John Hadl RIP

John Hadl played just one full season for the Los Angeles Rams, but it was one of the franchise’s best.

With Hadl at quarterback in 1973, the Rams finished 12-2 in the regular season. Never before had the Rams achieved 12 regular-season wins, not even with renowned quarterbacks such as Bob Waterfield, Norm Van Brocklin, and Roman Gabriel.

Described by The Sporting News as a “quiet, majestic leader,” Hadl was 82 when he died on Nov. 30, 2022.

Hadl had 33,503 yards passing and threw for 244 touchdowns during his pro career, but his route to becoming a quarterback was hardly conventional. He was a halfback for his hometown school, the University of Kansas, before shifting to quarterback his senior year. Kansas used a Split-T formation, so Hadl mostly handed off the ball, or carried it himself, and didn’t develop a pro passing style.

The Detroit Lions selected him in the first round of the 1962 NFL draft, intending to play him at running back, but he signed with the San Diego Chargers, who took him in the third round of the AFL draft because they offered him a $17,000 salary, a new Thunderbird and a chance to play quarterback, the Kansas City Star reported.

When Hadl got to the Chargers, he had to learn to throw a spiral, according to the Star, but he was a quick study. Hadl’s long tosses to receiver Lance Alworth highlighted a wide-open offense and helped the Chargers get to the AFL championship game three times, winning once.

Hadl’s flashier counterpart, Joe Namath, called him “the best passer in the league,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, and Chargers head coach Sid Gillman told the newspaper that Hadl was “the most complete quarterback. There’s nothing about the game he doesn’t know.”

The success didn’t raise Hadl’s stature much outside San Diego. As Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray noted, “Playing in San Diego is like spying for Russia. It’s steady work. but nobody knows what you do.”

In March 1971, Hadl was thrown from a horse, fracturing his skull and damaging his left eye, but recovered in time to keep playing. The Chargers, though, had gone to a ball-control offense and it wasn’t working. After three consecutive losing seasons (1970-72), Hadl wanted out. “I’m just sick of losing with what I consider an antiquated offense,” he told the Times.

Hadl and the Rams were the right fit. Looking for help after Roman Gabriel hurt his elbow in 1972, the Rams dealt defensive end Coy Bacon and running back Bob Thomas to the Chargers for Hadl in January 1973.

According to Jim Murray, Gabriel “got near hysterical” about Hadl’s arrival. “He reacted the way a husband would if his wife left a callback number and it was Joe Namath’s apartment,” Murray wrote.

Unamused, the Rams traded Gabriel to the Philadelphia Eagles in June 1973. Gabriel had been a glamour boy in a glamour town. Hadl was, as Jim Murray wrote, “as Kansas as corn.”

“His hair, what there is of it, is short,” Murray wrote. “He conveys the impression of being pudgy, but his thighs and calves are so big you wonder if he gets his shoes at a blacksmith. The wrists look as if they could flick a football across Colorado with two throws.”

Responding to Hadl’s poise, passing and leadership, the Rams began the season with six straight wins and ended the season with another six in a row, reaching the playoffs for the first time since 1969. Though they lost in the first round to the Dallas Cowboys, Hadl, 33, was hailed a success. He threw 22 touchdown passes for the 1973 Rams and was named NFC Player of the Year.

With his value at a premium, the Rams traded Hadl in October 1974 to the Green Bay Packers for five high-round draft picks, a move that helped achieve a run of eight straight playoff seasons (1973-80), including a Super Bowl appearance.

Though his stay with the Rams was brief, Hadl’s impact on the franchise was significant.

(This piece was contributed by Mark, proprietor of the impeccable Retro Simba.)

Flingin’ It Around the Yard

When The Pretenders performed “Talk of the Town,” I don’t think Chrissie Hynde was crooning about Baker Mayfield, but here we are. He was all over the airwaves and floating in the ether, passing through the lips of every talking head with a microphone that seemingly overloads the brains of bored sadists. This was the disposed-of young man from the Sooner State (aka Texas’ little brother) always seemingly pointing west in perpetuity, beating the team from the desert with a pirate logo (hardly intimidating, half-asleep and with a butt-chin) and a glorious past flooded with modern-day mediocrity, 17-16.

