Charley Hannah Goes Into ASHOF
Çharley Hannah had men to look up to, and he had only to look across the family dinner table. One of the best linemen ever to play the game was the Alabama All-America, Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, College Football Hall of Fame, and Pro Football Hall of Fame member, brother John. Daddy Herb Hannah established the football tradition as a three-year Crimson Tide Lettermen (1948-50) and then played professionally for the New York Giants.
Thus, expectations were unrealistically high for Charley, particularly as a 6-2, 130-pound high school freshman at Baylor School in Chattanooga. One coach at Baylor suggested to Herb that he convince his son to give up football after his first season.
"When I went out for football the next year I had a different coach," Charley said. "He told my dad to try to convince me to quit football." Charley didn't hear this story until after he had been playing professionally for several years.
Herb Hannah couldn't understand the request. The prep coach said he recognized the dogged determination, but Charley was consistently getting whipped. The coach feared for his safety and projected failure on the field.
"Dad told him that if I wanted to play, it was the coach's job to coach me and the father's job to encourage me to do what I wanted to do," Charley said. "Dad said, ‘If he wants to quit, that's fine. If he doesn't want to quit, we shouldn't try to get him to.'"
Ironically, Charley didn't play football as a prep sophomore. He was contemplating a transfer from Baylor, But he did play as a more mature junior. Two years of varsity high school football convinced the coaching staff in Tuscaloosa he had more than just his name to contribute to the game. Charley followed his father, his uncle Bill Hannah, and his brother John in accepting a football scholarship to The University of Alabama. (Charley would be followed by younger brother David.)
Charley was a 6-5, 215-pound outside linebacker at Baylor, some 90 miles from his home in Albertville. He entered The University for the 1973 season.
Charley had a date for the opening game that year. The girl, a student at Auburn who would go on to be a veterinarian, ended up sitting with Charley's family to watch the game. Because Charley could deep snap, he was added to the roster as a back-up for Sid Smith. The opposition was California, featuring a handful of future NFL players, including quarterback Vince Ferragamo, running back Chuck Muncie, and wide receiver Wesley Walker. Alabama romped, 66-0, at Legion Field in Birmingham.
Alabama Coach Paul Bryant tried to play as many players as possible, and so as the score rose, the Crimson Tide bench was cleared. Charley Hannah was going to play in the season-opener as a true freshman.
"I'm in there at nose-guard, a position I had never played before," said Hannah. Instructed to act as a spy to prevent the draw or a screen before rushing an open lane, Hannah is astonished with his first varsity action. "Lo and behold, the quarterback does a waggle and drops back rolling to one side. I step in and as he rolls I come around the outside. Everybody that was blocking got tangled on the inside. Here I am–skinny as a rail playing defensive line–and I get a sack for my girlfriend and my parents. She was like Miss Florida. I felt like a big deal."
Hannah cherishes the 1975 defensive effort against a Tennessee team loaded with offensive talent including versatile All-SEC wingback Stanley Morgan and two-time All-America receiver Larry Seivers. "Coach (Ken) Donahue put together a package of blitzes and containment to try to put pressure on the quarterback," Hannah said. "I think as a team we had 13 sacks. The cornerback had a couple on blitzes. I think I had three sacks. Bob Baumhower and Leroy Cook had three or four sacks. We came in and had an all out game on the hot Astro Turf," Hannah proclaimed about the present Alabama team record setting 13 sack performance against the Volunteers.
At the Sunday team meeting, Hannah remembered, "Coach Bryant would always address the team. When he would start to come around the corner, all the assistant coaches would straighten up, be quiet, and the players knew. Everybody would sit up straight, eyes front, and no sound. Coach Bryant would walk in the room and you could hear him breathe."
"Coach Bryant said, ‘I want these people to stand up.' And he called out Leroy, Bob and me, and I think Gus White and Colenzo Hubbard. All defensive linemen. I didn't know quite what was going on. He said, ‘I'm going to show a film clip in a minute but when we're done I want everybody to march by these guys and thank them for taking this game on their shoulders and winning it for you. I've never seen that kind of effort before.'"
