Ernie Ladd – October 9, 2002
San Diego Chargers – 1961-1965
Houston Oilers – 1966-197
Kansas City Chiefs – 1967-1968
TT – Tell me about who scouted you and how you came to the Chargers.
EL – Well, Al Davis and… I really couldn’t answer that. All I know is that I had a very peculiar experience in Houston. I came up from Grambling to see the championship game and the next thing I know I am confronted with coaches that I have never seen before, that I know nothing about. And a trip to go out to California. Really, in a sense, it was almost like a kidnapping. They got me on the plane, and the plane took off before I had even agreed to go. The next thing I know they had Brad Brockenberry(?), two black guys who were drawn in, tricked into the Chargers. A very good friend of mine, he passed away, Brockenberry and Brad Pye who later became a very good friend, Very close, and is still close to this day. These were the brothers. Because everything was still segregated in the South and they really had to have someone to smooth everything over for them. Brad and Brockenberry were two strong black men.
TT – When you signed with the Chargers, were you concerned about the league not making it?
EL – I wasn’t really concerned about the league being new because one of them had suggested a no-cut contract. You have to remember, in 1960, Johnny Unitas was the highest paid football player in the world at $15,000. And a school teacher was making like $3,400-$3,700 a year in the state of Louisiana. If you signed a contract for $10,000 or more, you tripled what a school teacher was making during that time.
TT – What benefits do you think that you got in signing with the Chargers?
EL – It wasn’t so much a benefit that I got from the Chargers, I got to play in the type of weather that I wanted to play in. I really knew nothing about California. I had been to Oakland, California in high school. I had been to Oakland, California, before, and I liked California weather. No more the weather was a benefit to me. Also, Chicago, (George Halas) who drafted me in the fourth round, told me it would be an honor to play in the NFL, and I didn’t like that at all, wanted me to sign for $7,500. I went out there and looked and everything, but he was on the wrong street. He had the wrong address.
TT – Tell me about your relationship with Sid Gillman.
EL – My relationship with Sid Gillman was good and bad. He was a bad negotiator. I didn’t like a lot of years that he was a bad negotiator. He should have been our coach and not general manager. He had the best team in football and broke it up. I considered this a lot of years, because I didn’t understand it in early years. You don’t break up a team of Earl Faison and Ernie Ladd. We were the first Fearsome Foursome in football. We were the best pass rushers in all of football, Earl Faison and Ernie Ladd. The best pass rushers in all of football, NFL. Earl Faison was the number one player picked in the draft in 1961. You let guys like that season, get about 8-10 years out of them. And Sid, with his foolishness, and I said foolishness, not knowing how to handle men… I look back at the Rams and other places. He had a brilliant mind for coaching offense, but he had no understanding and no concept of people staying together. I look back and all of what happened, is a reflection of young, great owners like Barron Hilton and Lamar Hunt. People like that, who gave coaches an opportunity to do what they wanted to do. Sid was a brilliant coach, but he knew zero about men and kinds of personalities. You couldn’t deal with me in any kind of way because I would rebel. You had to shoot straight at me. I didn’t care about getting put out of football. I admired a girl, my wife. She told me that if you get put out of football, you become a schoolteacher and we can both work and make a living. That was one of the worst things my wife could have ever done. That made me stand up to everything I didn’t like. I stood up to it or I walked out on it. I recall my rookie year, they gave the best two pass rushers, two linemen, on the team, was Earl and I, and they gave an award to someone else. I’m not concerned about giving the award to someone else, but it was a black and white thing. And I never forgot that. When I found out in later years, Earl and I were great pass rushers, the best pass rushers, but we were not the best-paid players on the team. We were the highest paid players among the guys that came when we did, but they were paying rookies more money than they were paying us. That’s why I played my option out and I left. I went to Houston because I wouldn’t put up with the foolishness. That was nothing but foolishness. And it was stupid when you look back and you reflect, you don’t break up Earl Faison and Ernie Ladd. Then they go and tell the people that Ernie Ladd was not a tame player, I got benched for a rookie because I had a clause to make $10,000 in my contract. And I got benched. Then I go to the Pro Bowl game, and no disrespect for the guys that played in front of me during that time, and the coaches come to me and say, “You need to start this game because we need this game.” Well we needed it before then, but I refused to start the game because of the respect for the rookies. The rookies never did know what was going on. And I never would start when Sid came to me with that foolishness. I never would start. But I made the Pro Bowl and the other guy didn’t make the Pro Bowl game, because when I went in the game I was such a devastating player and pass rusher.
TT – Tell me about Chuck Noll.
