The early Chargers defensive line had two well-known players in Ernie Ladd and Earl Faison, and two men that were not as well-known in Bill Hudson and Ron Nery. Hudson was an early defensive leader for the Chargers, having already spent time playing professionally in Canada. When he came to San Diego in 1961, he combined to with Ladd, Faison and Nery to form the Charger “Fearsome Foursome,” several years before the Los Angeles Rams had any such group.
The following interview was conducted by telephone in 2003, while I was researching my book, Charging Through the AFL.
AFL – Tell me about how you came to the Chargers from Canada.
BH – I was drafted by the Chicago Cardinals in the second round. That’s how old I am, back when the Cardinals were in Chicago. Their final offer was $7,000 and my college coach’s best friend was coaching in Canada, P. Ed Walker, so I went to Canada for twice the money. Then they started the American League in 1960. Al Davis called and after my fourth year I found out that I had made the All-Pro team on offense and defense in the same year, and he called and found out that I was unhappy with the new coach we’d had the last year. So it just worked out. They were in L.A. and I went to camp and signed with them and it looked good at the time. I wasn’t crazy about L.A. When they moved to San Diego, that was great. I moved to San Diego immediately and went to work with Coca Cola in the off-season. I just started playing. We had a pretty good football team. I think we broke the pass interception record in the pros. It stood for over 30 years. We had the biggest line in the history of professional football at that time, with Ernie Ladd and myself and Faison and Nery. So it was a good experience. I enjoyed it and got to be good friends with them, and thought the world of Sid Gillman and of course, Al Davis. I ended up being a part-time scout. I went with him when he was appointed commissioner of the league. I was one of six that went in the league office with him. Then they merged the leagues as you know, about six months later. So we all got fired. I ended up as an area scout, a part-time weekend scout for Al for 17 years. Living in the South, here. And then started a business.
AFL – Were you concerned that the AFL might not succeed?
BH – No, I can’t say that I really gave a lot of thought to it at that age. I felt then that the NFL was always a possibility too, I had a brother that had been in 12 years, in the NFL.
AFL – 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?
BH – Just regular guys. Young Chuck was my line coach. He was a young guy and of course Sid Gillman, I think, was probably one of the innovators in football. I never had playbooks at other places and knew a lot of teams that didn’t have them, but Sid Gillman was one of the first ones to have them. I had a playbook that was two inches thick for the defensive line. But Sid was one of the innovators probably in I guess training and details in football.
AFL – Tell me about Sid Gillman.
BH – I had no problem with him. I felt that probably the only thing I could say is I had a problem negotiating with him on contracts. In those days we didn’t have lawyers or agents negotiating for us. So I was negotiating and then go out and play for him, it made you have a little different attitude because he was a pretty good negotiator in contracts. But when Al went to Oakland I wanted to go up with Al Davis to Oakland and in those days, it was pretty well-known that if you told Sid that you weren’t going to sign a contract, you were going to play out your option, he would trade you. He would trade you or cut you. I was hoping that he would cut me because I already had a deal worked out with Al Davis and he surprised me. He traded me to the New England Patriots with the stipulation that they couldn’t trade me to Oakland. So I ended up going out there one year and then frankly, I’d gotten tired. In the Canadian League I was playing both ways, 60 minutes a game, 25 games a year. I was getting pretty well tired of training camps and wear and tear on the body was pretty much when you were playing that much football. So I decided to give it up. And that’s when I started scouting for Al Davis.
AFL – You had mentioned that you were a member of the original Fearsome Foursome…
BH – People think… In fact, Chuck Noll did an interview with Sports Illustrated a couple of years ago and he was asked if that line he had at Pittsburgh was the best defensive line he’d ever had. He said, “No. The best line I ever had was the original Fearsome Foursome in San Diego.” He did an article in Sports Illustrated and mentioned that. We had a good line. AFL – Tell me a little bit about each of your linemates.
BH – Well, of course Ladd’s potential was as good as I had ever seen at that point. 6’9”, 360, those days we understated our weight. Nowadays they put it higher. But Ladd was a tight guy, strong as a bull. If a fight broke out, you made sure you got out-of-the-way because he was swinging and he’d hit anything in sight. But he was a good player, good speed. We used to get out and have a little fun on Saturday before games. We’d have a foot race between Ladd and our fullback, Charlie Flowers. Ladd could beat him most of the time in a foot race. As big as he was… Of course Earl Faison was probably one of the best 10-yard people that you have ever seen. That meant get up the field. We had an unusually good pass-rushing team. That’s why, I guess, we were successful. We had very little blitzing of the linebackers. That’s why we broke the pass interception record. It stood for so long because we put so much pressure on the passers and we had enough people in the backfield to catch them, I guess. Anyway, Nery was just a good, basic, sound player. I had just heard that he had died. We had a good group of guys. We used to work out a little bit. You known Lance Alworth. John Hadl and Lance was there in my second year there. Jack Kemp and I were team captains in ’61 and ’62. Charlie Flowers and I were out working out before the camp started at the college, and Charlie and I were standing Hadl throw the ball to Lance. The kid could leap. I don’t know if you have had the opportunity to see films on him, but his leaping ability was unbelievable and he’d catch the football. It looked like a deer running. And I made a comment to Charlie, I said, “He looks like a deer running, doesn’t he?” And Charlie said, “Yeah, let’s call him Bambi.” And that’s kind of why he got started with the Bambi nickname. But he was quite a player and Hadl and I got to be good friends. John was a good man. We had a good team right there. We should have won the whole thing a couple of times, but a few things happened that didn’t let us do it.