Bryant was not just highlighting the sacks but also the defensive line's constant pressuring of the quarterback forcing premature throws. "He (Bryant) stops the film and says this is the fourth quarter. This is what I'm talking about – the kind of fourth quarter effort we have to have," Hannah proudly remembered. The head coach's group praise would be glory enough for a defensive lineman but underscoring Hannah's individual effort during the replay was utopia for an Alabama football player. "It was right at the end of the game and it was hot. The quarterback rolled out and I'm coming up on containment and there is a guy that is going to block me and he's (QB) trying to throw to an open downfield receiver which I did not know at the time. When the guy came to block me, I jumped up over the top and I'm trying to get the ball as he clipped my feet. I tipped the ball just barely and it wobbles a little bit falling incomplete as I fall into a heap. Coach Bryant says, "That's the fourth quarter effort." And it was me. I think that was as good as I've ever felt."
Years later the Tennessee domination was taunting fodder directed at his Los Angeles Raider teammate, guard Mickey Marvin, a former Vol. "I used to tell him how I enjoyed my two years, junior and senior, against Tennessee because I had five or six sacks in those two games. He denied it but I assured him some of them (sacks) had to be over him," Hannah chuckled.
One day walking out of the tunnel to the practice field, Hannah was huddled with the other players joking about something when everyone's eyes widen. Coach Bryant appeared suddenly wrapping his arm around the startled freshman's shoulders while inquiring, "How are you doing Charlie? Are you making it all right?" The five-second encounter produced boisterous laughter from his teammates as the head coach walked away. "I was drenched and sweating. I think that intimidation unintended to some degree - he wanted respect but not intimidation - was disappointing to Coach Bryant. He wanted that relationship and always offered it."
Grueling controlled scrimmages at Saturday's practices acted as a casting audition for the critical roles under the prime time spotlight. Operating collectively with no division of teams, the offensive and defensive units would pound each other continuously throughout the afternoon testing each other's endurance. Consequently only a coach's discretion could alleviate the excruciating fatigue by substituting for a player which on this day did not come for the naïve sophomore Hannah. Before the ensuing marathon of action, his Dad's surprise visit from Albertville to observe practice was not met with suspicion. "I didn't even think that Coach Bryant had called him and said, "Saturday is going to be Charley's day," he stated about his Dad's complicity in the orchestrated gut check test scenario.
"We had a few plays and a bunch of people switched out but not me. Then we ran another group of plays and people switched out again but not me. By this time everybody has rotated at least once," he stated about the intentional substitution pattern. "I'm thinking this is not going to be fun. I think I went sixty something plays in a row. Beat the hell out of me but at the end of the day you didn't quit. You may have gotten worn out but you were still putting out some effort."
A sibling squabble almost cost him his hard earned position on the team. "I got in trouble in practice one time for fighting with my little brother (David)," he said. Although he was saved from dismissal due to Coach Donahue's intervention, a stern scolding accompanied by Bryant's intimidating stare while seated in the proverbial red sunken couch was unavoidable. "He (Bryant) let me know Alabama could have a football team without me. All I had to do was an extra 30 minutes of conditioning after practice for the rest of the year which we did too much as it was."
Named one of the two permanent captains his senior year, the three-time lettermen and All-Southeastern Conference performer was chosen call the coin toss at the Liberty Bowl as the 16th ranked underdog Crimson Tide faced the 7th ranked UCLA Bruins. He won the toss and still possesses the treasured coin. On a frigid December night in Memphis, Alabama's defense cooled the west coast foe's offense allowing one insignificant 4th quarter touchdown en route to a 36-6 win.
Drafted 57th overall as the first player in the third round by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, his professional career as a defensive end was short-lived. In spite of failing his physical, Coach John McKay approved his contract but Hannah could not avert the inevitable knee surgery which occurred after participating in the first nine games of the season. Designated as a run stopper he alternated with veteran pass-rushing specialist Wally Chambers his second year but his defensive future was tenuous as he learned before the completion of the season.
"There's about three games left in the season and I woke up one morning and opened up the paper. I looked on the sports page and I'm the headline. It says I'm moving to offensive tackle the next year. Well, that's the first I'd heard of it," said the surprised would be defensive lineman. McKay summoned the befuddled Hannah to his office to address the story. "He (McKay) said listen, sometimes a sportswriter hears something when he's half drunk and gets it about half right. We've told you you'd make a great offensive lineman but that's what he heard and there's nothing to it," said Hannah about the conflicting messages.