EL – Well, there’s not really much to tell about Chuck, except that Chuck is the greatest line coach I have ever seen or ever known. You can’t add a lot to that. Chuck Noll was the best line coach, but Chuck Noll had some psychology too. I was kind of a simple guy from a small school. I worked hard. I would work hard in practice and I would work hard before the season would start. Chuck wanted to stop me from using my forearm, and I thought the forearm was the best weapon in football. But I was wrong. Chuck Noll told me the club was the best move in football, and a hoparound. Chuck had to trick me to get me to change my style. Chuck said, “If you deal with it for two weeks, just don’t use your forearm at all, let me teach you one move. Use it for two weeks. If you don’t like it, then go back to the forearm.” Well, I wasn’t too eager to go to something that Chuck wanted me to go to, but I respected him enough to do what he told me. So I worked at it for two weeks, and the first week I didn’t like it at all. But I kept working at it. I came it the middle of the second week, and it was the best move that ever happened to me. Best move that ever happened to me. Chuck had a way of reaching out and touching his players. If you brought something to the table, Chuck would develop it for you. And it is no secret that Chuck… You know it’s no accident that Chuck became a great coach at Pittsburgh. They gave him an opportunity to do what he did best. He was never given an opportunity to be as great a coach at San Diego. Coach Gillman ran a dictatorship. He kept somebody else that wasn’t strong. Chuck was too strong for San Diego. But he was extremely good. He was the best defensive line coach that I’ve ever known in my life.
TT – You were one of the most intimidating players in the league. How did that work to your advantage?
EL – First of all, I had size. My actual height was 6’ 9 ¾”, when I was measured as a young man. I was a bonafide 300-pounder that looked like he weighed about 250. I played one year at 330. I trained to get down to 280 one time and Sid Gillman called me and told me, “Man, you’re too light. They’re gonna blow you off the line, big fella. It just ain’t gonna work.” I stepped on the scale and weighed 281, he said, “God damn, get out of here.” I stepped on the scale and weighed 281, I was like 35, 36 in the waist. What was really funny… I got something really special that you got to put in this piece. He put Earl Faison on the weight table. I could eat anything I want. Earl Faison was a fat man. They had to put Earl Faison on the fat man’s table. And he loved apple pie. And I would get him an apple pie every time they had apple pie. I’d sneak it to him under the table when he was not supposed to eat it. Boy, he’d have pie going everywhere. Then I would squeal on him. I’d set him up with the apple pie. Earl and I were roommates the whole time we played together. We’re still close friends.
TT – Tell me about playing on that line with Earl. You were the original Fearsome Foursome.
EL – Earl was the greatest defensive lineman that I ever saw as a rookie. Because I never saw myself, either. He had more moves and skills that anybody I ever saw as a lineman. The only problem was, I don’t think they developed his skills to the max that he could have played at, or to his potential. Even as a brilliant coach as Chuck Noll was. I guess Earl and I probably… You gotta remember this was during segregated years. And I came from the deep South and I might have brought a little bit of attitude with me too. And Chuck had to work with that. I thought it made Chuck a very brilliant man. He took all the licks that Sid and other coaches didn’t take, from his two devastating black forces. He had to be a psychologist as well as a great coach. And when I look back on the years and I reflected, he was both. He was brilliant.
TT – With your size, did Alvin Roy and the Chargers try to get you to do a lot of weight training?
EL – Alvin Roy brought a new dimension to the Chargers for training. I think his greatest asset, his greatest development was developing Lance Alworth. I think he put about 10 or 15 strong pounds on Lance Alworth. Lance Alworth was a hard worker and a great trainer. To me, Lance Alworth was like the Tiger Woods of receivers. Lance Alworth would get very angry if you stopped him from catching a pass in practice. And he was a guy that worked hard. We had the two best receivers in all of football. Again, we go back to not knowing how to handle men. Jerry Robinson was probably a greater receiver than Lance Alworth. Jerry Robinson, from Grambling, was probably one of the greatest receivers to ever play football, and Sid didn’t develop him. Sid didn’t take the talent. He just put all of the time into Lance. Lance would tell you this, John Hadl, anybody else. And I found out a lot of years later that Jerry Robinson didn’t particularly like football. He didn’t care nothing about football. He played it because he had a family and it made him more money than anything else made him at the time. But if Sid would have been enough of a coach to take him personally and work with him and develop him personally, made a personal project out of him like he made Lance a personal project… But we never gave it a thought. If he would have taken Jerry and made Jerry a personal project, nobody could have never covered the Chargers. Jerry Robinson was bigger, was stronger and was faster. Much faster. Jerry Robinson probably was the quickest guy in the 40-yard dash in all of football. Nobody could beat him in the 40-yard dash. Faster guy in all of football for 40 yards. Stone Johnson, the holder of the world record in the 220, won two gold medals in the Olympic Games, Jerry Robinson beat him for 95 yards in the 100. Stone could pick him up in the last 5 yards of the 100. Every time. He didn’t beat Stone some jumps, he’d beat him every time. He’d come out of the hole on him and beat him for 95 yards every time. Speedy Duncan was called Speedy Duncan in Jackson State. They raced in the 40 and Jerry might have beat Speedy by 2 or 3 yards in the 40-yard dash. Beat him by more than a yard in the 40-yard dash, that’s how fast Jerry could come out of the hole. Jerry was awesome. OK, I’m back together with your topics.
