John Hadl, who played quarterback for the Packers for roughly one-and-a-half seasons after being acquired in what proved to be a blockbuster trade for the Los Angeles Rams, died this morning – Nov. 30, 2022 – at age 82. The University of Kansas, where Hadl was considered one of the greatest football players in the school's history, announced his death but gave no cause or other details.
Hadl played 16 years in the old American Football League and then the NFL after the two leagues merged in 1970, and was selected to a combined six AFL All-Star and NFL Pro Bowl games. Drafted by the Detroit Lions with the 10th overall pick in 1962, Hadl opted to sign with the San Diego Chargers, who selected him in the third round and 24th overall in the AFL draft.
Hadl started 10 of 14 games for the Chargers as a rookie after veteran Jack Kemp broke a finger and was waived. The next year, Hadl played sparingly behind former Packers star Tobin Rote, who led the Chargers to an 11-3 record and the AFL championship. Six games into the 1964 season, Hadl replaced an injured Rote, held the job after Rote recovered and led the Chargers to the AFL title game, where they lost to Buffalo.
Hadl remained the Chargers' starter through 1972, when he was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for 30-year-old defensive end Coy Bacon and running back Bob Thomas, a former 15th-round draft pick who would rush for 104 yards in his two seasons with the Chargers. Hadl was about to turn 33 at the time of the trade. That season, Hadl led the Rams to a 12-2 record and was named the NFC Player of the Year by the Associated Press.
In 1974, Hadl started the Rams' first five games before being benched in a 17-6 loss to the Packers on Oct. 13 at Milwaukee County Stadium. Hadl was 6-of-16 passing for a mere 59 yards, along with two interceptions, as the Rams, who were heavy favorites to repeat as NFC Western Division champs, were upset for the second time in five games. Although James Harris, who had replaced Hadl at the end of the third quarter, completed only 3-of-12 passes, the Rams handed him the starting job the next week.
At the trading deadline the following week, Packers coach and general manager Dan Devine, desperate to save his job in what proved to be his final season in Green Bay, traded five high drafts picks to the Rams – two firsts, two seconds and a third – for Hadl, who was then 34 and reportedly dealing with an injury to his throwing arm.
Even Hadl was shocked at the news and the terms of the trade. "I didn't really believe it," he said in a 2006 interview. "I didn't think anybody would be that desperate."
Hadl started the final six games for the Packers and led them to three wins for a 6-8 record on the year, then started 13 of 14 games in 1975 as the Packers finished 4-10 in Bart Starr's first season as coach. Hadl had a passer rating of 52.8, threw 21 interceptions compared to just six touchdown passes, and was sacked 35 times.
In April 1976, Starr traded Hadl, cornerback Ken Ellis and two draft picks to the Houston Oilers for quarterback Lynn Dickey. Hadl played two seasons with the Oilers and had a 1-5 record in his six starts.
Despite Packers fans being upset over the trade and his struggles with the Packers, Hadl said in that same 2006 interview that he wasn't unhappy in Green Bay and especially appreciated the opportunity to play for Bart Starr.
"I loved Bart," said Hadl. "He was truly one of those guys, what you see is what you get. I really have a lot of respect for him and his love for the Packers and just as a human being. He was a great guy."
Hadl was both a high school and college star in Kansas. He also served as a quarterbacks coach and then offensive coordinator for the Jayhawks from 1978-81. He was offensive coordinator for the Rams in 1982 and for Denver in 1983 before spending two years as head coach of the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League.