He’s such a regular guy that it can become easy to forget just how connected John Hadl, the Kansas University athletic department’s closer with big donors, is in the football world.
Ask Hadl for his thoughts on Peyton Manning’s joining the Denver Broncos, and don’t expect to get the slant of another armchair quarterback or a studio-show host. Hadl has more connections than Forrest Gump and Zelig combined. He used to pal around with late, great actor John “The Duke” Wayne and Joe Willie Namath, the apple of the Apple. Those guys didn’t need a door man. The doors flew open on their own.
Other than Peyton Manning himself and the since-traded Tim Tebow, the principal figures in the Manning-to-Denver show-stealing transaction of the year were John Elway, the Broncos’ team president, Archie Manning, the patriarch of the world’s No. 1 football family, and John Fox, the Broncos’ coach.
Naturally, Hadl is friends with all three men. Hadl was Elway’s first NFL quarterbacks coach with the Broncos.
“John Elway, in my opinion, is the best quarterback ever,” Hadl said one more time. “And he’s obviously become a good executive in the business of the NFL. He and Peyton Manning are going to get along really well.”
Hadl predicts the same of Elway and Fox. (He’s not the same John Fox as the stand-up comic who told the funniest joke I’ve ever heard at a comedy club in Los Angeles a quarter-century or so ago. It’s not appropriate for a family newspaper — or even the Internet — so you’ll have to ask me to tell it the next time we run into each other.)
“John Fox,” Hadl said, meaning the football coach, not the comic, “is a great guy. He was my secondary coach with the LA Express (of the USFL, where Hadl coached Steve Young), and he’s a great coach. You could see he had the qualities to be a head coach. He’s a hard worker, smart guy, good personality.”
Hadl has known Archie Manning for nearly 40 years, dating to when they were NFL quarterbacks and would see each other “in offseason golf tournaments, stuff like that,” according to Hadl.
“Very low-key, very humble guy,” Hadl said of Archie. “Smart guy.”
Some time after Peyton Manning signed with the Broncos, Hadl left Archie a phone message “about how great a kid I thought he was and what a great job of raising that boy Archie did.”
By the time Archie returned the call, KU had earned a spot in the Final Four. The two old friends arranged to meet at Mannings, Archie’s new restaurant in downtown New Orleans, and Manning also had Hadl out to his house.
“Archie was happy about Peyton getting with Elway,” Hadl said. “If Peyton can get the players behind him, he can take them all the way. He’s done that, and he can do it again. It’ll be fun.”