Former Green Bay Packers quarterback John Hadl, part of an infamous 1974 trade, dies at 82

Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr, then a television commentator, interviews Packers quarterback John Hadl.
Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr, then a television commentator, interviews Packers quarterback John Hadl.

Former Green Bay Packers quarterback John Hadl, who became the unfortunate centerpiece of an epic failed trade in 1974, died Wednesday at age 82, according to his alma mater the University of Kansas.

Hadl's career included six Pro Bowl selections, but Green Bay fans remember him as the player Packers coach Dan Devine acquired for a massive haul of draft picks in arguably the worst exchange in franchise history.

In October 1974, Devine surrendered the team's first-, second- and third-round draft choices in 1975 plus a first- and second-round choice in 1976 for Hadl, coming off an All-Pro season when he led the Los Angeles Rams to a 12-2 record and earned the NFC player of the year distinction.

"Devine gave up so much to get me," Hadl once said. "He was in trouble and trying to save his job."

It didn't work. The 34-year-old Hadl took over for incumbent starter Jack Concannon and led the Packers to three straight wins, but the magic was temporary. The Packers lost their last three games of the season to fall from the playoff chase, with Hadl tossing eight interceptions to three touchdowns over his six games. He completed just 48.4% of his passes.

One of those wins was particularly satisfying, however, a 19-7 upset over the host Minnesota Vikings and star quarterback Fran Tarkenton in which Hadl found running back MacArthur Lane for a late 68-yard touchdown to stave off a Minnesota comeback.

During the game, Hadl became the fifth quarterback in league history to surpass 30,000 career yards, joining Tarkenton in that regard.

John Hadl appeared in six Pro Bowls during his long career.
John Hadl appeared in six Pro Bowls during his long career.

The following year, though, it got worse, after Devine had resigned to become head coach at Notre Dame. Hadl started 13 games for new coach Bart Starr, and the Packers went 4-9 in those contests. He threw a staggering 21 interceptions to just six touchdowns, completing 54% of his passes.

Starr dealt Hadl after the 1975 season to Houston along with defensive back Kenny Ellis and two more draft picks for quarterback Lynn Dickey.

"When I initially came to Green Bay, people didn't like me simply because of all what Devine had given up," Hadl said. "They weren't happy about it, but it got better. I didn't ask for the trade and I didn't give away the draft choices.

"The Packers played hard, but there were some older players on the roster and we just weren't physically up to par. We just didn't have enough talent on the team."

Overall, Hadl's career wasn't a bad one, highlighted by his six Pro Bowls and single All-Pro selection. He was originally drafted by Detroit with the 10th pick of the 1962 NFL Draft and 24th overall by the San Diego Chargers in the AFL, which is where he began his career and played for 11 seasons. He led the Chargers to three AFL title games before the merger.

The native of Lawrence, Kansas, was a star at hometown University of Kansas, where he demonstrated a penchant for long punts, long interception returns and, of course, ability on offense (as both a halfback and quarterback).

"His desire to enhance KU and make it as special as possible truly resonated with me," said current Kansas head football coach Lance Leipold, who won six NCAA Division III championships at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater. "To be the head coach of this program and see his statue every day outside Anderson Family Football Complex, is a firm reminder of the passion and love that John had for this program. Kelly and I send our condolences to the Hadl family and his loved ones.”

That statue was unveiled in 2020. His No. 21 is one of three numbers retired at Kansas, along with Gale Sayers and Ray Evans.

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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Former Packers QB John Hadl, part of infamous 1974 trade, dies at 82