Popular consensus told us that Baker was washed-up and relegated to a career clipboard holder, whispering into the head coach’s ear when he didn’t have his thumb up his butt. He was a complex melange of overrated talent and immature assholism. I’ve been told that Americans love a comeback story, but the only problem is they also love to knock a success story off its pedestal in a uniquely self-centered American way of subconscious competitiveness and jealousy. One of the hardest things in life is trying to retain your own definition of success when so many people around you are feeding you their definition bit by bit. If you’re not careful, it’s going to chip away at your definition until it’s completely replaced by theirs.

This Team Stinks

It was November football at its worst, played in the shadow of a billionaire’s shiny new toy and a cadre of bored celebrities. I have so many projects left unfinished–paintings left unattended and books left unread. Yet, I still find time to watch this team without fail every week and every week it’s the same lifeless dumpster fire. I’ve also considered that I could be doing other things like going for a hike, chugging suds at the local brew pub, or kayaking on the river. More life-affirming, nuanced pursuits. 

What happened? Well, the Rams are a horrible excuse for a football team, losing 27-17 at home to the god-awful Arizona Cardinals (who played without their own starting QB) to fall to 3-6 in a game that really wasn’t as close as the final score indicated. This was an unwatchable display from every perspective and one could compare the experience to spending the weekend in a rainstorm with an ex-girlfriend that you particularly despise. This team has challenged the theory over and over that there are limits to incompetence. Still, as always, my loyalty remains…it’s just how I’m hardwired.  

Football is undoubtedly bread and circuses, but when it fails to appease why would you sit around and subconsciously suck up the endless array of overblown and heavy-handed truck and beer ads if you didn’t have to? Why would you watch an endless number of exasperating 3-and-outs while holding your head in your hands and wishing that lunatic Putin would just push the goddamn nuke button? Popular consensus and the good ol’ fashioned eyeball test tell me that this squad, frankly, sucks.

I have followed this team since 1986 when I (unfortunately?) fell head over heels in love, and have endured decades of dark and forbidding futility, including a prepubescent and unstable bedroom thrashing after a Wild Card loss to the now antiquatedly named Redskins. (that loss was a highlight compared to the 90’s dregs decade, and was also an early sign of my future psychotic behavior, or “fandom.”) Heed this stubborn and broken fan’s amusing and unjust example of testicular fortitude: “Wait ‘till next year!”

Horns Beat the Red Birds in the Desert

I usually don’t give the best advice, but smoking half a doobie and having a few man-sodas before your afternoon walk isn’t the worst thing in the world. My tiny neighborhood world seemed hushed and restful and Billy Joel’s Big Shot was blaring through my headphones. I have a precarious relationship with this “hangover” song–sometimes I find it to be charming and at others it makes me want to tear my eyeballs out with its repetitive chorus that open palm slaps the nouveau rich NY coke scene.

The Piano Man was an infamous alcoholic/car crash aficionado who is doing much better these days now that he is sober and finally accepting of his divorce from Christie Brinkley. (ever notice how banging supermodels makes you borderline suicidal in the end? depression as humble pie.) I was having none of that, however, as today I was going to watch some ol’ pigskin on the tube and cheer until my heart burst while pounding a Wade Boggs-on-an-airplane amount of beer. ‘Merica.

I was three-sheets-to-the-wind by halftime and had crushed about 8 of the self-styled “King of Beers.” Budweiser tastes like beer-flavored water because it’s not something you’re supposed to sit around and contemplate. The taste of “nothing” (or a fizzy water drink lightly flavored with grains and a touch of malt) is nostalgia. Its advertising campaigns – its entire ethos – seem designed to target a particular drinking style and drinking public, more than any particular flavor. It’s meant to be quaffed mindlessly until your running back fumbles the ball on the 1-yard line and you can sense your inner maniac slowly rising from the pit of your stomach in a crescendo of childish and loosey-goosey irrational behavior that ends with a copy of Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrill album being hurled against the wall. Good times.

