Glance back: Worst trade ever

There was little time left on the morning of Oct. 22, 1974. The heat in Dan Devine's Lambeau Field office had reached tropical levels and this had nothing to do with where his thermostat was set. He had to do something before it was too late.

In his mind, he had no choice but to place that long-distance call to Los Angeles.

For more than three years as the Green Bay Packers' coach, Devine had struggled to find a quarterback of the future. And on that Tuesday morning 30 years ago, Devine's own future in Green Bay was never more imperiled as this quarterback subplot dragged his team to new lows as it intensified to new heights.

Devine's Packers, who had followed up a miraculous 10-4 record in 1972 with a 5-7-2 disappointment in '73, were in serious trouble. The night before, a Watergate-weary nation had witnessed the listless Packers slump to 3-3 following a 10-9 loss to the Chicago Bears in a Monday night game at Soldier Field.

More distressingly, it had become obvious that Jerry Tagge, Devine's hand-picked quarterback of the future for the Packers – Tagge was drafted in the first round in 1972 – was never going to succeed. The kid, who had led Nebraska to back-to-back national championships in 1970 and '71, simply could not translate his limited passing skills to the NFL level.

And Devine, who doubled as general manager, no longer could afford to stay with a quarterback who had led the Packers to just three touchdowns in the previous 17 quarters. Not with a 19-22-4 in Devine's three-plus seasons in Green Bay.

The heat was on.

"I can't say I saw him being panicky, but I feel he probably was about that time," said Packers historian Lee Remmel, who was in his first year as public relations director for the team in 1974. "Things were going badly and they got worse."

Had circumstances played out differently, the immensely talented Archie Manning, the No. 2 overall selection in the 1971 draft who had fallen out of favor with the pathetic New Orleans Saints, might have been Devine's savior. Devine had apparently agreed to a tentative trade the previous week to bring the then 25-year-old Manning to Green Bay, but fate intervened.

On the afternoon of Oct. 20, Bobby Scott – Manning's projected successor with the Saints – had gone down with a knee injury in a game against the Falcons at Atlanta and was lost indefinitely. The Saints had no choice but to go back to Manning, killing the deal with Green Bay and drastically altering history.

"We were playing in Atlanta and 'Scotty' got hurt and that kind of nixed it," Manning said. "I was in the middle of all that trade stuff. I had heard it was Green Bay. I was being shopped and I remember there were several things going on with the Giants, 49ers, Packers, Saints and Rams."

Devine had also held discussions with Gil Brandt, then the player personnel director of the Dallas Cowboys, about 31-year-old Craig Morton. But Morton had mostly been a backup to first Don Meredith and then Roger Staubach since entering the league in 1965 and Devine desperately wanted an established starter.

This lingering issue just had to be resolved once and for all.

Scott Hunter hadn't worked out as the Packers' quarterback. Neither had Jim Del Gaizo, for whom Devine had been panicked into squandering two No. 2 draft picks to the Miami Dolphins in 1973. And Tagge, who finished 1974 with one touchdown pass and 10 interceptions, was a bust, too.

Enough was enough.

So on the morning of Oct. 22, 1974, a desperate Devine placed that call to Los Angeles.

And then he mortgaged a franchise's future, paying the staggering price of two No. 1 draft choices, two No. 2 picks and a No. 3 to the Rams for John Hadl.

As great as Hadl had been, he was 34 years old. And regardless of Hadl's credentials, there's no way anyone other than Devine could justify paying that price for a quarterback who was clearly in the twilight of his career.

It was a panic-inspired trade that stirred a buzz through the National Football League that persisted for weeks.

"It was one of those things where you couldn't believe anybody would do that," said Ron Wolf, then general manager of the Oakland Raiders.

"It was a hard trade for me to understand," Brandt said. "It was not a good trade for them (the Packers).

"What happens is, people make a trade because they feel that trade can maybe get them into the playoffs or win a championship for them. But I remember there were a lot of people who said, 'I can't believe that Green Bay gave up that much for a 35-year-old quarterback.'" And to this day, the lopsided nature of that trade lingers in Green Bay.

"It was the worst trade in Packers history, without a doubt, and one of the worst in pro football history," Remmel said. "That trade deprived us of two No. 1 picks, two No. 2s and a No. 3. It was pretty hard for his successor, Bart Starr, to rebuild the football team without those premium draft choices."