Convinced he is destined to continue his career on defense, offensive line coach Skip Husbands approaches him as he is leaving the meeting and said, "Let's do some pass sets after practice," adding to the confusion. Welcome to the clear as mud world of the NFL. He finished out the season playing defense but began his third year training camp as a right tackle. Except for one play, the newly anointed tackle had not played on offense since he was twelve years old. Motivated by fear to secure a roster spot, Hannah's industrious nature prevailed by taking every snap available during practice. The accelerated learning process succeeded as he won the starting assignment over a former number one draft selection of the Miami Dolphins, Darryl Carlton.
His six-year Tampa Bay Buccaneers pinnacle moment was the 1979 NFC Championship appearance, albeit a disappointing 9-0 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. Ricky Bell, the late great Buccaneer tailback was one of Hannah's favorites as the sweep play with the toss package requiring the tackle to pull proved to be productive. "I just loved blocking for Ricky. He had a feel for me. It was like we could read each other's mind. He was a great, great player," reflecting on his friend who died tragically of heart failure caused by dermatomyositis at the young age of twenty-nine. "Ricky Bell was probably one of the most genuinely nice and thoughtful people I've ever known. He was a truly caring guy."
Hannah fondly recalls the ring leader of the band of Buccaneers. "Coach McKay had a sense of humor that was really funny until you were the butt of the joke. Everybody got to take a turn in the barrel with him," he said of the noted quipster. "Moving me to offensive line even though it happened a little off kilter was a great thing for me. It made my career."
Reluctant to leave the Tampa area after six years (1977-82), a contract dispute precipitated being traded to the Los Angeles Raiders following the 1982 season. Initially he begins practicing at swing tackle learning a different system and technique than the Southern California sweep offense employed by the Bucs. Raider offensive line coach Sam Bogosian inquired about him playing guard. Hannah quipped, "I don't know. I've never played the position. You might have the wrong Hannah for that."
His versatility once again proved invaluable when injuries to Curt Marsh opened a path during the second to the last pre-season game to earn a rare third NFL starting position.
A nightmarish performance against the Chicago Bears Mike Singletary did not discourage the coaching staff as he was inserted into the starting lineup at left guard. "The first half of the season I'm just learning. We're on a record pace for sacks and most of them are mine. I'm literally trying to get the feel of footwork and how to move around at guard. It's different. The second half of the season I started to get the hang of it and played pretty well I think."
Just before making the transition to guard, a training camp session as a tackle blocking a relative newcomer almost shattered his confidence. "I'm walking out of practice with my head down and assistant coach Art Shell says, "Charley, what's the matter?" "Art I used to think I could play football but after today I'm not that sure," Hannah said questioning his own ability. Shell replied, "No Charley, he knew something you didn't know. He knew that if he had a good day against you today that Al (Davis) would let him be the starter. Al trusted you to determine whether he can play in the NFL and be his test. He's going to be in the Pro Bowl this year because today made him the starter. Al didn't want to tell you because he was afraid that you'd let him beat you." Hannah retorted, "There was no let to it." The exuberant youngster battling for respect was future NFL Hall of Fame member Howie Long.
The initial season of his six year (1983-88) stint with the Los Angeles Raiders proved the most satisfying as the former Buccaneer returned to play the first ever Super Bowl hosted by Tampa against the Washington Redskins. Suffering a detachment of two ribs from his sternum in the AFC Championship, Hannah required a pad placed around the neck protecting doughnut to deflect the blows from puncturing his lung or heart just to practice. The day of the Super Bowl game, lumps caused by pencil size needles injecting pain killers decorated his chest. Replicating a machine gun smattering, blood oozing profusely had to be wiped away by the trainers.
Two days before the Super Bowl XXVIII, USA Today has the play central to the Los Angeles Raiders game plan correctly diagramed on the front page of their sports section. "Coach (Tom) Flores says its two days before a game number one and I don't feel like changing a game plan. Number two, I think we could tell them we're going to run it and they couldn't stop it," he stated about the pregame dilemma. "And we did. We ran it about 12 times and averaged about 8 yards a play," Hannah boasted about halfback Marcus Allen's cut back rushing attempts.