In the end, the Rams held on for a very hard-fought 20-12 divisional road win against a pesky Arizona Cardinals team that hung around all game but faltered in part thanks to some very strong red zone Rams defense. I thought Matt Stafford played very well. He was 18-25 249 yards for a rating of 103.6, was sacked once, and threw no interceptions. Aaron Donald also added to his legacy by garnering his 100th sack. It’s always good to get that first divisional win, and the Rams are sitting at 2-1 having won two in a row. The squad still hasn’t hit their stride, however, and is definitely not in championship form, but the season is young and there is no reason to fret or wax poetic quite yet.

Hiccup.

The Origin of the Horn

Fred Gehrke was a Rams halfback who was an art major in college and worked during the offseason as a technical illustrator for aircraft companies in Los Angeles. In early 1948, he had the idea to paint the team’s plain leather helmets blue with yellow ram horns. In those days, helmets sometimes had a stripe or two, but no one had ever thought to put a logo on one.

While this show of creativity seemed obvious to Fred, he had to take a helmet home and paint it for his coach to understand exactly what he was getting on about. ” I took one of those gosh-awful brown leather helmets and painted it blue, then made a free rendering of a ram’s horns in gold. It’s the same thing they have today, except the gold is now white, due to television. The blue-and-gold helmet was much prettier,” said Gehrke

When team owner Dan Reeves saw the helmet, he liked it so much that he offered Gehrke $1 per helmet to paint the rest of the team’s 75 lids over the summer. When the helmets made their debut on the field, the stunned L.A. Coliseum crowd reacted with a five-minute standing ovation. An icon was born.

Often, Gehrke would take helmets home at night to retouch the ram’s horns which suffered chipping damage from player collisions. Eventually, a logo frenzy followed. The Baltimore Colts followed with the second logo–the famous horseshoe. These were the first steps in creating team identities and brand loyalty that could be commercialized to generate income for teams and the league as a whole.

Gehrke died at the age of 83 in 2002.

Jack Snow, Palm Springs, and Chuckie Manson

“Hippie is all yesterday’s headline bullshit.” –Allen Ginsberg

Snow and Elizabeth Montgomery

Sherri was from Florida and smoked Marlboro Lights. She was from a very small town–a coastal town so humid that it called for tube tops and short shorts that barely concealed the beads of sweat dripping down her hairless legs. This was an existence of double-wide trailers, crack cocaine, titty bars, barely legible tattoos, and a life philosophy of “I need my shit.” 

Despite her dubious upbringing, I liked Sherri, so when she asked me to house-sit over a weekend in Palm Springs I obliged because I wanted to soak up some rays by her pool and maybe even party with her degenerate neighbor, who just happened to be a semi-famous game show host (now cancelled) from Vancouver that didn’t have many friends and was adamant about global warming denial. A relaxing way to commune with myself. 

“You can smoke pot inside, but there is no internet so I’m not sure you’re gonna make it out of here with your mental health intact,” she briefed. “And keep it mellow…no Miles Davis crap.” (I didn’t get the reference either, perhaps she was intimating his infamous heroin habit?) 

There was, however, a television from what looked to be the Nixon era, so I decided to embrace the nostalgia tapestry and settled on a show called Bewitched from 1969. LA Rams receiver Jack Snow just happened to be a guest on this episode, and Snow was magically transported (by a witch, of course) in this fictional world from the gridiron to a department store where high jinks ensues. When informed he was now in New York he looked dumbfounded. 

