Many words have been used in this column space to expound the virtues of athletes that played multiple sports or multiple positions within a sport. Nolan Cromwell, Bob Allison, and Isaac Byrd come to mind with many more in the works for future columns. And even though sports are more specialized than ever these days, football players still routinely play multiple positions during the same game (receiver and punt returner is a common example), change positions and thrive when another player outshines him in practice (Kerry Meier is a recent case), but how many can do all that and become an All-American at multiple positions? At Kansas, the answer is simple: John Hadl.
The Lawrence, Kansas native had an opportunity to play at national powerhouse Oklahoma, but was going to have to play defensive back for the Sooners, so Hadl decided to sign with his hometown Jayhawks. In his first year at Kansas, Hadl played multiple positions. In addition to his primary position as running back where he gained 348 yards on 68 carries, he also played some quarterback, defensive back, punt returner, and punter. He was quite versatile to say the least.
In his first collegiate game against TCU on September 19, 1959, Hadl intercepted a ball at the Kansas two-yard line and returned it 98 yards for a score. That pick is still a Kansas record for longest INT return for a touchdown. Later that season, he boomed a 94-yard punt against Oklahoma, another record that may never be broken. He led the country with a 45.6-yard average per punt. Not too shabby, but the next two seasons were the ones that were to define John Hadl’s career and turn him into a Kansas legend.
The 1960 season saw Hadl in a more offensively focused role. He played quarterback and running back and was rewarded by landing on the All-America team (as a halfback) in 1960. He was responsible for seven KU touchdowns that year for the Jayhawks who finished 11th in the country with a 7-2-1 record.
With the emergence of Curtis McClinton and Bert Coan, the backfield was getting full and in 1961, Hadl made the permanent switch to quarterback, becoming a great quarterback with great running ability, setting the table for future Kansas dual threats like Bobby Douglass. In that 1961 season, Hadl led the Big 8 in touchdowns with seven through the air and six on the ground. In addition to landing on his third consecutive All-Conference team and leading the Jayhawks to a victory in the 1961 Bluebonnet Bowl, he was also named to his second consecutive All-American team, this time as a quarterback.
For his efforts, Hadl has been one of only three KU players to have their number retired and was named the Kansas Player of the Century by the Topeka Capital-Journal. Not bad considering that a couple of guys named Sayers and Riggins donned KU blue.
John Hadl had a lengthy pro career too. To start, he was drafted twice in 1962. He was the #10 pick of the Detroit Lions of the NFL and #24 by the San Diego Chargers of the AFL. He chose the Chargers and went on throw for almost 27,000 yards in his career with San Diego. He was a four time AFL All-Star and a two time NFL Pro Bowler after the merger. He later played for the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, and Houston Oilers. He has since been elected to the Chargers Hall of Fame as well as the College Football Hall of Fame. Currently, Hadl is back in his hometown serving as an Associate Athletic Director at KU.