John Hadl – June 16, 2003
San Diego Chargers – 1962-1972
Los Angeles Rams – 1973-1974
Green Bay Packers – 1974-1975
TT – Tell me about who scouted you and how you came to the Chargers.
JH – Well, I’ll tell you, Don Klosterman was the chief scout for the Chargers when I was in my senior year in college. And he’s the one that thought that I could be a quarterback and that’s basically it. He was out at spring practice one day and saw me throwing and that’s how it happened. Because we didn’t throw very much in college. I played more of a running game, with options and all that kind of stuff. One day we were doing drop backs and he saw something he liked and that was it. If he hadn’t been there that day, I don’t know what would have happened. We only threw four or five times a game in those days. But anyway, that’s how I got started.
TT – Were you concerned that the AFL might not succeed?
JH – You know, I figured that if that was the case I could still go to the NFL because Detroit drafted me number one as a running back. But I took the idea that if I made it I would rather be a quarterback than a running back. And then obviously going down to San Diego and visiting out here. That made a big difference, versus going to Detroit. Not that Detroit’s ugly, but it’s not as pretty as San Diego. But the main reason was about the position.
TT – What benefits do you think you got playing with the Chargers that you may not have gotten from playing with any other team in the AFL? And that’s not monetary benefits.
JH – I’ll guarantee you it wasn’t that. I think the opportunity to play quicker. It was a new league with new opportunities for people like myself. Coming out of a major college in a major college conference, I thought that I would have a pretty good opportunity to get started earlier than if I went somewhere like Detroit or in the old league NFL somewhere.
TT – How much of an advantage was it for yourself and Lance to come in as rookies together?
JH – Well, we played in a couple of all-star games together, too. We played in the East-West and in the Hula Bowl and the College All-Star Game together. So we kind of got to know each other real well because obviously we were coming to San Diego. We knew that all the way. So we hung out and got to know each other pretty good. We threw the ball around a lot in those games, so that helped us get a little head start in getting to know each other and that kind of thing.
TT – The Chargers coaching staff had three future Hall of Fame coaches in Sid Gillman, Al Davis and Chuck Noll. Did it appear to be a knowledgeable or overly impressive staff at the time?
JH – Well, at the time I didn’t know that much about good head coaches. Whatever coach told you, that’s what you did. But it was obvious that Al was thinking bigger in what he wanted out of life. And Chuck Noll was just a hard-working, smart guy. I think he just got there by being smarter than the other guys and working hard and understanding talent. And obviously what he did was second to none. He’s still doesn’t get enough credit for what he did.
TT – Tell me about Sid Gillman. How did your relationship change over the years?
JH – Well, it began when he signed me to the first contract and we had our first year together. It was a whole new learning process for me as far as learning the pro offense and understanding the total picture, what the linemen were doing and what everybody else was doing on every play. You had to know all that. That helped an awful lot to know all that. He worked us very, very hard, which was good. I think the first four years we the quarterbacks didn’t have a day off. I know I didn’t. He had me in there every Monday after the games and we were looking at films the whole way through Thursday. It was heavy duty during the season. But that’s where I really learned everything. He taught me how to get up and get to work. That’s for sure.
TT – Did you see things change as the years went on? How did Sid’s trust in you develop?
JH – Oh, I just think he could see the skills getting better, mentally as much as physically. I was a good competitor on the field. Whatever he saw, he liked. I guess it was good enough to keep me. We had plenty of fights, though. Don‘t kid yourself. We had some hoop-de-groups and he won most of them, of course, because he was the coach. But there were times that I wanted out and he said he was going to get me out, but it never happened. So we always settled the issue, whatever it was. Thankfully the last 10 years I made sure I got to see him every time I came out here. We were real close in later life, with Sid.
TT – You played alongside Jack Kemp and Tobin Rote early in your career. Did either of them help mentor you as a young quarterback?
JH – Well, you know Jack, when I first came in, my rookie year, he was my roommate. In training camp, the first night I walked in he was reading a book on Goldwater. I said, “What are you reading.” And he was telling me that he worked for Goldwater in the off-season. He was into politics and that kind of thing. We had a lot of political discussions and I just didn’t know that he wanted to be president. He was a sharp guy. But you know, he got traded about halfway through the season. So I have stayed in touch with Jack through the years. But he was really a nice guy. Tobin is the one that really taught me on and off the field how to be a quarterback. The things you had to do and he was a real pro. He helped me a lot and brought me along pretty fast.
TT – Were you at all disappointed when the Chargers got him in ’63? You had started the second half of the ’62 season.