“I was just playing the Cowboys in Dallas, Texas,” he said, “and was running a down and out pattern.” (Snow was known to have excellent hands, and his son, J.T. inherited those trusty mitts as he was a 6-time gold glover in the big leagues)

There was also a Rosemary’s Baby reference in this episode which was a sobering moment as director Roman Polanski’s wife would be murdered roughly six months after it aired. A group of brainwashed, hippie dope fiends snuffed out her and her child’s life over an unrelated dispute between Charles Manson and Byrds producer Terry Melcher, who just happened to be Doris Day’s son. The so-called end of the “Summer of Love” thanks to a drug-addled criminal and a bored Beach Boy (Dennis Wilson’s solo project left much to be desired) who just simply wanted to fuck mud-caked hippies proves that there truly is only one relevant subject–the relation of beings to time. 

A Mellow Saturday Visit To Night Train

It is a sign of a coward who says, “This is my bad luck and I will have to accept it.” A positive thinker would say, “I will decide my fate and my own destiny.”–Richard “Night Train” Lane

Sometimes as you get older you learn to not sweat the small stuff, take life day by day, and how to take ‘er easy. All cliches, I know, but getting older is somewhat tricky, so I just follow the social cues and mind my own business and it seems to work out for the most part. Pious life advice aside, a friend and I decided to check out one of those breweries that also sells coffee and pastries over on the bohemian/east side of town. Idyllic domesticity. You can sit outside at a table and stare at people or dogs or even the band on stage as you sip your beverage of choice. It’s nothing special, but it was a fine-by-me-activity on a delightful, breezy, and sunny Saturday.

Before the festivities, however, we decided to stop by football/Rams great Dick “Night Train” Lane’s grave and pay homage. Dick was known as one of football’s most fearsome hitters, and when he wasn’t knocking your block off, he was picking your quarterback’s pocket as he holds the single-season NFL record for interceptions with 14 set in 1952. The cemetery, being predominantly black, was vandalized a few years back with spray paint, but the community came together and scrubbed away all the offensive garbage. The story made me angry and sad, but I was also proud of the community for their tenacity and how it bolstered their dauntless and bountiful sense of pride. You’ll find that most knuckleheads like the “graffiti artist” don’t have much determination or bravery, so eventually, they just give up until their decrepit brain and unfounded hatred devours their flimsy psyche.

Dick himself had a rather rocky upbringing as he was thrust into the world by a prostitute and her pimp, and after roughly three months they were irritated by the child so he was simply placed in a garbage can amongst newspapers. Discarded like trash.

Lane later recalled, “My father was called Texas Slim. I never saw him – I don’t know if he’s the one that told my mother to throw me away. A pimp told my mother I had to go. They put me in a trash can and took off. Some people heard me crying. They thought it was a cat.”

Our lives are impacted by forces we cannot explain, often changed for reasons we will never totally understand. Can you call it kismet? Dick survived the trash bin and was thereafter adopted and raised by a loving woman, eventually going on to play minor league baseball before joining the U.S. Army. After serving four years he worked in an aircraft plant in Los Angeles but found the work tedious and unsatisfying. He would ride the bus to the job every day and observed that he was passing by the L.A. Rams offices. Fate leads the willing and drags along the reluctant: one fine day Lane waltzed in and asked for a tryout and was almost immediately signed. Imagine the cajones on this guy! Night Train, in the course of time, played in the NFL for 14 seasons, and like most old-school players was charming and urbane on the surface with a fierce, smashmouth steeliness below.

Lane was eventually worn down by complications from diabetes and reduced mobility from numerous knee surgeries. He died of a heart attack at an assisted living center in Austin, Texas on January 29, 2002.  He was 74 years old.

RIP ‘Train. 

“Tank” Gets in Trouble While Tanked

Hardly a “bum.”

L.A. Rams fullback Paul “Tank” Younger played before his home team fans in the Jan. 10, 1953, Pro Bowl game. Few of those fans, though, knew that Younger was in the game on something of a “work release” program. Younger earned $600 playing in the game, which his National Conference team won, 27-7.

A Los Angeles judge had earlier sentenced Young to 14 days in jail for assault, plus a year on probation, but stayed the sentence so Younger could participate in the charity game.

