A Hall of Fame Comparison – JOHN HADL

There is a feeling among AFL fans that the American Football League players are consistently overlooked for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  In truth there are many players, the bulk of whose careers were spent in the AFL, that deserve serious consideration, if not outright induction.  In an effort to spark some discussion regarding their hall of fame worthiness, I will occasionally compare AFL players to their NFL (and Hall of Fame) counterparts. The short biographies on the NFL players have been taken directly from the Pro Football Hall of Fame website.

autographed 1969 topps john hadl

#171 – John Hadl

Today’s comparison is between John Hadl of the San Diego Chargers and two HoF quarterbacks, Sonny Jurgensen and Fran Tarkenton.

John Willard Hadl – Drafted by the Chargers in the 3rd round of the 1962 AFL Draft…  Won three league passing titles…  Six-time All-Star/Pro Bowl member…  Retired with 2,363 completions, 33,503 passing yards and 244 passing touchdowns…  Surpassed 3,000 yards in three seasons, 300 yards in 16 games…  1971 NFL Man of the Year…  AFL champion in 1963.

Christian Adolph “Sonny” Jurgensen, IIIExceptional passer, superb team leader, intelligent, determined, competitive, poised against pass rush. . .Career 82.625 passing rating. . .Won three NFL individual passing titles. . .Surpassed 3,000 yards in five seasons, 300 yards in 25 games, 400 yards in five games. . .Career totals: 2,433 completions, 32,224 yards, 255 touchdowns. . .Excelled in spite of numerous injuries.

Francis Asbury “Fran” TarkentonAlmost instant star with four TD passes, first game, 1961. . .Moved to New York (1967), back to Vikings (1972) in stunning trades. . .At retirement led lifetime passers in attempts (6,467), completions (3,686), yards (47,003), touchdowns (342). . .Exciting, elusive scrambler. . . Rushed for 3,674 yards, 32 TDs. . .Led Vikings to three Super Bowls. . .Two-time All-NFL. . .Pro Bowl selection nine times.

John Hadl is an interesting candidate for HoF consideration.  He had a long career, and excelled in both pre- and post-merger eras.  As the main implementer of Sid Gillman’s famed passing attack, Hadl led state-of-the-art offenses during the majority of his career, and was the starting point for the majority of Lance Alworth’s receptions.  Taking a look at total offensive production by team in the 1960s, the Chargers led all teams (AFL & NFL) in total offensive yards, and finished third (again, AFL & NFL) in scoring for the entire decade.  Lastly, consider the following quotes about Hadl.

“I wouldn’t trade Hadl for any other quarterback in pro football.” – Sid Gillman, 1968.

“When Hadl is on his game, there is no better passer in football.” – Lou Saban, 1968

“[Hadl’s] the best passer in the league.” – Joe Namath, 1969


Todd Tobias (790 Posts)

Todd Tobias's interest in the American Football League began in 1998, when he wrote my master's thesis about Sid Gillman. He created this site to educate and entertain football fans with the stories of the American Football League, 1960-1969. You can follow Todd and get more AFL history on Twitter @TalesfromtheAFL.

10 Responses to A Hall of Fame Comparison – JOHN HADL

  1. 1967 says:

    From the QB school of thought ‘if you ain’t tryin’ to ain’t tryin’… John Hadl’s bugaboo was the interception – he threw more of those than he did td passes career, not unlike a Joe Namath & George Blanda among other. That said, he looked good doing it – Hadl as Daryle Lamonica throwing form hinted at big possibilities downfield – often long td passes; alas, low completion % but high reward when realized – just not often enough compensate, final analysis.

    Jurgensen was far more efficient than any of the aforementioned as a passer… that he never managed lead a winner to Championship not due any obvious lack his on the field. Given time, the gone too soon Vince Lombardi who had fallen in love with Sonny’s arm/game might have… well, we shall never know.

    Tarkenton was perhaps even moreso daunting to defense, arm & legs. That he never delivered the goods a Championship curious because he played on some very good teams, better than Jurgensen’s supporting cast all told. I never did / still don’t care for Tarkenton’s personality, but that’s my own personal bias – like Al Davis said, “just win baby”, ugly or otherwise. Tarkenton never did on the ultimate stage despite multiple opportunities, said the flip side his legacy.

    Upshot: Hadl is a tough call, Hall of Fame, my opine. I see merits and demerits as an impartial reviewer. ‘If’ the Pro Football Hall of Fame is meant to separate the merely very good from those a cut above defined as ‘great’, overall stats the measure & too Championships considered… aye, that’s the rub, so many cases.

