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21 Days Until Kansas Football: Remembering John Hadl

Hadl’s #21 is one of three jerseys retired by the Kansas football program.

West Virginia v Kansas Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Quarterback. Defensive back. Kick returner. Running back. Punter. From 1959-61, John Hadl did it all.

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 second-longest interception return (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.

Oh, he was also the first Jayhawk to be named to two first team All-American teams, in 1960 (as a RB) and 1961 (as a QB).

But the best part of the story is how Hadl ended up at KU in the first place.

At Lawrence High School, Hadl was an all-state halfback and center fielder for the Lions, and a priority recruit for legendary coach Bud Wilkinson and juggernaut Oklahoma.

Hadl had verbally committed to the Sooners, but then KU fired Chuck Mather and hired Jack Mitchell, who was able to persuade Hadl to stay in Lawrence. Hadl would later say KU was where he really wanted to be all along, having grown up a KU fan and going to football and basketball games as a youth.

Following his time at KU, Hadl was drafted by both the AFL and the NFL in the 1962 Draft (this was before the merger). Hadl was taken 10th overall by the Detroit Lions of the NFL and 24th overall by the San Diego Chargers of the AFL. He chose to sign with the Chargers, which sparked a 16-year NFL career where he amassed a mere 33,513 passing yards. That was good for third in the record books at the time of his retirement; it’s still good for 28th all-time.

All told, he played with the Chargers, Rams, Packers, and Oilers and was named the NFL man of the year in 1971 and Most Valuable Player in 1973. He led his league in passing three times (1965, 1968, 1971) and is a member of the Chargers Hall of Fame.