April 26, 2012
John Hadl (Football) 1959-61
Lawrence native John Hadl is one of the most storied athletes to have come through the Kansas football program. Just one of three players to have their number retired in program history, Hadl had a stellar career at Kansas and then went onto excel in the professional ranks. First the quarterback suited up for the AFL’s San Diego Chargers and played for the Bolts when they made the move into the NFL. After a 16-year professional career with four different franchises, Hadl hung it up but not before being named an AFL All-Star three times and a Pro-Bowler on two separate occasions. The College Football Hall of Fame member can still be found on the campus he once starred on, working in the Williams Education Fund as the associate athletic director for major gifts.
You were born in Lawrence, and went to Lawrence High, was coming to KU an easy decision?
“At the time, Chuck Mather was our coach, and he wasn’t doing too well. I committed to Oklahoma and Bud Wilkinson. They were number one in the nation, and the offered me a scholarship, so I said yes. That’s where I was headed, but then KU hired Jack Mitchell – who was one of the greatest recruiters of all time – so he was able to change my mind. Deep down inside, I knew that I wanted to come here. I grew up going to every football and basketball game for 10 years.”
You are still one of the most successful Jayhawks of all-time, do you have any specific memories that stick out in your mind from your time in Lawrence?
“The Missouri game (1960) when they were undefeated, number one in the nation and we were number 11 at the time. We played Iowa when they were number one, we played Syracuse when they were number one and then we played Missouri when they were number one, so beating Missouri was a big, big win for us. I can remember that clearly. After the game, Jack Mitchell told me in the locker room that I had made All-American as a junior. I went into shock – that is one thing I definitely remember.
When we were driving out of town, we had our own car so we could drive ourselves back. I had Curtis McClinton, Bert Coan, Doyle Schick and myself in the car – which was the entire backfield. We pulled up to a stop light and these Missouri guys drive up next to us and saw that we had Kansas plates. So – you know how they are – they started giving us a hard time. I put it in park and the four of us got out of the car, you should have seen how fast those Missouri guys drove away.
Football-wise I had a lot of great memories, we had some great guys. If you use the term ‘team,’ we were a real team without question.”
This past fall was the reunion for the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl team, what do you remember from that game when you beat Rice 33-7?
“On a fourth down, I faked a punt and ran (41 yards to the Rice 19-yardline) right before the half. That turned the momentum around and we were able to beat them.
After the game I signed my contract with the San Diego Chargers under the goalpost, so I remember that. What was funny was that Curtis McClinton signed his too (with the Dallas Texans – now the Kansas City Chiefs). He had a bonus check with him coming off the field, and he accidentally stuck the check in the locker next to his, thinking it was his locker. He went crazy looking for that check – I think it was 10 grand at the time. I remember that clearly because everybody in the locker room was looking for that check.”
How is the AFL different from the NFL as we know it today?
“In the early days, our offenses (in the AFL) were as good as the NFL’s, but the defenses weren’t as good. The AFL was emphasizing offense just for TV purposes. That was the main difference, but as we progressed – and the game progressed – it was all the same as it is now.”
During your professional career, who are some of the notable players that you remember playing with or against?
“The toughest competition was the Pittsburgh Steelers when Joe Greene and those guys were playing defense. You couldn’t get a first down to save your life. That is probably the best defense ever put together.
Lance Alworth and I were good buddies on the Chargers and we were roommates too. I still talk to him all the time. He is very successful in his business in California and he has really done well.
One of the greatest players I remember watching was Joe Namath, he and I were pretty close. When he guaranteed his Super Bowl victory (in Super Bowl III) – he invited me and I went down (to Miami, Fla.) and went out with him afterwards. That was a good experience, too. I asked him, ‘Did you guarantee the win? Did you say that?’ He said ‘Hell no; I told them that if we do certain things we can beat them, I didn’t guarantee it.’ Fortunately for him, when the press got a hold of it, it made him five or 10 million bucks.”
You mentioned Pro Football Hall of Famer Lance Alworth, what made the two of you such a great duo on the field?
“I could really read him on the run well. He had great hands and he was a fierce competitor. Going over the middle of the field didn’t bother him a bit – he just wanted to catch the ball. Sometimes I would throw it right into coverage and he would catch it. He was a great athlete, he was offered contracts in baseball (by the Yankees and Pirates), he had a vertical jump of about 40 inches – he could really get up.”
You were a four-time AFL All Star, what are some of the memories you have from your professional career?
“The one game I remember, when I was with the (Los Angeles) Rams we played the Dallas Cowboys (in 1973) and I had four touchdown passes in the first half. (Wide Receiver) Harold Jackson caught all four of them and I remember that clearly because there were about 90,000 people in the Los Angeles Coliseum cheering us on.”
Was does it mean to be one of only three players in KU football history with their number retired?
“Well, it’s awfully nice. I have a lot of respect for KU and all the things that go on here academically and athletically. Being in that category with Ray (Evans) and Gayle (Sayers) is pretty good. I’m also hoping John Riggins gets in there before it’s all over.”
What are your current responsibilities with Kansas Athletics?
“Basically, I am a member of the Williams Fund staff and my main job now is to raise money for major projects – like we have done at the Fieldhouse and with the suites at the football stadium.”
1961 Bluebonnet Bowl AP Report: http://www.mmbolding.com/bowls/Bluebonnet_1961.htm
Hadl’s College Football Hall of Fame Bio: http://www.collegefootball.org/famer_selected.php?id=60067
Throwback Thursday Archive: http://www.kuathletics.com/throwbackthursday.html