still wanted Jeff to take a drug test in the middle of the ring.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:
Sheamus made Jeff go behind a curtain to pee into an oversized cup…
…sent the doctor in with him to make sure he didn’t cheat…
…killed time with this PSA: “If you’re a user, you’re a loser. Don’t be like [opponent]. Don’t do drugs”…
…joked about the volume of Jeff’s specimen…
…asked Jeff if he wanted to apologize and say, “Just Say No“…
…then listened as Jeff told him, “It’s better to be pissed off than pissed on”…
…and splashed the urine right in his face.
But copying Vince McMahon action-for-action and word-for-word wasn’t even the stupidest thing Sheamus did here.
No, the stupidest thing was standing around while Jeff casually grabbed the giant cup of piss and held it behind his back. Rule #1 of giant cups of piss is to never take your eyes off the giant cup of piss.
(Rule #2 is to check if splashing the giant cup of piss violated network standards, which it did — FOX cut the stunt from the West Coast airing.)
Things only got worse for Sheamus when, while washing out the urine aftertaste, the doc barged in and told him Hardy’s sample was negative.
Still, Sheamus emerged victorious at Backlash, as seen in this replay sponsored by an auto insurance company.
While Jeff Hardy addressed his disappointment in a sit-down interview, Sheamus had a better idea:
Pressure Jeff into drinking again. He even prepared a poem for the occasion, making light of Hardy’s DUIs and urging him off the wagon.
How very dare him!
Still, that doesn’t excuse Jeff assaulting the bartender for exercising his First Amendment rights.
The only sensible way for this tasteless feud to end was in a barfight — a gritty, realistic barfight where Jeff could symbolically conquer his old habits…
Steadying himself on barrels of whiskey, Brother Nero hit a Swanton for the victory, tying up all loose ends.
Except for the hit-and-run. Hey, remember that? Well, one person did.
Not surprisingly, it was the guy who got hit. Returning in October, Elias smashed Jeff Hardy with a guitar, puzzling Raw’s entire announce team.
Backstage, Charly Caruso was baffled at Elias’s actions, even after he reminded her of that little fender-bender earlier in the year. “Hold on”, she said, rushing to Hardy’s aid. “Jeff Hardy was not necessarily responsible for that accident”.
More intrepid reporting followed when Sarah Schreiber wondered why Jeff was so upset about the posters Elias had hung up backstage.
Jeff took matters (and Elias’s beard) into his own hands, declaring that he’d been proven innocent and threatening Elias’s life if he didn’t stop accusing him of such a terrible crime.
Though he smashed Elias numerous times with guitars, Hardy still couldn’t convince Elias.
How many beatings did Jeff have to give Elias until he believed he didn’t run him over?
Four or five, it turned out. When a guitar-on-a-pole match failed to settle this most personal of feuds, the stakes were raised even higher: a Symphony of Destruction match, featuring a bunch more musical instruments.
After clubbing Elias with what Vic Joseph called, a “massive bassoon”…
…Jeff Hardy swanton-ed off a ladder onto Elias, a reckless and violent act that shut Elias up for good about the DUI hit-and-run.
Reality struck a year later, of course, when erratic behavior led to Jeff’s WWE release. Within another year, Jeff got arrested for a real-life DUI…
…but by then, he was AEW’s problem.
Jeff forfeited his driver’s license, but by all accounts he has been clean and sober ever since.
Hey, that gives me a great idea for an angle…