It was an injury similar to the one that claimed the career of iron man Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat. The injury appeared to end a brilliant in-ring career years before its time. It would also remove Shawn Michaels from an Attitude era that was riddled with his imprint.
"Man, I was attitude in this place before it was a catch phrase!" said a line-blurring Shawn Michaels during a worked shoot as a member of the New World Order.
But once the legendary stable's run was cut short in the WWE, Michaels was left in no man's land. Unable to wrestle, and without fellow Clique member Kevin Nash as his road dog, Michaels would be paired with longtime friend Triple H.
After wooing Triple H to become an exclusive member of the Raw roster during the brand extension days, the pair quickly reformed Degeneration-X as a means to thumb their nose at Eric Bischoff's authority.
The familiar sound of WWE's last boom period brought Grand Rapids, Mich. to its feet. Degeneration was back and all had seemed right in the wrestling world.
Unfortunately, that comeback tour was short-lived as well.
Triple H would Pedigree Shawn Michaels prior to his famed "are you ready?" bit, serving as a catalyst for an in-ring return once thought to have been impossible.
Michaels had last wrestled in 1998. It was 2002. A return match at a major pay-per-view, let alone a full-time return, following a four-and-a-half-year absence from a severe back injury was virtually unheard of.
But this was the exact story of Shawn Michaels' second coming.
Following a strong, personal build-up between the (kayfabe) best friends turned bitter enemies, Michaels and Triple H wrestled a nearly flawless hardcore brawl. It was a critically acclaimed gem that blew away all expectations.
This wasn't a safe contest where Triple H carried Michaels to a respectable sendoff. It was a clinic in telling a story of a desperate man whose ego was not at peace with how it all ended.
To the surprise of everyone, this wasn't a one-off. It was a renaissance.
Following an emotional victory for Michaels, Triple H struck HBK with a sledgehammer to the spine. The heat-seeking attack sent Michaels to the hospital per storyline.
It was reason to believe that this was the way Michaels would be written out of wrestling storylines after going out on his own terms.
It wasn't. It was just the beginning.
Three months later at Survivor Series, Michaels would go on to win his first world championship since 1998.
Michaels would go on to wrestle for another eight years following his memorable comeback. It can be easily argued that the the second half of Michaels' wrestling career eclipsed the first half.
His work rate never saw a significant drop-off. As he became older, he simply became smarter. Always a student of the game, HBK's ability to slow down and tell a story only enhanced his match quality.
Matches against Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Vince McMahon, John Cena and The Undertaker furthered his legacy as Mr. WrestleMania.
There may never be an acceptable explanation for the miracle that was Shawn Michaels' second run in the WWE. It's what made his comeback tour just that. Miraculous.
"Never Say Never" relives, reminds and projects implausible wrestling reconciliations and scenarios once considered impossible to even the most jaded fan.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!