JH – Yeah, I had been. Of course I didn’t understand any of that. I had always, my whole life, been first-team and never had a problem. All of a sudden there is someone in front of me. He had played Canadian ball and played for Detroit for a number of years with great success. Anyway, I had to make the adjustment of how they were doing it after a while. Because Tobin was a great guy and we roomed together. We talked a lot. That was really good. But it worked out for the best. There’s no doubt about that.
TT – Talk about the Rough Acres training camp in 1963.
JH – Well, I think the pluses basically were camaraderie. You’re all there together all day and night. And there wasn’t any place to go. I think they had one bar about a half-mile down the road. For beer on a night off you go down there. But that was it. There wasn’t any place to go. You’re 60 miles out of town and up in the hills there. It was good learning, good conditioning time for all of us. The downside was that they had to run the rattlesnakes off the field every morning because they’d water those fields and it would draw those snakes out. They were running them off. They’d be in the clubhouse. Every once in a while one would go through. We had to deal with that. But other than that it was alright, it was fine.
TT – Why did the Chargers not go to more training camps like that?
JH – Well, I think Sid didn’t like it, probably. He probably wanted to be more closer to town and needed more convenience. I have to think that because it was cheaper to be out there, I’m sure. Then after that we went to Escondido, which was a pretty good setup at that time. That was still a suburb, it was another town out there, about 30 miles away. It had a good feel, a good hotel to stay in. It was more convenient.
TT – How were Alvin Roy and the new weight-training program received by the players?
JH – Well, the skill players, so-to-speak didn’t like it, but all the linemen, they all liked it because they were getting bulked up and getting bigger and stronger. I didn’t like it. Alworth didn’t like it. But it helped us, there’s no question about that. I’m glad I did it now, but at the time you didn’t want to do it. Something new, it was really hard work and heavy and bulking you up. In helped solve a lot of injury problems.
TT – It caused a few too. Didn’t Don Norton get hurt lifting weights?
JH – Yeah, he snapped his back one time. Somebody else. They had a couple of back problems on the squats. They put too much weight on. That’s the best I can remember. You know more about it than I do, it sounds like.
TT – Well, no first-hand experience, just reading.
JH – Well, you’re doing good.
TT – What made the 1963 team better than Chargers teams in other playoff games?
JH – Oh, I think looking back to my experiences, defensively we weren’t as good as other teams’ defense, most likely, physically. Maybe we got into the championship games. I can remember Buffalo really had some top-notch defensive players. We beat the heck out of Boston that year, but they were always blitzing and leaving Alworth and Norton singled up out there. So that made it pretty easy, too. But most of the time that was the problem, in my opinion. Not to badmouth my defensive players, but they weren’t as fast as the other guys. Let’s put it that way.
TT – What types of changes did you see in the team and how it was run after Gene Klein purchased the Chargers?
JH – Biggest problem was Sid and Klein were getting into fights all the time. I think, I don’t know what happened because I wasn’t in those meetings, but you could tell that Sid would be upset coming out of meetings with him. Sid, at times, basically felt like he owned the team, because he made it go from the get-go. Anyway, Barron Hilton was the great owner and he let Sid run things. I think Klein came in and tried to take over and do what he did. Then he brought in some other people in a management setup and got in between Sid and him. They would give Klein other ideas, other ways to do things and that kind of stuff. Klein didn’t know anything about football anyway, so you didn’t know what to believe. I remember one day I was coming in a quarterback meeting and Sid was charging out. This was like 7:00 in the morning. I said, “Where are you going? We got a meeting.” He said, “I’m going to L.A. and I’m going to tell Klein…” I said, “Don’t do that coach, he’ll fire you. You’ll be fired by noon.” They had a 1:30 press conference and he was fired. That’s how quick that was. That’s true.
TT – When you were in high school or college, did you have a favorite NFL player that you modeled yourself after?
JH – Unitas, Johnny Unitas mainly.
TT – What is your favorite road trip memory?
JH – I can’t. Can’t do that. No, we just had a good time. We had a two-and-one-half-week swing where we’d go to Boston, New York and Buffalo every year and stay back there. We’d always have a good time in New York and Boston, those places. And we’d stay at Bear Mountain for one part of the trip, outside of West Point. That’s a beautiful part of the country. So we had a good time.
TT – Which of your teammates did you find the most impressive?
JH – All of them. Everybody worked really, really hard. Lance had a great work ethic. Gary Garrison. But everybody worked hard. We had good team camaraderie and everybody got along good and those kinds of things. That’s what made it happen.
TT – Which of your opponents did you find most impressive?
