Dwayne Johnson played college football but never made it to the NFL. Instead, he became “The Rock”,
Charlie Ward also played college football. He too never made it to the NFL. Instead, he dribbled, passed and shot ‘The Rock’.
Their paths only crossed once in college. But to hear Johnson say it Monday night on the ESPN2 “ManningCast” during the Los Angeles Rams–Arizona Cardinals Wild Card NFL Playoff game, their chance encounter had a profound impact on both of their lives, literally and figuratively.
Johnson had plenty of great stories to share with the Manning brothers in an otherwise dismal Rams 34-11 win. He revealed the reason why his college career as a defensive lineman failed. He let the world know he wore a fanny pack to work. And, of course, the T-Rex in the living room.
But what’s got The Rock rolling in the past is a bag from 29 years ago. Two men, one moment. And the fanny pack.
Ward won the Heisman Trophy in 1993, but one bag changed everything
The state of Florida in the late 1980s and early 1990s was the hub of the universe when it came to producing stars of two sports.
Deion Sanders was a Hall of Fame football player who also excelled at baseball and attempted to become the first athlete to play in an NFL game and an MLB game – the National League Championship Series, no less – the same day, with the Atlanta Falcons. and the Atlanta Braves in 1992.
Charlie Ward was the antithesis of Sanders as a personality — quiet, deeply religious, not seeking Prime Time exposure — but he was equally talented on his playing fields. Ward played quarterback at Florida State and was also the leader of the basketball team. And in 1993, Ward won the Heisman Trophy as the Seminoles captured their first-ever national championship.
When Florida State faced arch-rival Miami in that 1993 season, Ward led the Seminoles to a 28-10 win. Ward has only been fired once today. But according to the former Miami defensive lineman who picked up that bag, it was life changing.
“That game, we were over there at Doak Campbell Stadium, and you know how crazy that stadium was,” The Rock recalled for the Mannings on Monday night as the clip of Johnson sacking Ward played on screen. “And nobody happened to Charlie Ward that year, he was the Heisman Trophy winner that year. I was able to move around, we did a little stunt, myself and Kevin Patrick, who was an All-American defensive end for us, and here he is [on the screen] right now, lowering the boom.
“And that’s when I got up, I heard Charlie say to me, ‘Listen. I’m going to have a career in the NBA now. I don’t want to play with the NFL anymore. I said, ‘OK mate, good luck.’
Johnson was a rising star at ‘The U,’ then Warren Sapp came along
Ward’s bag was such a highlight for Johnson, he told the Mannings he watched the clip every morning as a motivational moment to get ready for his day.
“I do. I put my fanny pack on and watch this highlight and go to work,” Johnson said.
At least once Johnson brought the bag to work with him. Take another look at ‘Fast & Furious 7,’ and specifically the scene where Johnson’s character, Luke Hobbs, is in a hospital bed, watching a football game on the bedroom TV when an alert to the latest news distorts the plot.
Watch attentively. The last piece that flickers on screen before the alert appears is Johnson sacking Ward in the 1993 Miami-Florida State game.
The climax is probably near and dear to Johnson’s heart, as it was arguably the last big play of his college career. As he told the Mannings on Monday night, his path to the NFL was blocked in Miami due to injuries, and “Warren Sapp was born.”
Sapp, the future Tampa Bay Buccaneers Hall of Famer, replaced Johnson in the Miami roster.
Even without the NFL, things worked out for Johnson and Ward
Whether Johnson’s sacking had anything to do with it or not, Charlie Ward did indeed pass up a chance to play in the NFL, indicating that he would not pursue a professional football career unless he was drafted first. round of the NFL Draft. Teams took notice, and Ward was not taken at all in the 1994 draft, leaving Ward to pursue a career in the NBA.
In the 1994 NBA Draft, Ward was selected by the New York Knicks with the 26and choose in the first round.
Ward played 11 seasons in the NBA, including his first nine with the Knicks. In 1999, he helped the Knicks reach the NBA Finals.
Johnson would also trade in his football pads for professional wrestling gear, and the legend of “The Rock” was born. Later, Johnson turned to acting and found success in action movies, including the Fast & Furious franchise. He then starred in an NBC sitcom about his youth, including his days in Miami.
Although he never played professional football, the Rock now owns some of it, buying the XFL in 2021, with the league due to resume in 2023.
Statistics courtesy of Professional Football Reference
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