The semi-retired professional wrestler posted a photo to Instagram on Tuesday of him standing on a tarmac with a plane in the background, explaining he landed in Calgary on Monday night to film scenes for the upcoming Jumanji movie.
“My brain was flooded with crazy experiences here,” he wrote. “This is the city where me having only $7 bucks in my pocket all began.”
Before he was a wrestler, Johnson was a member of the Calgary Stampeders. He signed with the team as a defensive lineman in 1995 and was assigned to the practice roster — then cut two months into the season.
“The Stampeders had a loaded defensive line,” former Stampeders President Ron Rooke told Global News, citing names like Will Johnson, Stu Laird and Srecko Zizakovic. “So it was very hard for him to crack the lineup.”
Johnson’s life in Calgary certainly wasn’t glamorous.
“At that time the practice roster maybe paid $250 a week, maybe $500 a week,” Rooke said. “I know he stayed in Motel Village most of the time – with a couple other rookies that were on the practice roster.
Rooke also recounted a telling exchange between Johnson and CFL great Doug Flutie in the weight room, as he was escorting Flutie to an interview.
“Doug and I come through, and Dwayne is there watching wrestling on TV, and Doug says ‘why are you watching that? Don’t you know it’s fake?’ Dwayne turned around … and said ‘Hey, careful. My ancestors were part of wrestling.”
Rooke said Johnson indicated he’d be moving on to wrestling soon.
In a video posted to Instagram in 2018, Johnson explained that getting cut from the CFL, which essentially ended his professional football career, was a blessing in disguise.
“I was playing for the Calgary Stampeders, we were playing the B.C. Lions, I was so excited. Two days later I got cut, dreams shattered, sent home with seven bucks in my pocket,” Johnson said.
“Sometimes in life, something you want so badly, your dreams that don’t happen sometimes, they’re the best things that never happened,” he added. “For me, playing in the NFL was the best thing that never happened.”
Jumanji, released in 1995, starred Robin Williams as a man trapped board game. Johnson was among those featured in the 2017 sequel, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which centered around four teens stuck in a video game.
A third Jumanji movie is being filmed in Kananaskis this week. It’s unknown if Johnson’s costars Kevin Hart, Jack Black, and Karen Gillan will also be in Alberta.
“I have a deep reverence for this town … she shook me in the best possible way,” Johnson said in his Monday Instagram post. “Good to be back. Let’s get to work.”
– With files from Deb Matejicka