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A look back at the Hadl trade

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Mike Beacom

msbeacom@yahoo.com
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Posted Oct. 21, 2011 @ 3:01 p.m. ET
By Mike Beacom

Did the Oakland Raiders give up too much for veteran signalcaller Carson Palmer? Difficult to say. Time will tell if a first-round pick, and possibly another, are worth what Palmer has left in the tank. What we can say is that, no matter how poorly Palmer performs in Oakland, this trade never will be called the worst midseason deal of all time — not even among those to include a starting quarterback.

Green Bay claimed that distinction long ago.

For the first six games of the 1974 season Jerry Tagge was, without question, the worst starting quarterback in professional football. Green Bay's 24-year-old passer — the 11th pick of the 1972 draft — had a 36.0 passer rating and had thrown one touchdown and 10 interceptions. Somehow the Packers were 3-3, leading some — including head coach and general manager Dan Devine — to believe that the only thing standing between the Pack and a playoff berth was an upgrade under center.

Two days after Tagge had thrown two interceptions in a 10-9 loss to Chicago, Devine announced the team's backup, Jack Concannon, would get the start the following Sunday in Detroit. Then Devine pulled the trigger on a trade Packers fans have never forgiven him for. To acquire 34-year-old John Hadl, Green Bay sent the Rams its first-, second-, and third-round picks in the 1975 NFL draft, and its first- and second-round picks in 1976.

Five picks for one tired passer.

In 1973, Hadl had been a hero for Los Angeles. Chuck Knox's club finished with an NFC-best 12-2 record that season, and Hadl posted the best touchdown-to-interception ratio of his career (22-11). The Rams were knocked off by Dallas in the playoffs (Hadl completed 7-of-23 passes in a 27-16 loss) and early into the next season Hadl fell out of favor in Los Angeles.

Still, to team owner Carroll Rosenbloom, trading his popular passer was a risk, regardless of what the other side had offered. "I've been heartsick about the Hadl thing all week," Rosenbloom said after the trade. "It's a gamble for us. I guess the fans will fire me if I'm wrong."

Hadl was wounded. "They give you this stuff about being a great guy and a team leader and part of the family," he told Mai Florence of the Los Angeles Times, "but in the final analysis it's just cold business."

Rumors swirled that the Packers had dealt for damaged goods. Some suggested the reason for Hadl's woes was a bum throwing arm. "Chuck Knox knows my arm's OK," Hadl told reporters. "Ask him and he'll tell you." Packers fans had already seen the arm up close; Hadl completed just 6-of-16 passes and was benched in a Week Five loss to Green Bay in 1974. The idea the team would trade for him just 10 days later was puzzling.

Rams general manager Don Klosterman used Green Bay's first-round pick of 1975 (No. 9 overall) to select defensive lineman Mike Fanning, who gave the team eight solid seasons. Klosterman used the remaining picks from the trade to assemble the core of Los Angeles' secondary for the next few seasons: Monte Jackson, Pat Thomas and Nolan Cromwell (via a trade using another of Green Bay's picks). With the rest of its picks in those two drafts, Los Angeles shored up its offensive line by drafting OG Dennis Harrah and OTs Doug France and Jackie Slater.

The fans had no reason to "fire" Rosenbloom or Klosterman; the Rams went 64-25-1 over the next six seasons, with three trips to the NFC championship game and a hard-fought 31-19 loss to the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV.

The Packers headed in the opposite direction. Hadl guided Green Bay to victory in three of his first four appearances, but the team lost its final three games in 1974 to finish 6-8. Hadl threw two interceptions in each of the final two losses — games decided by seven points or less. The next season, Hadl threw six touchdown passes and 21 interceptions. By 1976, he was no longer welcome in Green Bay. He finished his 16-year pro career as a backup with the Houston Oilers in ’76 and ’77 before retiring.

A day after the Packers wrapped up their 1974 season, Devine announced to reporters he was going to replace Ara Parseghian as the next coach at Notre Dame. He got off easy. His replacement, Bart Starr, was not so fortunate. In nine seasons, he led Green Bay to just one winning record (8-7-1 in 1978) — this from the former field general who had lost only one playoff game in 10 starts.

The deal not only handicapped Starr's coaching career — it injured Hadl's legacy. The six-time Pro Bowler is often remembered more for the trade that brought him to Green Bay than for helping Sid Gillman to revolutionize the passing game during their nine seasons together in San Diego.

Hadl preferred to look at it another way. "When I got over the shock of being traded by the Rams, which was a total surprise to me, I was sort of flattered by the price I had brought," he said in 1975.

 

Mike Beacom is a pro and college football writer whose work has appeared in numerous print and online sources. He is also the author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Football (Alpha, 2010). Follow him on twitter @mbeac

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