Confidence was not lacking prior to the biggest game of his professional career. "Before the game, I just knew we were going to win. They beat us (37-35) during the regular season but we had five starters that either didn't play or one of them got injured during the game, Cliff Branch. They had made some big plays to beat us." Speculating on the outcome with a friend over dinner days before the contest Hannah said, "There could be some turnovers but if we get some breaks, we'll kill'em. If they get some breaks it will be close. If there are no breaks and it's even up, we'll win by two to three touchdowns. He looked at me like I was from Mars." The summation of events proved prophetic as the Los Angeles Raiders thrashed the heavily favored Washington Redskins 38-9 on January 22, 1984 in his triumphant return to Tampa Stadium.
Nearing football retirement, Hannah searched for an enterprise to supplant football. Competition, preparation, the process of completing a project, and feedback were aspects of real estate equating to an athlete's emotional voyage. He had completed his education at South Florida. He founded Hannah Bartoletta Homes in 1988 with structural engineering partner, Mike Bartoletta. Fluctuations in the housing market test your resolve to adapt and survive but Hannah's athletic challenges have allowed him to buffer the difficult times by persevering within his niche when others have disappeared. "The biggest lesson I learned from football about myself that I use in business is that I think I will do whatever it takes to be successful as long as it doesn't violate my values," he said. The business, based in Lutz, Fla., has remained a market leader since the early 1990s.
Contrasting athletics and his present occupation Hannah is still cognizant of the day to day importance of performance. "The only difference between the real world and the athletic world is reality happens a lot faster in athletics and you know when its game day. In the real world you never really know. Everyday is kind of game day and every day is kind of practice and you don't know when those moments are going to be on you when it's really going to be crunch time for performance. The reality of my future is going to be determined by my performance is a lot more shortened in its fruition." He can weave a football tale with humor, purpose and clarity and transition with specificity to the intricacies of the financial markets ramifications with respect to the building business. As much as football was a birth right, the real estate business has become his passion.
Currently building in five counties around the Greater Tampa Bay area from Sarasota to the south and St. Petersburg to the west and Brooksville to the north, the dynamic duo have won numerous design and marketing awards along with countless honors for entries in the Parade of Homes. Hannah and his partner have both been named Builder of the Year by the Builders Association of Greater Tampa and he has served as president of the organization.
All five of Hannah's children – Kimberley 28, Rebecca 12, John David 10 and twins Victoria and Elizabeth 8 - will be in attendance for their Dad's ceremonial honors. Kimberley, single, holder of two undergraduate degrees (FSU) and an MBA was an accomplished fast pitch softball player through high school and passed on the skills to younger sister Rebecca. John David according to his Dad is on track to be a tall intimidator on the mound but still vexed at not being allowed to participate in the family's traditional sport of football. The twins have yet to pursue any athletic endeavor. Outside of an occasional hunting trip, the jovial giant of a man spends his leisure time as a Little League spectator and attending the activities of his children.
Charley and John Hannah (Class of 1988) will become the sixth brother combination to be inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame following the Allison's (Bobby & Donnie), Bragan's (Bobby & Jimmy), Lary's (Al & Frank), Sewell's (James & Joseph) and the Walker's (Dixie & Harry). "It's kind of being thanked for contributing to a legacy of sports more than anything - both Alabama and the Hannah family. I wouldn't be there if it wasn't for my brothers around me probably. It's an expression of gratitude from them. I really want to take the time to express a lot of gratitude myself. It's very humbling to be able to join a club with that kind of membership. It's pretty special," Hannah said about the climatic entrance reflecting on his athletic career and appreciation for those who contributed to his success.
Two people will witness the induction from the balcony in the sky - Charley's deceased parents – Herb and Geneva nicknamed Coupe. They will be proud of the honor bestowed upon their son whose athletic career flourished after an inauspicious beginning. Whenever there was doubt about his abilities, he embraced the challenges and conquered people's suspicion with competence in his performance. The versatile two-way lineman, a rarity in modern professional football jests about his longevity. "It took them two years to figure out I couldn't rush the passer. Four years to find out I wasn't big enough to play tackle and six years to figure out I needed to be a little more of a bruiser to play guard." In reality, even though his career path was not linear all the coaches around Charley Hannah figured out one thing. He could play the game of football very well even from a stance.
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