NBC sitcom ‘Young Rock’ tells the story of Dwayne Johnson’s final days in the CFL

Photo courtesy: Richard Shotwell/Invision/AP

Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s NBC sitcom Young Rock spent a decent portion of its second season premiere last week covering the titular character’s initial days with the Calgary Stampeders.

It was a fun trip down memory lane and the episode ended with the former University of Miami Hurricane being demoted to the team’s practice squad.

That meant a follow up was sure to come and it came when this week’s second episode of season two spent almost the entire runtime covering the future eight-time WWE champion’s brief run in Cowtown.

This episode was a little more upbeat, although it started with Johnson having a hard time coming to terms with life on the practice squad. He goes too hard in drills, gets excoriated by his unnamed coach, and No. 29 gets hit in the face with a football. On the show the player is referred to as Eugene but research shows Calgary’s No. 29 in 1995 was fullback Craig Brenner, so there is obviously some creative license being used by the show.

But the heart of the episode is Johnson befriending fellow practice roster member Kenny Walker. Walker, who lost his hearing early in his life, was the first deaf player in CFL history. Walker acted as Johnson’s de facto mentor in the episode, showing him what he needed to do while serving on the practice roster.

The two go on a fishing trip that Johnson later said changed his life. Walker told him not to worry about material things and put a bug in his ear that he should maybe try the wrestling business given his size, strength, and family ties to the sport.

We got more scenes this week with Doug Flutie, Jeff Garcia, and Wally Buono. Flutie comes off as a bit of a jerk, referring to Johnson as “practice squad” and telling him that only starters belonged in the team meeting where Johnson was taking a bunch of sandwiches in what was a legitimately funny scene.

Screenshot courtesy: Young Rock

It makes me wonder if maybe the two former WWE champions — don’t forget that Flutie is a former WWE champion — maybe didn’t have the best relationship while Johnson was in Calgary. Garcia gives Johnson a coupon for a free pair of cowboy boots and a keychain he got as part of a package for being named player of the week.

Following a phone call with his mother, Johnson is given the dreaded finger pinch after being invited for a night out with some of his teammates, including Garcia. The finger pinch, which was described earlier in the episode as a two-knuckle finger scissor, was apparently the way coaches initially informed players they were being cut.

We see a scene about it earlier in the episode that sets up Johnson’s inevitable release later on. This is where we also see Buono again, where he has a sit down, heart-to-heart with Johnson about why the team is releasing him. Buono is described as a “great man” in an on-screen graphic — which also let viewers know that he is the winningest coach in CFL history — and given the way Johnson has spoken about Buono in the past, it comes as no surprise that he holds his former coach in such high esteem.

Much like last week’s Flutie reveal, this week a fellow Canadian Football Hall of Famer got the best laugh of the episode. Buono said that Johnson was longer needed because he did such a good job preparing the starter and ended the exchange with a long look while exclaiming: “Kind of makes you think there’s no God!” It got a hearty laugh from your correspondent.

There is a scene later in which Johnson tells his dad the reason he was cut and inadvertently blames the ratio. He tells his father: “They can only have so many Americans on the team.” And his dad responds: “Everybody looks out for their own and Canada is no different.”

If you know anything about The Rock’s father, fellow professional wrestler Rocky Johnson, this line will make you laugh because he was actually born in Amherst, Nova Scotia in 1944. While the episode made no mention of Johnson’s father being Canadian, which seems like a missed opportunity, those that know will find this scene a little funny.

What makes this even more interesting is that if the current CFL ratio rules were in place in 1995, Johnson would have counted as a Canadian. Johnson could have been like Alex Singleton or Jordan Williams who used their Canadian heritage as a way to be counted as a National instead of an American.

We see it almost every year, and while the rule wasn’t around in Johnson’s time, it makes you wonder what would have become of him had it been. He likely would have been a high draft pick given his collegiate pedigree coming from a dominant program like the University of Miami and that means he would have received a better opportunity to make an impression in the CFL.

If Johnson had counted as a Canadian in 1995, he likely wouldn’t have made his debut in the then-WWF at Survivor Series 1996, won his first WWF championship in 1998, appeared in three-straight Wrestle Mania main events, landed a role in The Mummy Returns, and become one of the most recognizable people on the planet and arguably the world’s biggest movie star.

None of that happens if in 1995 the CFL had the same draft rules it currently has. Maybe Johnson would have used the CFL as a springboard to NFL fame and money, but it’s also equally possible that he would have had a long career in the CFL and never wrestled. It’s a pretty fun, crazy ‘what-if’ to think about.

And that was that, with Johnson now out of Calgary and on the path to being The Great One for Vince McMahon, I doubt the series will delve back into his time with the Stampeders. But for two weeks, this popular show on a major American television network gave people a glimpse of the CFL and did so in a relatively fair and accurate, and sometimes funny, way, even if showing snow on the field in Calgary during the early parts of the season was a little far-fetched.

If you haven’t checked out either episode of Young Rock, I suggest you do. It is worth your time, even if it is just to see how little the guy they cast to play Flutie actually was.

Josh Smith has been writing about the Ticats and the CFL since 2010 and was sporting his beard way before it was cool. Will be long after, too.