As for Hadl, he is quick to remind people that he wasn't the one who made the trade - just as he contended 30 years ago.

"The press was saying, 'They paid way too much,'" said the 64-year-old Hadl, who is involved in fund-raising for the University of Kansas, his alma mater. "My line was, and it was the truth, 'I had nothing to do with it.' I was in Los Angeles playing on a great team and, all of a sudden, I was traded. I could either go home or come to Green Bay and so I came to Green Bay.

"But I enjoyed Green Bay. I really did. It was just a great experience."

A man named Hadl
The man Devine called upon to rescue the foundering Packers - and his job - is one of the greatest quarterbacks never to be inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

Playing mostly during an era when rules made life so much more difficult for quarterbacks, Hadl passed for 33,503 yards and 244 touchdowns in a career that lasted from 1962-77. His primary receiver during his years with the San Diego Chargers was Lance Alworth, who was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1978.

While with the Chargers from 1962-72, Hadl emerged into one of the great quarterbacks of the old American Football League. Five times he played in the Pro Bowl as a member of the Chargers. And a man who was one of the last NFL quarterbacks to wear a number higher than 19 (Hadl wore No. 21) passed for more than 3,000 yards in a season three times and 20 or more touchdowns six times while with San Diego.

Furthermore, the guy was indestructible, never missing a game during his 16-year career because of an injury.

"You know, he's been a candidate for the Hall of Fame several times and he is a viable candidate," said Jerry Magee, who covered the Chargers for the San Diego Union-Tribune from 1961-85 and is a member of the NFL Hall-of-Fame selection committee. "If you look at his statistics, you could make an argument that the guy belongs in the Hall of Fame.

"He was not a stylist. He didn't look all that good. He was kind of a stocky kind of guy, but he had a rare skill and his rare skill was that he could throw a 50-yard pass or 60-yard pass as accurately as he could a 6-yard pass.

"And he grew to understand the game. It helped him no measure that he had Lance Alworth running out there catching those 50- and 60-yard passes. He just had a great rapport with him.

"John was a very good competitor and he was really, I think, underrated as a quarterback."

By 1973, though, Hadl was in need of a change of scenery. At least in part, because of his difficult relationship with Chargers offensive coordinator Bob Schnelker - who went on to hold the same position with the Packers under Starr - Hadl was traded to the Rams for defensive end Coy Bacon and journeyman running back Bob Thomas prior to the 1973 season.

Bacon and Hadl were both coming off Pro-Bowl seasons at the time. It would be the last time a trade involving players who had appeared in the Pro Bowl the previous season was consummated in the NFL until this year, when the Washington Redskins traded cornerback Champ Bailey to the Denver Broncos for running back Clinton Portis.

In what proved to be his only full season with the Rams, Hadl was clearly revitalized. Surrounded by talent that included wide receiver Harold Jackson and running backs Lawrence McCutcheon and Jim Bertelsen, Hadl earned NFC Most Valuable Player honors after passing for 2,008 yards and 22 touchdowns.

Behind Hadl, the Rams improved from 6-7-1 in 1972 to 12-2 in '73. It appeared the Rams, under first-year coach Chuck Knox, were entering a prosperous new era with Hadl at the controls.

"He meant everything to us that year," Knox said. "He was the Most Valuable Player offensively in the National Football League that year. The Rams had won very few games the year before and then we went 12-2. We lost two games that year with John Hadl at quarterback. We got beat by Minnesota 10-9 and we lost a tough game in Atlanta 15-13 when (Nick) Mike-Mayer kicked five field goals on us and we had a touchdown for an interception called back.

"John Hadl was an inspiration. He was a great player and he was just everything you could want in a quarterback and a person.''

But the magic didn't last. Hadl seemed to be missing something in 1974, when the Rams lost two of their first five games. When he completed just six of 16 passes for 59 yards during a 17-6 loss to the Packers on a rain-swept day at Milwaukee County Stadium Oct. 13, Hadl was benched in favor of James Harris.

Nine days later, Hadl would become a Packer.

The trade
When the largely reviled Devine, who was considered to be arrogant, conniving and petty by many of his players, announced the trade, he immediately went into damage control.

"There are several quarterbacks in the league who are the same age as Hadl,'' said Devine, who died in May 2002. "Roman Gabriel, Fran Tarkenton and Charlie Johnson are. Billy Kilmer, Norm Snead, Len Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen and Earl Morrall are older.

"I'm not concerned about John's age. He takes excellent care of himself and is in top condition. I feel he can be with us a long time and John says he wants to play another four or five years."

Meanwhile, the late Don Klosterman, the Rams' general manager, was giddy over his windfall from a desperate coach.

"Green Bay came to us with an offer you can't refuse," Klosterman said. "As Carroll Rosenbloom (the Rams owner at the time) has always said, we strive for continuity. The draft choices leave us in excellent shape."

While Klosterman and Rosenbloom are no longer around to speak of the trade from a historical context, Knox remembers it as one that the Rams simply couldn't pass up.

"They had a football coach there (Devine) who also had control of personnel," Knox said. "He could make trades or whatever and he didn't have to go through a lot of people. So he wanted a quarterback very badly and Carroll Rosenbloom and Don Klosterman decided that we would be able to get along - we had a very good football team. We had James Harris and (Ron) Jaworski and quarterbacks like that.

"So we decided that two ones, two twos and a three, that's probably one of the greatest trades made in the history of the National Football League. We got some good football players out of that mix and, in five years there, we won 54, lost 15, tied one and won a divisional title five straight years.''

And as time would tell, the same draft choices that fortified would gut the Packers, hastening their slide into an era of ruin that lasted for the better part of a quarter century.

But that wasn't the issue for the Packers in October 1974. They had a far more pressing problem one day after the trade - enticing Hadl to come to Green Bay. Hadl, recognizing the value of those draft choices to Los Angeles and the value of an experienced quarterback to Devine, decided to become an astute businessman.

"It's just a business deal right now," Hadl said on Oct. 23. "I won't play there unless I get the cash money I want. Football is just like any other business. A cold, hard business. And when money is involved in anything, the personal feelings of a person is never considered."

Devine, meanwhile, held firm as he anxiously waited out his recalcitrant new quarterback.

"We will pick up his current Los Angeles contract, which is what the terms of the trade call for," Devine insisted. "Nothing else. There will be no renegotiation, no cash payments, nothing like that."

By Thursday, Hadl was on a flight to Green Bay. One of the two parties had obviously given in and, as Hadl insists 30 years later, it wasn't him.

"What happened was the Rams and the Packers got together and made it happen because I wasn't going to go," Hadl said. "It was nothing against Green Bay or anything. I just found how what a 1, 2, 3 and 1, 2 was worth. There was a lot of money on the value of those draft picks.

"I think at the time I was making ninety or a hundred thousand and I just told them I wasn't coming unless I was going to make a lot of money and I didn't care how it worked. That's what happened. Rosenbloom and the Packer people got together and made a deal."

Just as the Rams received a windfall for Hadl, Hadl received a windfall himself.

"It was for about five times (what he was making)," Hadl said. "It was $450,000 total (including what his salary had been with the Rams). I think it was in deferred money and a combination of things. I got about a $300,000 raise is what it amounted to. It was a two-team deal and the Packers paid half of it."

Devine finally had his quarterback.

And with eight games remaining in the season, there will still time for Devine to save his job.

It just didn't work
With Jack Concannon serving as stopgap quarterback as Hadl learned a new offense with the greatest of urgency, the Packers lost two more games to drop to 3-5, three games behind the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Central Division. When Hadl finally made his first start for the Packers Nov. 10 against the Bears at Milwaukee County Stadium, the division race was all but over.

Under Hadl's guidance, the Packers surged to three straight victories, but then lost their last three to finish 6-8. There was only so much Hadl could do with pedestrian receivers the likes of Barry Smith and Jon Staggers and with a rapidly fading John Brockington (who averaged just 3.3 yards per carry that season) lining up behind him.

During his abbreviated season with the Packers, Hadl completed 89 of 184 passes for 1,072 yards, with just three touchdowns and eight interceptions.

Devine's mistake was this: He greatly overestimated the talent that would surround Hadl when he pulled the trigger on the trade. That reality was underscored by the fact the Packers would have just two winning seasons (1978 and '82) between the time Devine left Green Bay in 1974 and Mike Holmgren arrived in 1992.

"Career-wise, it wasn't as good as far as on the football field," Hadl said. "The Rams had a good team and a lot of good players and the Packers at that time were kind of low in talent and obviously had problems when Devine was there."

In the season-finale against the Falcons at Atlanta Dec. 15, the Packers managed just one field goal in a 10-3 loss.

Devine's desperation move had failed. This partnership between Devine and Hadl had lasted just 54 days.

As for the trade, its repercussions would linger in Green Bay for years to come.

"Let me tell you this one," Hadl said. "He was getting blown out in Green Bay and we were down in Atlanta for the last game and it was raining about a foot a second. Anyway, the game is over, we go in and I say, ‘Coach, I'm sorry this thing didn't work out.'

"He said, ‘John, don't worry about me. They're going to announce me as the head Notre Dame coach tomorrow.' I couldn't believe that. He knew that before that game was over!'"

A long season
Going into the 1975 season, there was reason to believe the old Hadl might re-emerge. Starr had been hired to replace Devine and it was a reasonable assumption that two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history would combine to comprise an ultimate braintrust.

Hadl even was back to wearing his familiar No. 21. He had been forced to take No. 12 upon his arrival with the Packers because defensive back Charlie Hall was wearing his old number, but Hadl and Hall were able to strike a bargain in 1975.

"When I first got there, I offered Charlie Hall some money," Hadl said. "I can't remember how much and he wouldn't take it. He said, 'Let's talk next year.' And the next year, he gave it to me for a six-pack! Of course, that's pocket change now."

Nothing, though, not the arrival of Starr and not the return of No. 21, could salvage this season. The reality was, the 1975 Packers almost had expansion-team talent with players on offense the likes Pat Matson, Keith Wortman and the over-the-hill Ernie McMillan, Bruce Van Dyke and Brockington.

Gale Gillingham, one of the greatest guards in NFL history, was so disgusted with the team's offensive direction that he sat out the 1975 season after Starr refused his trade demand. And Hadl, playing behind a makeshift line, was left to run for his life most of the season as he tried to pass to his new receivers, Ken Payne and Steve Odom.

"They were nice guys, but they just weren't NFL caliber, most of them," Hadl said. "We had Kenny Payne, who was a real tough kid. He was pretty good. Odom was fast. But there was the time factor throwing the ball. We didn't have a lot of time, so we had to adjust our routes a little bit and get rid of it a little bit quicker."

It was an unmitigated disaster. The Packers, losing eight of their first nine games, finished 4-10. And Hadl, playing his only full season in Green Bay, completed 191 of 353 passes for 2,095 yards, but with just six touchdowns and 21 interceptions.

Meanwhile, there was no help on the way. They had not drafted until the 47th pick in 1975. And if Starr had not traded future Hall-of-Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks to the Oakland Raiders for a first-round choice, the Packers wouldn't have made their first selection in 1976 until the 72nd pick.

Had Devine not panicked into overpaying for Hadl, the Packers would have been in position to draft such quality players as Dennis Harrah, Russ Francis, Louie Wright, Tom "Hollywood" Henderson, Fred Dean and Doug English.

Instead, what Devine left behind was utter chaos.

Ironically, during a time when Starr was trying to build something out of so little, Devine, who never could find a quarterback in Green Bay, found one at Notre Dame.

Maybe you heard of him. His name was Joe Montana.

The aftermath
Following that disastrous 1975 season, Starr obviously recognized he wasn't going to be able to build something lasting around a quarterback who would turn 36 Feb. 15, 1976. Later that spring, he traded Hadl and cornerback Ken Ellis to the Houston Oilers for the then 26-year-old Lynn Dickey, who finally gave Green Bay a talented young quarterback.

Hadl backed up Dan Pastorini for two seasons in Houston before retiring following the 1977 season.

"It's funny," Hadl said. "My contract ran out and they offered about half of what I had been making, which was still nice. But I just got tired of being in shape ... I just got tired of it. Al Davis called and wanted to go out and try out with the Raiders and I thought about that for a little bit, but I just hung it up and I'm glad I did. It was time.

"I had 16 years in. I wish I could have 16 years today - Geezus Criminy!"

Following his retirement, Hadl served as offensive coordinator for two seasons with the Rams under Ray Malavasi, was John Elway's first quarterbacks coach with the Denver Broncos and also was head coach of the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League.

As great as Hadl's playing career was, he will always be linked to one of the most unpleasant chapters in the history of the Packers - through no fault of his own.

"I just hope they respect my efforts and what I tried to do in a short period of time there as a quarterback," he said. "I certainly have a lot of respect for Green Bay and the people there. Obviously, there franchise is one of the tops forever."

Editor's note: Peter Jackel is a longtime sportswriter for the Racine Journal-Times.

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