Tag Archives: vintage football

Jim Jodat…Buddy Holly Glasses, Iron Man

So I’m watching a Rams/49ers game from 1977 when announcer Vin Scully mentions to his cohort Sonny Jergensen that the Rams kick returner is wearing coke-bottle, Buddy Holly-style glasses, which immediately catches my attention. I had never seen such a thing and was instantly intrigued. Who was this guy? (note: this was also Joe Namath’s last game as a starter for the Rams, outdueling Jim Plunkett 34-14.)

I must admit that Jim Jodat certainly didn’t look like much of an athlete, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel wrote.

He had a squatty build and suspect eyesight, but he sure could run. The 5-foot-11, 210-pound Milwaukee native also had a fanatical work ethic and gritty determination that drove him to become Carthage College’s career leader in rushing, to play in the NFL for seven seasons, and to return the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XIV in 1980.

In 1976, Jodat was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 12th round of the NFL draft, the 344th overall pick. He went on to play with the Rams, the Seattle Seahawks, and the San Diego Chargers over seven seasons.

Jodat spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a sprained knee. In 1977 he made his mark on special teams since the Rams’ backfield was clogged with talented backs John Cappelletti, Lawrence McCutcheon, Cullen Bryant, and Wendell Tyler.

“He was behind a lot of great players with the Rams, but Jim was never a guy to try and talk a coach into more playing time,” Tom Brannon said. “He just didn’t have that kind of personality.”

In January 1980, Jodat appeared on the cover of The Sporting News as the special teams’ captain for the Rams. Jodat, as mentioned above, returned the opening kickoff for Los Angeles in Super Bowl XIV against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unfortunately, the Steelers won, 31-19 after the Rams let a 19-17 lead dissolve in the fourth quarter.

Jodat died on October 21, 2015, of cancer in Lake Forest, Ca.

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.)

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.