Younger had been convicted of giving his mother-in-law, Neatheola Olermo, a “shove” after she had called him a “bum football player,” and threw a Moscow Mule — complete with copper mug — at him in an alleged drunken fracas.

Later that year, Younger’s 19-year-old wife Wylene sued him for divorce for the second time in their year-old marriage, alleging that he had struck her, “on numerous occasions.”

Everything wasn’t all bad for Younger, however, as he was the first African-American to become an NFL front-office administrator, working for the Rams until retiring in 1995. He lived in Los Angeles, California until his death on September 15, 2001, at the age of 73.

Remember the L.A. Rams Ode to “Ramming?”

“I learned long ago that if you Ram It just right, you can Ram It all day and Ram It all night”.

If you’re just listening to this song in a strictly audio context, (see sidebar to listen) it might vaguely register in the adolescent portion of your brain that there are some lyrics in “Ram It” that could be considered references to, like, fucking. The question as to whether these references are naive and accidental or wink-and-nudge purposeful eventually evaporates into a damp cloud of mortified discomfort when the visuals are added in. It is one thing to hear Gary Jeter describe his defensive prowess in terms like “I come from the end, lookin’ for the sack/I don’t stop comin’ ’til I put ’em on their back.” It is another, far more bewildering situation to actually see it with his accompanying shimmies and wiggles and scowls.

There are other bits that scan as embarrassing in more bad-showbiz ways. Jim Collins, already dealing with the disappointment of being sidelined with a season-long shoulder injury, delivers his lines with a dissociative, middle-distance stare and a half-hearted shoulder shake. Carl Ekern both looks and sounds like he’s rapping through gritted teeth as he hunch-straddles over a motorcycle. But let’s face it: there are a lot of verses in this song that juxtapose a fondness for Ladies and an enthusiasm for Rammin’ It in a pretty suggestive way. And that’s where the comments section comes in.

Trying to track real-world sentiment through YouTube comments is like trying to follow the news from bathroom graffiti. Suffice it to say that a lot of them are along the lines of “this is gay”—not merely in the teenage “synonym for unmacho corniness” sense but in the belief that “Let’s Ram It,” despite being an actual NFL Officially Licensed Product created in the nauseatingly normative heart of 80s Reagan America, is literally an expression of homosexual desire. I’m not at the proper Kinsey scale point to confirm this in the positive, and I’m not struck with the kind of anxious-hetero Penis Panic that immediately jumps to the negative interpretation. But something seems to be at work here, even with the full assumption that this video was intended as “a little something for the ladies.”

This is because there’s no camp in football. Nope. No thanks. Save your comedic irony or your Tim & Eric weirdness for lower-stakes sports like baseball or basketball, the ones with a modicum of tolerance for absurdists and eccentrics like Bill Lee or Shaq or Ichiro. Under the imperium of The Shield, where punk meant Jim McMahon writing passive-aggressive Pete Rozelle callouts on his unauthorized headband, there is only Pride and Honor and Battle; humor and irreverence seem to be abandoned unless it is somehow accidentally buttfumbled into existence.

The NFL, as it exists at this moment, is an anti-nonconformity machine constructed to make examples out of the Cam Newtons and Ricky Williamses of the world, and the one game that’s least aware of its status as a game. It has leveraged that self-serious attitude to become the single most omnipresent entertainment institution in the entire United States. Our valiant gridiron heroes must never look like anything less than the most constricting, conservative version of True Manhood; if they fuck that up somehow, then that facade has crumbled. One must never let that mask slip, ever.

For some Rams players, participation in the “Let’s Ram It” video wound up defining them more substantially than their actual playing careers. Norwood Vann, who caps off his verse with a hip thrust that would make “Ravishing” Rick Rude stammer, has more Wikipedia verbiage on his “energetic appearance” in the video than on his actual pro career. For others, it’s a goofy footnote, the kind of thing that might get dragged out as a clip if the Hall of Fame induction ceremony ever doubled as a roast. (“Hey Slater, are you actually playing that saxophone?”)

