Rock ’n’ role

Before Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson became a famous wrestler and, subsequently, a famous movie star, he was a not-so-famous football player for the University of Miami. Suffering a back injury (“I ruptured three discs in my back. I use the analogy of a squished jelly doughnut. It’s awful.”) and losing his position on the team to Warren Sapp — who went on to become an Oakland Raider — Johnson wound up playing for the Canadian Football League, making something like $250 Canadian dollars a month.

“I couldn’t even eat,” he said. “It was a blessing in disguise. It makes you realize a lot of things when you get that hungry. It’s like sink or swim. It was great. It’s great now. I didn’t know that then. Then it was the pits.”

Now Johnson returns to football with his new movie, “Gridiron Gang.” In it, he plays Sean Porter, a real-life coach who organized a football league within a youth detention center. His effortsled to a general improvement in behavior and a huge decrease in repeat offenders.

Porter was the subject of a 1993 TV documentary, the details of which the new film follows very closely.

Unfortunately, the story is so moving and so sentimental that test audiences believed the filmmakers had “Hollywooded it up,” or taken creative liberties. For example, real gang-bangers would never cry on the football field.

“No, it did happen,” Johnson said. “And that’s when [director] Phil Joanou decided to cut in footage from the documentary to let people know that this really happened. They really did cry. Here’s the proof.”

Even Johnson cries in this film. At one point in the story, Porter’s mother dies. The team gets together to buy him flowers and dedicates their next win to her memory. The documentary does not cover this sequence, and Johnson assumed it had been made up for the film. But just before shooting, he learned that indeed, the scene really happened, and that ironically, Porter’s mother died on Johnson’s mother’s birthday.

“I cried so much in that scene. I prepared so much for the scene, but once you get that, it’s the truth,” Johnson said. “I got on the phone with my mom right after. Later, I asked Sean, ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ But he’s not the type of guy to lend information.”

Johnson, 34, expands his range in many other ways for this new film. For example, rather than using only his nickname, he is credited as Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. He says that though he’s proud of his nickname, he believes that eventually it will fade away.

“It’s one thing calling me The Rock and I’m running around looking like Bea Arthur’s grandfather or something,” he said.

artsentertainmentOther Arts

Just Posted

Dominion Voting Systems, a Denver-based vendor, is under contract to supply voting machines for elections in San Francisco. (Kevin N. Hume/Examiner file)
Is San Francisco’s elections director impeding voting machine progress?

Open source technology could break up existing monopoly

The 49ers take on the Packers in Week 3 of the NFL season, before heading into a tough stretch of divisional opponents. (Courtesy San Francisco 49ers)
‘Good for Ball’ or ‘Bad for Ball’ — A Niners analysis

By Mychael Urban Special to The Examiner What’s the first thing that… Continue reading

Health experts praised Salesforce for keeping its Dreamforce conference at Moscone Center outdoors and on a small scale. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
Happy birthday, Marc Benioff. Your company did the right thing

Salesforce kept Dreamforce small, which made all kinds of sense

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, pictured with Rose Pak in 2014, says the late Chinatown activist was “helping to guide the community away from the divisions, politically.”
Willie and Rose: How an alliance for the ages shaped SF

How the Mayor and Chinatown activist shaped San Francisco, then and now

The Grove in Golden Gate Park is maintained largely by those who remember San Francisco’s 20,000 AIDS victims.<ins> (Open Eye Pictures/New York Times)</ins>
Looking at COVID through the SF prism of AIDS

AIDS took 40 years to claim 700,000 lives. COVID surpassed that number in 21 months

Most Read