TT – Tell me about Rough Acres Ranch.
EL – Rough Acres Ranch was a great, great training place. It was hot and you were isolated. It had a lot of rattlesnakes out there. That was the only problem that you had. We’d practice twice a day at Rough Acres. Get up in the morning… I rode up with Earl, Charlie McNeil, Ernie Ladd and Earl Faison in his Volkswagon to Rough Acres. I thought it was a great training facility. Sid was very unique in certain things and certain things I think he was terrible at. That was one of the unique things about him, taking us to a great area. Sid said, “We’ll feed you good, keep you in good facilities. We give you first class food, first class facilities and we expect a first class performance on Sunday.” And we gave it to him. He kept us in great facilities and we gave him a great, first class performance on Sunday.
TT – What did you think about Balboa Stadium?
EL – It was the greatest stadium in San Diego. You have to realize that there never had been a pro team in San Diego. I wasn’t with the Chargers in 1960, the first year of the league, but they were hoping for 5,000 people to show up. And I think we averaged like 26,000 or 27,000 people. We averaged over 20,000 people in Balboa Stadium. So that was a new reprieve for the league and for us. I thought the fans were very close to the field in Balboa Stadium. You could see people walking by in the stands off the stadium, the people were so close to the field, that you knew. It was a great stadium and the grounds people did a great job with the grounds. It was a beautiful place. When you look at the old films now, of the beginning of the league, it was great.
TT – Who were some of your friends on the team?
EL – Ron Mix was a very close friend of mine. Bob Petrich, Earl (Faison), Paul (Lowe), Ernie (Wright), Dick Westmoreland. The Chargers were a very unique team. Everybody had relations on the Chargers. It wasn’t a black and white issue with the Chargers. You were a football player and you had relations because we broke that foolishness up before it got off the ground. If somebody said something wrong, one of the black guys would come tell me and I would (put an end to it). There wasn’t going to be no foolishness. We had a team that we thought was a good team, and we respected one another. The great thing the Chargers did as teammates, we had parties together, with the wives. We all came together, and we did everything together. You’d have your isolated parties, black and white, periodically, but it was no thing. And we had a guy that understood relations real good, named Bob Burdick. Bob Burdick understood relations among blacks and whites in the ‘60s and he was a great guy for that.
TT – How did you feel the first time someone asked you for an autograph?
EL – Well, it didn’t affect me at all. I though it was nice of a kid to ask and I thought it was wonderful for a person to take the time out with the fan and do it. I never gave it a thought. I got a stack of stuff to sign right now to send out to people. People still call me for autographs and pictures. When guys get so big and powerful that they can’t sign autographs, I think that is a problem. Everyone can do their own thing, so I don’t condemn nobody.
TT – What did you dislike about being a professional football player?
EL – The only thing I disliked about being a professional football player was that’s when I first I found out that I wasn’t my own man. I wanted to go to the Olympic Games in Mexico City. That’s when I really found out that I wasn’t my own man. After that I was out of football. Because I think there comes a time that in your personal life, you should be able to do some of the things that you want to do. I found out then that I couldn’t go to the games, although I had a pocketful of money. I couldn’t go to Mexico City to the Olympic Games. So I started looking for the exit route.
TT – Any other comments?
EL – The Chargers were the best team I ever played with, for my money and relations. We had guys that had a lot of nerve, wouldn’t take no foolishness. Like the walkout down in New Orleans. If it wasn’t for the Chargers, it never would have happened with any other team. I don’t think that the NFL ever would have done that. They lied to the black players in the NFL for years. And the players didn’t have the nerve to stand up. Because of guys like George Halas. You know George Halas told me he’d bar me out of football. So I tried to hit him in his mouth, when I played in the college all-star game. He called me a bush leaguer when he found out that I’d signed to go to the Chargers and wouldn’t come to the Bears, because he drafted me. But he didn’t want to pay no money. Sure, I’m a bush leaguer if you don’t want to pay no money. All you want to do is pay $7,500. They lied to Deacon Jones. I didn’t take them lies laying down. If I got a chance to pop you back, I’ll pop you back. Same thing with Sid. Sid would fine me, I’d quit, I’d leave. If you fine me that much, then you put me out of football. That’s the way I felt about it. A lot of guys talk and there ain’t no substance to their conversation. If I told you something, take it to the bank. If I told you I was gone, I was gone. There wasn’t no threat for you to do better. When I told you that was it, that was it. It wasn’t no maybe. You ask all the players that I played with. When I told you I was taking it to the barn, it was going to the barn.