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55 Yard Line

The Rock takes a shot at the CFL, but wrestling owes Canadian football big-time

Andrew Bucholtz
55 Yard Line

Quick, why was the CFL trending worldwide on Twitter Monday night? Was there a blockbuster trade, an unexpected firing, a massive free agency signing? Nope, nope and nope; instead, it was about a former Calgary Stampeders' defensive tackle, Dwayne Johnson. Johnson, better known as wrestler/actor "The Rock" these days, reflected on his less-than-stellar football career north of the border during Monday's broadcast of WWE RAW:

The key quote there from Mr. "I'll Keep Referring To Myself In The Third Person" Johnson comes at 0:41: "In 1995, The Rock was cut from the Canadian Football League. [crowd boos]. Now, do you have any idea how much you've got to suck to get cut from the Canadian Football League?"

Although that sparked plenty of derisive CFL commentary from WWE fans, there's nothing really wrong with this. Johnson seems mostly self-deprecating here, but he still does have a bit of a point: CFL players are obviously quite talented, and cracking this league is anything but easy, but getting cut from the CFL doesn't have a lot of cachet south of the border (and overall, making the CFL is less impressive than making the NFL). It's worth pointing out that Johnson was a pretty decent football player at one point, though; he won a national championship in college with the 1991 Miami Hurricanes (although he was injured partway through the year and was replaced by NFL legend Warren Sapp), and he did enough to catch on with the Stampeders for two months. Getting cut from the CFL certainly wasn't his finest moment, but it's worked out pretty well for him, leading to a very profitable wrestling career and movies ranging from the excellent (Get Smart) to the terrible (The Tooth Fairy). I doubt he'd have done as well if he'd managed to stick around the CFL longer.

It's notable that Johnson is only the latest wrestling connection to the CFL, though. Many CFL players went on to shine as wrestlers, including Ticat legend Angelo Mosca (decades before his cane fight with Joe Kapp, he famously beat the Iron Sheik for the Canadian championship in 1980, although the two seem to be on the same side these days), WCW/WWF star Lex Luger (briefly with Montreal), "Superstar" Billy Graham (Montreal), WCW and WWF star Bill Goldberg (who played for the WLAF's Sacramento Surge, which became the CFL's Sacramento Gold Miners; he also apparently had another brush with the CFL before returning to the NFL) and Ron Simmons (who also wrestled as "Faarooq Asad"), who played for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 1980s.

Going back even further, Gene "Canada's Greatest Athlete" Kiniski played for the Edmonton Eskimos in the 1940s and 1950s, and Stu Hart (the legendary founder of Stampede Wrestling and father of Bret and Owen) played for the Eskimos in the 1930s. Bret Hart's turned into quite the prominent CFL fan in recent years, too. The CFL's not alone here, as plenty of wrestlers have come from other football leagues too, but on the balance, the league's done a lot to turn out future wrestlers. Wrestling fans may have taken some shots at the CFL in the wake of Johnson's comments, but really, they should be thankful; if he'd hung on with the Stampeders, who knows if we'd be able to smell what he's cooking these days?

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