They are all worth saluting: grown men unafraid to look like total goofy ding-dongs, many of them not far removed from historic athletic landmarks or careers that would enshrine them in Canton. This song is silly, yeah. It’s definitely easy to laugh at, even if it means inadvertently laughing with it, too.

And if you’ve sincerely believe there’s no place for this kind of ridiculousness in professional sports? Well, these dudes have a suggestion as to what you can do with it.

Written by: Nate Patrin, Vice Magazine, Feb. 2016

Rams make Bangles feel a “Manic Sunday”

Poor girls never stood a chance.

I decided to try something different and be a bit more social, so I attended a SB party at the behest and invite by my equally anti-social “lady friend.” This was the type of party where everyone would listen in rapt attention as someone recounted a plot in a movie they had seen recently or a trivial disagreement with a co-worker: a mishmash of nightmarish, repetitive, anti-narrative while the most mundane modern pop and Axe Body Spray wafted and commingled in the background.

There was a sense that everyone was desperately trying to be charming and urbane. Of course, I was made to feel like a caveman for drinking beer instead of margaritas, unapologetically tearing into the hors d’oeuvres, (kudos to the hired old lady that created them–and who was obviously unimpressed by the soul-crushing atmosphere) and actually being concerned about the outcome–but with both parties enjoying the consummate pinnacle of self-congratulatory, late capitalistic, trashy, commercialized absurdity…who can judge?

What can I say that hasn’t been blathered ad nauseam about this game? (even I’m tired of hearing about the X’s and O’s) I certainly didn’t start writing to become redundant, and that seems to be the MO of any sports writing hack with a laptop and limited knowledge of sports history and even more limited writing skills. These Bangles weren’t the mustache-twirling villains like the Patriots. No, my friends, these were the dumb-luck, up-and-comers who gave Cincinnati fans the delusional fantasy for about 2 weeks that they had the greatest QB of all time! Perhaps a fool’s paradise is a better option than a loser’s purgatory–and don’t most of these nitwits live in (shudder) Ohio? I seriously want to imbibe on whatever psychedelic substance they were collectively smoking, (I’m envisioning a Jefferson Airplane video with Grace Slick twirling around in a Ja’Marr Chase jersey, bathed in a spinning, multicolored strobe light with a couple guys off camera whipping bath towels to spread the dry ice smoke.) but as I like to often say, “sports does weird shit to people.” 

A random idiot had the gall to say L.A. was “Raiders Country” until I finally spoke up, no doubt miffed by the Radiohead/PM Dawn remix in the background. 

“I have lived in Los Angeles for the better part of a decade, good sir, and not ONCE have I seen a single piece of Raiders gear being worn by an actual human.” 

Another ham-fisted narrative, spoken for the sake of narrative, burned to the ground. Tinseltown is a city where you can’t even walk to the corner store without seeing a Dodgers cap, so the unadulterated fandom is there–just not on the side of the one-eyed pirate and their billionaire owner whose hair is occasionally cut by a blind 8-year-old with a salad bowl and pruning shears. 

We all know what happens. Cooper Kupp on a jet sweep on 4th down. Matty Stafford with the no-look pass to Kupp for a 22-yard-gain that destroyed the hearts, minds, and delusions of many Cincinnatians, (Perhaps the death of WKRP’s fictional Johnny Fever was a close second?) as Aaron Donald impersonated Lawrence Taylor in Tecmo Bowl “beast mode” to end the game. Grown men crying, formulating excuses and conspiracy theories, essentially making Cowboys fans look like the apex of masculinity and good sportsmanship. The good guys get the trophy and I’m elated because I waited 20-plus years to see this again, and all the B.S. seems to drift into the background. I stumble home knowing my cats were going to be troubled that I wasn’t there to give them dinner. It’s hard to believe, but they really don’t give a toss about the Rams or the Super Bowl…the hungry little bastards.