JH – Early in my career, Kansas City. We had some great games wit Kansas City. The when Al went up to Oakland and got them going, why they became very competitive too. Those two in our own conference were really the toughest games we’d play all year long. And when Namath was in New York, we’d have some great games. Particularly back there.
TT – Any individuals that you found to be awesome players?
JH – Yeah, Buck Buchanan with Kansas City was great. Bobby Bell, a linebacker there was great. Nick Bouniconti from Boston. Willie Brown at Oakland was the greatest ever, in my opinion, at cornerback. Hell, there was a bunch of guys, but those were the best probably.
TT – I’ve read about a few “altercations” with Ben Davidson up in Oakland.
JH – Well, he chose not to make it one, otherwise I would have got killed. He just slapped me upside the head one time out of bounds, way out of bounds. I just reacted and threw a ball that hit him in the face, as hard as I could. But he just grinned and walked off. It didn’t bother him. But I never got into a real altercation with him because I would have got killed. I knew better than that.
TT – What did you dislike about being a professional football player?
JH – You know what, there wasn’t anything. I really, really enjoyed it and looked forward to it every year. There wasn’t anything I disliked about it, except losing. I didn’t like losing. But that’s about it, really.
TT – What part of the game was the most difficult for you?
JH – I think early it was just learning the drop-back pass system. I never really did drop back like you do in pro football. And just learning to read all the coverages and what that told you about where to go with the football and that kind of thing. That was a two-to-three year process to get really good.
TT – What are your fondest memories overall of playing with the Chargers?
JH – Oh, there’s a lot of them. I think the one I remember most is beating Houston down there when I was starting the ’64 season and we won down there. That was a big deal to me because that was my first year at the helm, really. And we won the division and got into the championship game. But I don’t know, I had a lot of them. Lance, I think caught five touchdown passes in Denver that I hit him with. Let’s see, I’m trying to think. New York game we were playing the Jets and we came marching down the field two different times and missed opportunities to kick field goals to beat them. That kind of set us back as far as the rest of the season, it just mentally knocked everybody out. But anyway, Hell, I don’t know. There’s a lot of them.
TT – I am going to name a few of your teammates and you just give me some thoughts on the guys. Earl Faison.
JH – Well, if he hadn’t have got hurt, he probably would have been the greatest. He would have been Deacon Jones, easily, without question. He was the same kind of speed and strength and quickness. He just got his knees tore up too early. He would have been a really, really great one. Of course, Lance. Lance was an all-around, as-good-as-you-can-be receiver in any league. But I’ll tell you, Gary Garrison. He was the opposite, kind of. He was a great receiver, but he ran great routes. He was an intellectual-type receiver. He understood coverages really well and had great moves. You could hit him really easily, throwing the ball. So I had two great receivers all the way.
TT – Ernie Ladd.
JH – He was the biggest man I ever saw at that time. He was 6’9” and about 310, but he didn’t have any fat on him anywhere. He was a real big guy. But he had a great sense of humor and we had a lot of fun playing cards in training camp and on the road and that kind of thing. He was a great guy.
TT – Don Rogers.
JH – He was an intellectual. We knew he’d be successful after football because he just had that demeanor about him and he was a student of the game. He knew football was just a way to get to another level and that’s what he’s done, too. He’s been very successful.
TT – Ernie Wright.
JH – Well, you know, he’s done the same thing. He’s got a great personality and he was a great player. Did a great job at left tackle and I think he’s done really well lately, too, I’ve been told. I haven’t talked to him for a couple of years, but I’ve been told he’s really doing well.
TT – Keith Lincoln.
JH – Abe. I called him “Abe.” He’s a great all-around athlete, great competitor. He could run it, he could throw it, he could kick it, he really was a great all-around athlete. I relied heavily on him during the course of a game in all those different areas.
TT – Is there anybody you think that didn’t get the credit they deserved.
JH – Well, I’ll tell you. Walt Sweeney. He got a lot of credit early, but he was the best guard that ever played football, in my opinion. He was a fantastic player. If we get the films out I can prove it. Sam Gruneisen was a real heady football player. He was an overachiever, but he started and played guard and center. During the course of the game if someone made a bad line call, he’d correct it right there on the spot. Things like that. But he was more of a coach on the field. He didn’t get enough credit in my opinion.
TT – Hey. One more question. I was looking at a team photo the other day. It was the year after Lance left. And some guy told me that you flipped off the cameraman because you were pissed off that Lance was traded.
JH – (laughing) Yeah, kinda.
TT – It looks like it in the photo, but you can’t tell for sure.
JH – Let’s keep it that way. I got a lot of Hell about that too, at that time, which is alright.