  2. LIN BUTLER says:


  3. Howard says:

    Hadl is borderline, but, how can Warren Moon and Jim Kelly be in? Hadl had an MVP season with the 1973 Rams. Great team that got knocked off in the first round of the playoffs.

    Jurgensen played on a lot of bad teams. Great party guy, not the epitome of training regime.
    Tarkenton was a good quarterback, who like Dan Marino produced stats if not titles. to his defense, the Dolphins, Steelers, and Raiders teams that beat the Vikings in those Super Bowls are arguably three of the top five teams of all time.

  4. Tom says:

    I mentioned previously in an earlier posting on Toddss blog the first time I saw Hadl play was in the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl game against Rice. I watched the game on our black and white tv and was in awe of John Hadl, Curtis McClinton and Bert Coan. Hadl was an elite quarterback for a decade and a half capped off, as Howard mentions at the age of 33 with the 12-2 1973 Rams. That may not be good enough for the HOF voters but is for me.

    Sadly Hadl’s career was overshadowed and was lost competing at a time when Air Coryel’s San Diego State was great, the SC Trojans ruled the amateur football world in a State that had four higher profile NFL teams, when the NFL went from Vince sincerely winning to commercial media hype, The Super Bowl, America’s Team, Broadway Joe, Miami where Lenny Bruce said ” Neon went to die.” The human infomercial Frantic Francis and the Purple People Eaters, a place Terry the good ole boy could sling Swanny and rest on the sidelines behind the Steel Curtain”.

    San Diego was Shamu, Hadl was who? Too bad! Hadl was and is one of the all time great’s.

  5. tom black says:

    Great job Todd. Well said and so true.


  6. joseph bryant says:

    Hadl was a good QB, but not a great one. He barely completed 50% of his passes and threw more interceptions than TDs. His career passing rating is too low for HOF as well. Unlike some HOF organizations, Pro Football keeps its standards quite high, and very few borderline cases make it, unless they have some edge like playing on a championship team. Sonny is in there totally on performance and the sheer beauty and perfection of his passing. Fran was also elite in terms of performance, though he was not a particularly gifted passer and picked up lots of yardage by short dink passing. But his scrambling was first-rate.

  7. joseph bryant says:

    One more thought. A couple of years back the Cold Hard Football Facts people carried out a comparison of the passing games in the AFL and NFL — it was published online with Sports Illustrated. The conclusion was clear-cut: the NFL had vastly superior passers and they played against tougher defenses (quite a few AFL stars had been cut by NFL teams, and the depth of talent in the AFL was quite thin for the first six or seven years). The main comparison was between Sonny and Broadway Joe, but they also compared all the other active QBs from the 60s. The results are very informative.

    • Howard says:

      Thanks for mentioning CHFF. It has become my football “bible”. The article you are referencing which Todd has confirmed with his recent posting about yardage, etc. discusses the stereotypes about the leagues. The conventional wisdom is that the AFL was a wide open league that threw on every down. In addition the stereotype of the NFL was that it was a run only league that would have made Woody Hayes proud.
      The reality was that the passing/running statistics in both leagues were very comparable. Yes, the AFL did throw a bit more. But, the NFL had somewhat more efficient quarterbacks. The running attacks were fairly similar.
      One of the myths about the AFL is that it reinvented football. Yes, there were many innovative aspects to the league; two point conversions, names on uniforms, scheduling of games. They started with a fairly blank slate.

      But this myth about coaching. Sid Gilman coached the Rams during the 1950’s. He was a mentor to Vince Lombardi at West Point. He wasn’t some alien that came from another galaxy. Weeb Eubank coached the Colts to two NFL championships. He wasn’t found in some Ivory Tower.
      My point goes both ways. Many NFL advocates dismissed the AFL as some freak show. A league that hired a Sid Gilman, Weeb Eubank, etc. should not be dismissed. It was a serious league with professional management.
      But for AFL diehards; remember that you didn’t invent the game! Certainly, some new wrinkles that made a more enjoyable game. But, most of the people coaching and managing were veterans of the NFL.

  8. Erik says:

    I am a big John Hadl fan and would be biased if I had a vote on who goes into the HOF.

    As a young kid, the thing I thought was real cool about Hadl was his number, 21. I believe he was the last QB to have a number above 19 in Pro Football.

  9. […] John Hadl is the only one in the top 12 who doesn’t represent his team in Canton. There is a contingency of AFL afficionados who believe that Hadl should join the Yellow Jacket Club, and I think they have a pretty good […]

Leave a Reply