Two blasts from the past meet in the quarterback region of our Sweet 16 bracket. Nolan Cromwell has marched through unchallenged so far, taking out Jordan Webb and Bill Whittemore. John Hadl has likewise had an easy time to this point, taking out Adam Barmann and Mike Norseth.
Now it gets tough.
(3) Nolan Cromwell
One of the best pure athletes ever to grace Mt. Oread, Cromwell played at Kansas from 1973-76.
The restriction on freshmen being ineligible to play was lifted by the NCAA prior to the 1972 season, which was great news for guys like Cromwell. His freshman year he was the starting safety on coach Don Fambrough’s 1973 Liberty Bowl team. He started at safety again in 1974, but made the switch to quarterback in 1975, which turned out to be his most productive year at Kansas.
KU ran a wishbone offense, so Cromwell didn’t throw often (98 passes attempted in his KU career), but boy did he run. After stunning Oklahoma in the regular season, he led Kansas to the Sun Bowl in 1975, earning him a first team All-Big 8 nod and an honorable mention All-American at the quarterback position. His 1976 season was cut short by a knee injury after just five games; the Jayhawks went 2-4 without Cromwell.
He was also a two-time All-American in track and field, setting school records in numerous events.
He was drafted 31st overall by the St. Louis Rams in the 1977 NFL Draft. He spent 10 years as a defensive back in the NFL, all with the Rams, at one point being named to four consecutive Pro Bowls (1980-83).
He is enshrined in KU’s Ring of Honor.
And in case you missed it in earlier rounds, if you’re in the mood for some additional Cromwell reading material, check out this piece from SI’s Vault from 1981.
(2) John Hadl
Heavily recruited by juggernaut Oklahoma and legendary coach Bud Wilkinson, Lawrence native John Hadl elected to stay close to home and suited up for the Jayhawks from 1959-61.
Hadl had very pedestrian passing numbers in his 30 game career at KU, completing 99 of 204 passes for 1345 yards, including 12 TDs against 15 INTs. But that’s not what qualified him for the 2-seed. Not only did he split time between QB and HB, he was an excellent defensive back, a quality return specialist, and one of the nation’s top punters.
He was first team All-Big 8 halfback in 1959, and first team All-Big 8 quarterback in 1960 and ‘61. He led the nation in punting in 1959, still holds the school record for longest punt (94 yards), and has the third-longest interception return in school history (98 yards). The Jayhawks went 14-5-2 with Hadl under center, ranking in the Top 20 both years. He culminated his Kansas career by leading the Jayhawks to a 33-7 Bluebonnet Bowl win over Rice in 1961. (Take that, Rice!)
Hadl followed all that by being drafted 10th overall by the Detroit Lions in the 1962 NFL Draft. A trade to San Diego sparked a 16-year NFL career where he amassed 33,513 passing yards, which was good for third in the record books at the time of his retirement; it’s still good for 28th all-time. He played with the Chargers, Rams, Packers, and Oilers, was named the NFL man of the year in 1971, and Most Valuable Player in 1973.
Hadl was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1994. His #21 jersey is one of three retired by Kansas football, and his name graces the Ring of Honor in Memorial Stadium. He was also the first Jayhawk to be twice named first team All-American, in 1960 and ‘61.
Who was the greater Jayhawk? Register your vote in the comments below. Other matchups can be found here.