Fresh off playing in the Chicago Charities College All-Star Game, John Hadl reported to his first pro football training camp with the San Diego Chargers in 1962.
He put his bags down and met his new roommate. The two men, both quarterbacks, weren’t teammates for long, but remained friends for life. Hadl lost that friend a week ago Saturday when Jack Kemp died of cancer.
“I walk into the room, and he’s sitting there reading a book on Barry Goldwater,” Hadl remembered. “I asked, ‘What are you reading?’ He said, ‘Barry Goldwater. I kind of work for him in the Republican party.’ I didn’t know then Jack wanted to be president.”
Hadl spent time with Kemp when he visited Lawrence on March 27, 2006, to speak at the Dole Center in the afternoon and the Lied Center in the evening.
“He was a wonderful person,” Hadl said. “He loved people. He was way ahead of the racial attitude in the country, always working to get that squared away. Great guy. I just loved Jack. And Joanne, his wife, is a great lady. And I had a chance to coach Jeff Kemp with the Rams. He was just a chip off the old block.”
The AFL survived and eventually merged into the NFL because it had bold thinkers who believed that highlighting the passing game was how to set the league apart.
The AFL is remembered most for its stable of talented quarterbacks. The New York Jets had Joe Namath, a Fu Manchu-faced, daring thrower of so many long, tight spirals. The Chargers had Hadl, a gunslinger in the mold of Brett Favre. The Oakland Raiders had Darryl Lamonica out of Notre Dame. Babe Parilli launched long passes for the Boston Patriots. The Kansas City Chiefs had the great Len Dawson.
“Detroit (of the NFL) drafted me No. 1 as a running back, and the Chargers drafted me No. 3 and wanted me to be a quarterback,” Hadl said. “I went to San Diego and saw that city. What a fabulous place that was. Sid Gillman wanted me to be a quarterback. If I was going to make it, I wanted to make it as a quarterback.”
Hadl made it, and so did Kemp, but as opponents.
“Sid put Jack on waivers because he was trying to make a trade,” Hadl said. “He didn’t take him off waivers quick enough, and Buffalo got him for nothing.”
Kemp spent seven of his 11 seasons with the Bills. In some ways he looked like an NFL quarterback playing in the AFL in that he was a classic drop-back passer who didn’t show any rebellious side.
“In our day we were calling all the plays,” Hadl said. “We had to study the game plan and understand everything about what was going on that Sunday. That was commonplace. That was our job.”
Hadl was a great quarterback, Kemp a good one. Hadl never claimed to be presidential material, but like any voting American, he thinks he knows a good president when he sees one. Would his old roomie have made a good president?
“Absolutely,” Hadl said of Sen. Bob Dole’s former running mate. “First of all, he’s a very intelligent guy, very committed to the people. He was a guy who just loved people and wanted to take care of the country and its people.”