In an era when most linemen hovered around the 6’3″ and 265-lb. range, Ernie Ladd was a giant among men. Standing 6’9″ tall, and tipping the scales between 325-340 lbs, Ladd would have stood out in any era, but he was a man among men in the 1960s.
Under the tutelage of legendary college coach, Eddie Robinson, at Grambling University, Ladd and teammate Buck Buchanan (6’7″, 270 lbs.) made up what is likely the largest defensive tackle tandem in football history. Ernie Ladd was drafted out of Grambling by the San Diego Chargers in 1961. He was immediately slotted into a starting position on the Chargers defensive line, along with fellow rookie, Earl Faison, and veterans Bill Hudson and Ron Nery. The line was dubbed the “Fearsome Foursome,” using the moniker several years before the famed Los Angeles Rams defensive line of the mid-1960s.
Ladd was four-time AFL All-Star with the Chargers (1962-65), and a member of the Chargers AFL championship team in 1963. But his relationship with head coach, Sid Gillman, was at times contentious. Gillman was a brilliant offensive theorist who ruled his teams with an iron fist, and Ladd, more of a free spirit, used to enjoy getting under Gillman’s skin. Ladd’s longtime friend and teammate, Earl Faison, recalled one particular Ladd and Gillman interaction. “He and I were roommates,” Faison remembered. “He used to tell me, ‘Hey roomie. Watch me piss Sid off. I’m gonna piss Sid off.’ He’d get on the phone and say, ‘Hey Sid, I’m thinking I’m not gonna play in the game tomorrow.’ ‘What’s wrong? What’s wrong,’ Gillman wanted to know. ‘I don’t want to, I think I need some shrimp down here. I’m hungry.’ Any kind of reason, and everything would be forthcoming. Sid would send it right on down to him.”
Eventually the rift between Gillman and Ladd became too great. Ernie Ladd played out his option in 1965, and then signed a three-year contract with the Houston Oilers. He played all of 1966 for the Oilers, and four games into the 1967 season before he was traded to Kansas City, where he joined college teammate, Buck Buchanan, on the Chiefs defensive line. Ladd stayed with Kansas City for the remainder of 1967, and all of 1968 before retiring from professional football.
After football, Ernie Ladd was able put more focus into his other athletic endeavor, professional wrestling, which he began to do in San Diego as a way for him to keep in shape during the off-season. Ladd wrestled for nearly 20 more years, before retiring in 1986. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995. Ernie Ladd had several business interests that occupied his time in retirement. Additionally, he became a minister and spoke in churches and prisions around the country. Ernie Ladd died on March 10, 2007, after several years battling colon cancer.