Ernie Ladd: The Big Cat

Ernie Ladd is described this way in the 1963 San Diego Chargers media guide, "biggest and strongest man in pro football… measurements are: neck 19''; chest 52''; biceps 20''; waist 39''; calf 20''; at 6-9 310 pounds Ladd was a force to be reckoned with.

Ernie Ladd was born in Orange, Tex, Nov. 28,1938 and went to high school at Wallace HS in Orange, Tex. After high school Ladd played football and basketball at Grambling. He was the most valuable lineman in his senior year at Grambling and played in the 1961 College All-Star football game in Chicago. Ladd was drafted in the fourth round by the Chicago Bears and the 15th round by the San Diego Chargers.

War was raging at that time between the AFL and NFL and Ladd was hidden by the Chargers from the rival league. "I was invited to go to a game in Houston to see the Oilers and the Chargers play, Ladd recalled. "and they suggested that I come on the plane with them and I could come right back and man they kept me out there all through the holidays so actually in a sense that's like kidnapping. I enjoyed playing with the Chargers and I made great friends. But it could've been handled a different way, so actually truthfully speaking it was like a kidnapping.

"If the AFL didn't come along and spend the money the way they spent money," Ladd said. "No one would have ever made the type of dollars that's on the table right now and they were competing they had young brash men that were in their 20's and 30's whose parents had millions and millions of dollars like Barron Hilton, K.S. "Bud" Adams and Lamar Hunt.

"A writer asked Lamar Hunt's father after they had lost a million dollars their first year in existence. The reporter asked Hunt's father how much longer could your son be in business? Hunt's father hesitated and said at million dollars a year my son can be in business for another 144 years before I get concerned about it."

Ladd felt the AFL also gave an opportunity to a lot of great black players. "Many black players were being overlooked by the NFL."

During Ladd's tenure with the Chargers Chuck Noll who was a part of Sid Gilman's staff and later went on to become a Hall of Fame coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers was very influential in the "Big Cat's" development as a player.

"I single out Chuck Noll because Noll had two great qualities - he was a tough fiery guy and that fire carried over into ballplayers that really wanted to play ball for him and he was a brilliant teacher," Ladd explained. "He had patience when you didn't listen and I wasn't the greatest listener in those days. He saw a raw piece of talent that he could mold and when he convinced me to listen to him he made a pretty good old country ballplayer out of me."

The Chargers turned into an AFL power in the 60's. Moving from Los Angeles to San Diego in 1961 the "Bolts" posted records of 12-2 in 1961 losing to Houston 10-3 in the AFL title game. In 1962 they slid to 4-10 as they were decimated by injuries. They bounced back to win their third Western title in four years posting an 11-3 record and routing the Boston Patriots 51-10 in the AFL championship game. They made it back to the championship game in 1964 and 1965 losing to the Buffalo Bills 20-7 and 23-0. Their run ended in 1966 as Barron Hilton sold the team to Eugene Klein and Sam Schulman and salary disputes led to the breakup of a great defense.

"We had a great ball club," Ladd observed. "Ron Mix, a great tight end in Dave Kocourek, Walt Sweeney came aboard and Ernie Wright from Ohio State I thought we had a great ball club."

During Ladd's time in San Diego he embarked on a second sports career in professional wrestling. "I was getting great publicity in 1961 when I first went out to the Chargers." Ladd said. "A guy named Dick Barros came down and said "You're a loudmouth running your face off in the newspaper all the time you think you're a pretty good football player, well you can play football but you sure can't be a wrestler." I said I don't won't to go down there and break none of you phony guys legs. Well they said come on down and I went down there and they put me on the mat and turned me everyway but loose, I couldn't beat anybody.

"Well that angered me and I wanted to be a wrestler so I could push those people around in their sport. You never call a man out in his own sport and that's how I became a wrestler."

Ladd wrestled for over 20 years, "If I had it to do all over again I wouldn't have played football," Ladd reflected. "I had some great success as a football player, but I like to be close to the people. In wrestling you got close to the fans and you could put them in the palm of your hand and make them do almost anything that you want them to do. It's an individual thing in there. If you become a great talent you can make great money. If I was wresting today I wouldn't be a bit surprised if I didn't make five or ten million dollars a year as a wrestler."

In 1995 Ernie Ladd was inducted into the World Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame.

After Ladd was sent to the Houston Oilers in 1966 he played there into the 1967 season and wound up his football career with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1967 and 68.

Ladd enjoyed his last two stops in Houston and Kansas City. "They were great stops," Ladd said. "I'll tell you I never misjudged a guy so badly in my life. I thought George Blanda was a very prejudiced guy when I played with the Chargers, but when I got to the Oilers I found that Blanda wasn't prejudiced, if he didn't like you, black, white, blue, green or purple he just told you." He was a real loveable guy. One thing about the Oilers in those days they would fight a lot but they told you what was on their mind."

In Kansas City he became part of another great defense. In my opinion Ladd said. "Willie Lanier and Dick Butkus are the two greatest middle linebackers to ever play the game - bar none. Some of other guys were special in KC - Johnny Robinson, Bobby Bell, Jimmy Lynch and Jerry Mays."

These days Ladd resides in Franklin, Louisiana and is part owner of a manufacturing company in Thibodaux, Louisiana. He stays in touch politically with Jack Kemp and is very close to the Bush family.


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