The time came when the arm lost its zip. The knees cried for relief. The reflexes just weren't the same, and John Willard Hadl, who never missed a game because of injury, had to put the shoulder pads away for good and end his Hall of Fame-worthy football career.
Hadl was resigned to spending the rest of his days experiencing his athletic thrills vicariously, rejoicing in his alma mater's football and basketball victories. What a year for thrills this has been for Hadl, who was at most of the games of Kansas University's 49-4 football/basketball year that included an Orange Bowl victory and basketball national title. As it turned out, not all of his thrills had to be vicarious ones.
During his days of greatness for the San Diego Chargers and Los Angeles Rams, Hadl would read defenses and make last-second changes. Never one to shy from a challenge, he would then go for it, daring to throw into coverage the way Brett Favre did.
He takes much the same approach during his rounds of golf at Lawrence Country Club. He aims for the pin. After all these years, he finally hit his target.
Hadl, 68, made his first hole in one Saturday on the seventh hole at LCC. This time, the vicarious thrills belonged to the other men in his group: John Zaricky, Mike Stultz and Dwight Perry. For Hadl, it was an athletic achievement that gave him the sort of charge nothing had since his football days.
Hadl didn't have to read a defense before this big score, but he did read one of his playing partners.
"I had a seven-iron out," Hadl said. "Dwight Perry and I, we hit it about the same distance. He hit an eight-iron on, so I went back and got an eight-iron, thank God. And it went in the hole. That's the most unbelievable thing that's happened to me. I've been close before, like everybody, but that was my first one."
No. 7, which starts at an elevated tee box, can mess up a good round.
"You pull it, you're out of bounds," Hadl said. "Then you push it, you're in the water. I'm usually either out of bounds or in the water."
On Saturday, the hole measured 158 yards from tee to pin, according to Hadl.
"That's as good as it gets," Hadl said of his ace. "We need to play Augusta. We're working on that next. There are about three or four things I've wanted to do before I die. I've done the hole in one. I played Pebble Beach. That was one. I wanted to meet John Wayne. Got that done. Now I need to play Augusta."
Hadl said he was working out in Baton Rouge during a Chargers offseason when he read in the paper that his friend Roman Gabriel and The Duke were in town filming a movie together.
"I tracked Roman down, and he invited me to come on down and watch them make the movie," Hadl said. "I met John Wayne, we had a few beers, had dinner that night, and breakfast in the morning. He was just like he is in the movies. He was one of the boys. He was cool, he really was. He felt really relaxed around you."
Hadl's the same sort of a guy, but all the men lost their cool when he joined the hole-in-one club.
"They all jumped out of their carts," Hadl said.
One more time, Hadl made all the spectators leave their seats.