When Hall-of-Famer Lance Alworth joined a Talk of Fame Network broadcast a couple of years ago, we asked him which former player not enshrined in Canton he’d nominate for the Hall. Alworth chose two: Quarterback John Hadl and safety Johnny Robinson, with Hadl the first one through the doors.
I can see why.
First of all, Alworth caught a zillion passes from the guy when the two were in San Diego. Second, the two won a championship together. And, third, Hadl has the qualifications, with more passing yards and touchdowns than any quarterback in the Hall of Fame’s senior pool.
But why stop there? He was the AFL’s leading passer in 1965 and 1968 and a six-time Pro Bowler. With San Diego, he led the league three times in yards passing, twice in completions and twice in touchdown passes. Traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1973, he became a first-team All-Pro and the conference’s Player of the Year.
“Everywhere John went,” Alworth said, “he won … and he is probably in the top five or six, if you look at all the stats. He didn’t win a Super Bowl, but he won everything else. He was a tremendous football player and leader.”
With Hadl and Tobin Rote as quarterbacks, the Chargers of the 1960s were goliaths, leading all teams – NFL and AFL – in total yards and third in scoring for the decade. Hadl was the gunslinger, topping the league twice in yards per completion – once at 15.5 and again at 16.1 — and if those numbers seem enormous it’s only because they are.
By contrast, Matt Ryan last year led the NFL at 13.2, with Tom Brady second at 12.2.
“I wouldn’t trade Hadl for any other quarterback in pro football,” Hall-of-Fame coach Sid Gillman said in 1968.
Yet the Chargers did trade him. And in his first season with the Rams he led them to a 12-2 finish and was selected first-team All-Pro. But the Rams didn’t do anything after that, and neither did Hadl … and that’s a problem for Hall-of-Fame voters.
He was 0-2 in the playoffs. He threw only one touchdown in four postseason appearances. And he was a flop in Green Bay after the Packers mortgaged the future for him – sending L.A. five draft picks for the veteran quarterback the Pack was sure could put it over the top.
He didn’t, of course, and the Packers … and Hadl … wilted, with the quarterback 7-12 there, with 9 TDs and 29 interceptions. That was at the end of Hadl’s career, and it didn’t end as much as it cratered.
Critics point to that as evidence that he doesn’t belong in a Hall-of-Fame discussion, but I’m not so sure … and here’s why. At one point in his career, he was among the league’s best – and it wasn’t simply for a year or two but for an extended run. Furthermore, he checked most of the boxes, including a league title and numerous individual awards and achievements.
Look, I don’t care that he threw more interceptions that touchdowns. So did Joe Namath. It was a different era. And I don’t care that he completed 50 percent of his passes. So did Namath. As I said, different era.
No, I care that when he retired only two other quarterbacks – John Unitas and Fran Tarkenton, both Hall of Famers – had more passing yards. I care that during his career (1962-1977) only three others – Sonny Jurgenson, Darryle Lamonica and Namath – accomplished what Hadl did, and that’s have at least three 3,000-yard seasons. I care that he was a four-time team MVP (three with San Diego, once with the Rams), the Chargers’ captain from 1965-72 and a member of the Chargers’ Hall of Fame. I also care that when he started (1965-75), he ranked second among all quarterbacks in wins, second in touchdown passes, second in yards and third in completions.
That’s impressive. And it should get the conversation going. Here’s hoping it does.