Calgary Stampeders

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson

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The Rock Says - Dwayne Johnson with Joe Layden - 2000 - Regan Books - excerpts pg106-111

After recovering from the initial shock and disappointment of being completely ignored by the NFL, I was left with the realization that I still wanted to play football badly enough to accept almost any offer. If the Canadian Football League was my only option, then i'd have to give it serious consideration.

"How do they pay?" I had asked my agent.

"Not great. About $50,000 ... Canadian."

"Okay, how much is that in U.S. dollars?"

He cleared his throat, "Well it's about thirty grand, maybe thirty five."

"Any wiggle room there?"

"Practically none, he said. "This is the offer, Take it or leave it."

I thought for a moment. The CFL had served as a path to the NFL for dozens of football players over the years. The quality of play really wasn't bad at all. And the money? Well, thirty grand was better than nothing.

"Let's take it," I said. "I'll go up there and kick some ass."

 

The Calgary Stampeders' training camp began in June. I did well right from the beginning, although there were certain peculiarities about the Canadian game that hadn't been explained to me, and that caused a few awkward moments. Like the time someone ran back a missed extra point, and I yelled out, "What the hell are you doing?" So the whistle blew and everyone started laughing.

"Uh, Dwayne ... up here, that's legal."

"Oh, excuse me. I guess I didn't get my CFL rule book. We should probably take care of that as soon as possible."

 

Still, I thought I was adapting reasonably well. But there was one particular rule that proved to be my undoing. It was an unbreakable rule, and one that could not be mastered through study or practice. It was a rule regarding Canadian participation. In short, it was a rule that restricted the number of non-Canadians on each team in the CFL. When I first learned of it, I was surprised and disappointed, mainly because there were two other Americans at my position, and it was obvious that there wouldn't be room for all of us on the Stampeders' roster. One of the other Americans was a CFL veteran - in fact, he was an all-leage lineman; the other was a guy named Kenny Walker who had played at Nebraska. Coincidentally, Kenny was also the first deaf player in the NFL. He was a nice guy and a good football player. Looking at the three of us, I thought it was fairly obvious that I would be the odd man out. And I was right.

 

Wally Buono the Stampeders' head coach, called me into his office and asked me to take a seat. It was not an emotional meeting, like so many I had experienced in college. This was the pros. It was a business, and this meeting was simply part of the business.

"Dwayne, you have two choices," Wally said. "You can either stay with us an work out with the practice squad, or you can go on back home and prepare for next season. We won't hold it against you if you leave, and I really believe, either way, you're a shoo-in to make the team next year."

I thanked Wally for his honesty and for giving me an opportunity, and asked if I could have some time to think about it.

"Sure thing," he said.

 

I never saw the Stampeders play a game, not in person, anyway. If they were on the road, I'd watch the game on television. Those of us on the practice team received 4 tickets apiece for home games, but I never used mine. The Stampeders were pretty popular in those days, so I'd usually just walk across the street to McMahon Stadium and scalp my tickets. It was easy. There was always a bunch of people hanging around outside, looking for tickets. I could sell all four for $150. This was an enormous amount of money at the time, so I never questioned the morality or legality of it. Nor did I fret about whether it made me a bad teammate. I didn't care. The game wasn't nearly important enough for me to give up the money.

 

One day during training camp I walked into the lunchroom and noticed that the World Wrestling Federation's Sunday morning show was on TV. I was pretty excited about that. It was nice to see a bunch of guys sitting around watching wrestling. The show however did not appeal to everyone. At one point Shawn Michaels had come on to the screen, and he was doing his patented little song-and-dance act, his little stripper routine, dancing to his theme music, and Doug Flutie walked into the room. Flutie's NFL career hadn't panned out, but he was making a good living now in Calgary. He was a solid little quarterback and he was popular with the fans. But he didn't know shit about wrestling.

"What the hell is this?" he said, gesturing toward the screen.

"That's Shawn Michaels," I said matter-of-factly.

Flutie turned to me and with a look of disbelief on his face said, "Do you watch this shit?"

I didn't lose my temper. Flutie was a star on this team and I was a rookie with a tenuous grip on my job. Besides, I don't think he meant anything by it. I think he was legitimately surprised that all of these grown men were watching professional wrestling. Nevertheless, I felt it was necessary to set the record straight.

"Not only do I watch it," i said, "but it's a part of my like. I grew up in this business. My grandfather was a wrestler and so was my dad."

Flutie just shrugged, said "Oh," and walked away. That was our first and last conversation.

--

In October...

Early the next morning I met with Wally Buono. It was a short, cordial meeting. He thanked me for my hard work and said he hoped I'd return the next year, but right now he wanted to sign a lineman who had been playing for the Jacksonville Jaguars. I told him that I understood perfectly and that there were no hard feelings. I extended my hand, told him I appreciated the opportunity, and said I'd talk to him in a few months. In my heart, though, I knew I wouldn't be back.

 

 

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