Dwayne Johnson played college football but never made it to the NFL. Instead, he became “The Rock,”
Charlie Ward played college football, as well. He, too, never made it to the NFL. Instead, he dribbled, passed, and shot “The Rock.”
Their paths crossed only once in college. But to hear Johnson tell 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 a lot of great stories to share with the Manning brothers during an otherwise dismal 34-11 Rams victory. He revealed the reason his college career as a defensive lineman fizzled. He let the world know he wears a fanny pack to work. And, of course, the T-Rex in the living room.
But what made The Rock roll down memory lane was a sack from 29 years ago. Two men, one moment. And the fanny pack.
Ward was the Heisman Trophy winner in 1993, but one sack changed everything
Florida State in the late 1980s and early 1990s was the hub of the universe when it came to producing two-sport stars.
Deion Sanders was Hall of Fame football player who also excelled at baseball and famously tried to become the first athlete to play in an NFL game and an MLB game – the National League Championship Series, no less – on the same day, with the Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta Braves in 1992.
Charlie Ward was the antithesis of Sanders as a personality – quiet, deeply religious, not looking for Prime Time exposure – but he was every bit as talented on his fields of play. Ward played quarterback at Florida State and was also the point guard on the basketball team. And in 1993, Ward was the Heisman Trophy winner as the Seminoles won their first-ever National Championship.
When Florida State played its arch-rival Miami during that 1993 season, Ward led the Seminoles to a 28-10 victory. Ward was sacked just once on the day. But according to the former Miami defensive lineman who collected that sack, it was a life-changer.
“That game we were down there at Doak Campbell Stadium, and you guys know how crazy that stadium was,” The Rock recalled for the Mannings on Monday night as the clip of Johnson sacking Ward appeared on the screen. “And no one got to Charlie Ward that year, he was the Heisman Trophy winner that year. I was able to get around, we ran a little stunt, myself and Kevin Patrick, who was an All-American defensive end for us, and, here it is [on the screen] right now, lowering the boom.
“And it was at this point when I got up, I heard Charlie tell me, ‘Listen. I’m going to make a career in the NBA now. I don’t want to mess with the NFL anymore.’ I said, ‘OK buddy, good luck.’”
Johnson was a rising star at “The U,” then Warren Sapp showed up
The Ward sack was such a highlight for Johnson, he told the Mannings that he watches the clip every morning as a motivational moment to get himself geared up for his day.
“I do. I put on my fanny pack and I watch that highlight and I go to work,” Johnson said.
At least one time, Johnson brought the sack 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 room’s TV when a breaking news alert twists the plot.
Look closely. The last play that flickers on the screen before the news alert appears is Johnson sacking Ward in the 1993 Miami-Florida State game.
The highlight is probably near and dear to Johnson’s heart because it was arguably the last big play of his college career. As he said to the Mannings Monday night, his path to the NFL got blocked at Miami because of injuries, and “Warren Sapp was born.”
Sapp, the future Hall of Famer with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, supplanted Johnson in Miami’s lineup.
Even without the NFL, things worked out for Johnson and Ward
Whether Johnson’s sack had anything to do with it or not, Charlie Ward indeed passed up a chance to play in the NFL, indicating that he would not pursue a professional football career unless he was drafted in the first round of the NFL Draft. Teams took notice and Ward was not taken at all in the 1994 Draft, leaving Ward to pursue an NBA career.
In the 1994 NBA Draft, Ward was selected by the New York Knicks with the 26th pick in the first round.
Ward played 11 seasons in the NBA, including the first nine with the Knicks. In 1999, he helped the Knicks reach the NBA Finals.
Johnson would also trade his football pads for professional wrestling gear, and the legend of “The Rock” was born. Later, Johnson turned to acting and is successful in action films, notably the Fast & Furious franchise. He later starred in an NBC sitcom about his early life, including his days at Miami.
Although he never played professional football, the Rock now owns a part of it, purchasing the XFL in 2021, with the league set to resume in 2023.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference