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Sports Then and Now

John Hadl: San Diego Gun Slinger

Posted on November 29, 2015 by Dean Hybl

Before Dan Fouts and Philip Rivers gained fame slinging the football down the field for the San Diego Chargers, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month quarterbacked the high-flying lightning bolt offense during the 1960s.

Drafted by both the Detroit Lions of the NFL and San Diego Chargers of the AFL in 1962, John Hadl chose to join future Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman and the perennial AFL contending Chargers.

San Diego had reached the AFL Championship game in each of the first two seasons of the upstart league before Hadl joined the team.

Thrust into the lineup as a rookie after starting quarterback Jack Kemp was traded during the season, Hadl put up solid stats with 15 touchdown passes and 1,632 passing yards.  However, he also threw 24 interceptions while winning only one of 10 starts.

In 1963, he was replaced in the lineup by veteran Tobin Rote and the Chargers responded with an 11-3 record that culminated in an AFL Championship. Hadl did see action in the 51-10 blowout victory completing seven of 11 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown.

After starting the 1964 season on the bench, Hadl took the reigns in the sixth game of the season and led the Chargers back to the AFL title game. He completed 53% of his passes for 2,159 yards, 18 touchdowns and 15 interceptions.

The Chargers fell to the Bills in the 1964 title game and then the next year when Hadl had started every game and led the AFL in passing yards for the first time in his career.

With an explosive attack that included future Hall of Fame receiver Lance Alworth, Hadl put up some of the highest passing numbers in football history to-date over the next seven years. He eclipsed 3,000 passing yards three times and twice led the league in passing yards and passing touchdowns.

Despite Hadl’s prolific numbers, the Chargers were no longer a regular playoff participant. They posted winning records every season from 1966-1969 without making the playoffs. Gillman was replaced as head coach during the 1969 season and the Chargers had losing records from 1970-1972.

Hadl made his fifth Pro Bowl appearance following the 1972 season, but was traded to the Los Angeles Rams to make room for rookie Dan Fouts and veteran Johnny Unitas.

The 1973 season was arguably the best of Hadl’s career as he led the Rams to a 12-2 record while earning first team All-Pro honors. His numbers were not the most prolific of his career, but Hadl did complete 52.3% of his passes for 2,008 yards, 22 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions.

In the 1973 playoffs, Hadl struggled as the Rams were defeated 27-16 by the Dallas Cowboys.

The next season Hadl and the Rams struggled early in the year and he was traded to the Green Bay Packers where he started for the next year and a half. Hadl complete his career as a backup for the Houston Oilers in 1976 and 1977.

Hadl retired with 33,503 career passing yards and 244 touchdowns while completing 50.4 percent of his passes and throwing 268 interceptions. At the time of his retirement, Hadl trailed only Fran Tarkenton and Johnny Unitas on the all-time passing yardage list and he still ranks 28th in NFL history. He was fourth in passing touchdowns at the time of his retirement and still ranks 22nd in NFL history.

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