The pain wasn't the same as a midair smack from a hulking linebacker while coming across the middle, but former Detroit Lions superstar receiver Calvin Johnson said he needed some serious relief during his 2016 season on "Dancing with the Stars." 

“When I was on the dancing show, I was using a CBD (the non-psychoactive ingredient of the cannabis plant) topical that my buddy gave me because my ankles were swelling up so much that I didn’t think I would be able to finish the show,” Johnson said during an interview with the Detroit Free Press during the Toronto Cannabis Conference last month. “The relief happened almost overnight. I was already open-minded to marijuana, but after that, I became a true believer just because of the experience.”

The topicals helped him stay on ABC-TV's popular dancing competition, where he made it to the finals and finished third out of 13 contestants.

Johnson's former Lions teammate and current business partner, Rob Sims, had a similar cannabis epiphany after he retired. 

“When I was finished playing, the prescriptions from the docs stopped. It’s a slippery slope when you come out of the league and you’ve got all the Oxy and Vicodins or whatever you have to manage the pain,” he said. “There has to be a substitution and cannabis ended up being that for me, and helped my wife,” who suffered from Crohn’s disease.

The two gridiron stars, who retired from the Lions — Johnson in 2016 and Sims in 2015 — became partners in some real estate deals. But when Michiganders voted to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use last November they switched gears, and now are looking to break into the legal weed business in the state.

If they get licensed by the state, they hope to open a grow and processing operation in Webberville and the Saginaw/Bay City region, as well as dispensaries in different locations across the state. Johnson has gotten pre-qualified by the state for a dispensary license, but was one of dozens of entrepreneurs who lost out in their bids for one of 13 coveted dispensary licenses in Traverse City that were awarded earlier this month.

That’s not stopping their bigger plans with a marijuana product line that will go by the name Primitive.

“The word Primitive comes from the idea that there is this medicine we used for thousands of years before we got into the opioids and stuff,” Sims said. “We believe that the benefits and the healing from cannabis comes from a simpler time.”

Players becoming vocal, investing in marijuana

The two are among a growing number of former professional football players who are not only advocating for the National Football League to relax its rules against marijuana use, but also are getting into the lucrative business.

Eugene Monroe, a retired lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, has become a passionate cannabis activist, urging the NFL to lighten up when it comes to pot.