AFL – Did you play in the exhibition game against Houston in Hawaii?
BH – Yeah.
AFL – What was that like?
BH – Well, we beat them pretty bad. We beat them the week before in San Diego pretty bad, and then went to Hawaii and beat them by about four or five touchdowns. We didn’t pay that much attention to it. Being in Hawaii, it wasn’t that big of deal.
AFL – Talk about the rivalry with the Oilers. Rymkus & Gillman.
BH – I’m not aware of any real rivalries other than just that Sid’s a very competitive person. He wants to win and you’re not going to be able to win unless you are competitive. But Sid was a very competitive person and he seemed to bring the best out in people. I thought he was a great football coach. I had some arguments with him in negotiating contracts, but I thought Sid was one of the smartest coaches I have ever been around.
AFL – Which of your teammates most impressed you as players?
BH – Well, I thought Jack Kemp was an outstanding quarterback. In fact, I called him the “locker room politician” back when I didn’t know what a politician was. But we had the line that was a big line. Ron Mix was just an outstanding…probably one of the best offensive linemen around. I always thought I was a pretty good offensive lineman, but Ron Mix may be the best offensive lineman that I have ever run into. We had Keith Lincoln, he was a tremendous running back. Of course when Alworth came in the second year, it opened it up. He was a great receiver, but the best one I’ve ever run into I played with in the Canadian League. One year he caught 85 passes, he was the leading ground gainer from running the end-around play, and the lead pass-interceptor in the same year. His name was Hal Patterson, from Kansas. He won the Chamberlin Award like seven times in the Canadian League. He was quite an athlete. But we had a good team that played good together. What else can I say?
AFL – What is your favorite road trip memory?
BH – A favorite road trip memory… I guess probably that year we went to Hawaii and we beat Houston by 30 points in San Diego, in Hawaii we beat them by 30 points, the first league game at home, a few weeks later we beat them about the same. Then we went to Houston and they beat us like 14-10, which was kind of upsetting because we beat them so easily and they end up beating us for the league championship two or three weeks later.
AFL – Looking back now, what are your fondest memories of the Chargers?
BH – Gosh. Just playing. My son was the first baby born to the San Diego Chargers. My son, Alex, who ended up playing on the national championship team at Clemson in 1981. It’s when Clemson beat Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. He was on that team. But we enjoyed it. My wife was a very good organizer. In Canada we did a lot as families, and she organized them. And we had good social functions with the players. Some of them never got together, but we had a good time. I guess one time Jack Kemp had a nice, expensive home on Point Loma. I sat in a chair one night and it crumbled and I fell. He gave me a hard time about being too big for his chairs. But I don’t know. It was a good place to live, but it’s a long way from home. We bought a house out there and planned on staying, but we were just so far from home and we were young, just starting to raise a family. So we decided to come back East. We really enjoyed San Diego.
AFL – And you worked at Coca Cola in the off-season
BH – Coca Cola in the off-season. The franchise. My contract called for them to give me an off-season job.
AFL – How did the Patriots differ from the Chargers as an organization?
BH – Oh, with the Patriots, Mike Holovak was the coach and he didn’t believe in a lot of hitting in practice, so it was totally different. In San Diego we used to have some pretty-well live scrimmages every week. Where there (Boston) you never had any physical contact during the week. I always noticed something about Mike Holovak, we were a pretty decent team, but I was pretty well fed up with football. I didn’t like Boston and was ready to get away.
AFL – Were you only there a portion of the season?
BH – They called and I had learned something about negotiating contracts. So we had two young guys brought in making about half of what I was making. Then they wanted me to re-negotiate my contract and I said, “No. I don’t want to do that.” So basically they said I didn’t have a guaranteed contract. But I knew I had a job with Al Davis. I left them and immediately started to work with Al Davis as a scout.
AF – What did you dislike about being a professional football player?
BH – I was never fond of practice. Basketball was the only sport that I enjoyed practice. But there was just something about it that I wasn’t all that crazy about practicing, but I enjoyed the game and the financial independence. I’m the youngest of five boys to have football scholarships to Clemson before my dad ever made $50 a week. Four of us actually went and I had one brother who played 12 year. He went in the NFL when I was in the ninth grade and I ended up playing against him. He played up with Philadelphia and ended up with the Denver Broncos his last year. But he broke the pass interception record one year. He was 6’5”, 230 and ran a 9.7-100 his last year in college as a sprinter on the track team. Went to college as a tackle and ended up playing corner and safety in pro ball. But anyway, it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed the financial independence. You know, a kid leaves college, even back then, he can go out and pay cash for a car. So while they’re making so much more today, but in those days, compared to what other people were making, we didn’t do bad. It was a lot of fun. I really learned how to use it in the after-life. That’s probably the biggest thing. In starting a business I learned that people liked the jocks, so I kind of let it around that I was a former pro and it helped me build a very successful business. I started a cleaning service and when I sold it to an investment group in Cleveland, I had about 4,800 employees.
AFL – And you built that up from scratch?
BH – I cleaned the first toilets we cleaned. I tell people I got too old to play football so I became a janitor. I still keep an office now, they still owe me some money. I keep an office and that’s where I am at now.
AFL – Other comments?
BH – No. Tell the guys I said, “Hello.”… Is Faison still out there?
AFL – Yes, I will be seeing him Sunday.
BH – My college coach, back in the segregated days… Here’s a little interesting story on Earl. Coach Howard was coaching in an all-star game and was so impressed with Earl that Coach Frank Howard told him, “Boy I’m gonna paint you white and take you back to Clemson.” Earl was one heck of a good football player. Tell him I said “Hello.” I always thought the world of him.