(Orange, Texas)

July 29, 2009

Orange's 'Big Cat" Ladd in Grambling Hall of Greats

Van Wade

Orange legend Ernie Ladd “Big Cat” continues to receive prestigious honors.

Ladd, who passed away in March of 2007, was among the inaugural class of the Grambling University Sports Hall of Fame.

Spearheaded by James “Shack” Harris (former NFL Pro Bowl Most Valuable Player) and Doug Williams (former Super Bowl MVP) the ceremony was held at the Monroe Civic Center in Monroe, Louisiana.

At 6-9 and 315 pounds, Ladd arrived to Grambling in the late 1950s and immediately made an impact. A first-team all-league defensive lineman in his final season at Grambling in 1960, he helped Grambling to its first-ever SWAC championship.

He may have been known as a ferocious All-Pro defensive lineman as well as “The Big Cat” in the professional wrestling ranks, but Ernie Ladd was also known as the gentle giant from Orange, Texas.

Ladd, who was born and raised in Orange, passed away in 2007 after a long bout with cancer.

The “Big Cat,” has claim to fame in being enshrined in both the American Football League Hall of Fame and the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame.

Ladd was a fierce product of the former Wallace High School in Orange and was coached by the late legendary coach Willie Ray Smith. He played on the 1954 state championship team as a sophomore and was also an All-State basketball player in helping lead the Dragons to a state crown as well in that sport.

Ladd went on to play for another legend, Eddie Robinson, at Grambling State University. With Ladd’s efforts, Robinson was able to land his first Southwest Athletic Conference championship.

The American Football League’s San Diego Chargers selected Ladd with their 15th pick in the 1961 draft. At 6-9, 315 pounds, Ladd was arguably the biggest and strongest man in pro football during his era. He had a 52-inch chest, 39-inch waist, 20-inch biceps, 19-inch neck, 20-inch calf, and size 18D shoes.

Ladd went on to become a three-time All-AFL player and he played in four consecutive Pro Bowls. The Chargers made strong runs to the AFL championship games. The Chargers won it all during the 1963 season, defeating the Boston Patriots. They also advanced to three title games, falling to Houston in 1961 and Buffalo in 1964 and 1965.

Ladd spent the 1966 season playing for the Houston Oilers before moving, in 1967, to the Kansas City Chiefs. There, with Buck Buchanan, a former Grambling teammate, he filled out what was probably the biggest defensive tackle tandem in history, and won another AFL title. Both Ladd and Buchanan are members of the Grambling State University Athletic Hall of Fame.

While playing football, Ladd began making appearances at wrestling events at first as a special referee and later as a wrestler. Knee problems, and what at the time ended up being a more lucrative career as a wrestler, ended his football career.

Ladd started wrestling in 1961. As a publicity stunt, some wrestlers in the San Diego area challenged Ladd to a private wrestling workout. Before long, Ladd was a part-time competitor in Los Angeles, during football's off-season. Ladd became a huge draw in short order. Ladd became one of wrestling's most hated heels during the 1970's, as well as one of the first Black wrestlers to portray a heel character. In addition to riling crowds with his arrogant and colorful demeanor during interviews, all without being portrayed with any stereotyping, Ladd also gained infamy through use of his controversial taped thumb, which Ladd claimed was from an old football injury. Often, when Ladd appeared to be in serious trouble during a match, he'd walk out of the arena and accept a countout loss. This practice has since become known as “pulling an Ernie Ladd” in some circles.

In 1968, Ladd debuted in the World Wide Wrestling Federation, where he would become a mainstay until 1980. Ladd was managed by The Grand Wizard of Wrestling for much of the 1970's, and provided WWWF Champions Bruno Sammartino, Pedro Morales and Bob Backlund some of the toughest challenges of their respective title reigns. Known for his immense size and power, it was a natural for Ladd to engage in feuds with other giants. His feud with André the Giant (who Ladd would refer to as "Andre the Dummy" during interviews) was one of the most talked-about of the decade.

After leaving the WWF, Ladd ventured to the Mid-South territory promoted by Bill Watts. While in the Mid-South area, Ladd feuded with Paul Orndorff, Ray Candy, Junkyard Dog and served as a manager to Afa and Sika, the Wild Samoans. Ladd also had a decent run as part of a tag team with "Bad" Leroy Brown in the early 1980's.

Ladd retired from wrestling in 1986. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995.

A longtime friend of George Herbert Walker Bush, Ladd helped the former president raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina. Ladd ministered to evacuees at the Astrodome who had been transported from New Orleans after the floods in Katrina He also served on the organizing committee for President George W. Bush's 2001 inauguration.

A 12-person board helped select the inductees that also include Willis Reed, Eddie G. Robinson and Buck Buchanan. The other inductees include: Henry Dyer (football), Ralph Garr (baseball), Charlie Hardnett (basketball), Robert Hopkins (basketball), Lane Howell (football), Stone Johnson (football/track), Willie Joseph (football), Leglian Moore (football), Bo Murray (football), Helen Richards-Smith (basketball), Richard Stebbins (track), Hershell West (basketball), Willie Young (football), Tank Younger (football), Ralph W.E. Jones (university president and coach), Tommy Agee (baseball), Collie Nicholson (sports information officer), Fred Hobdy (coach), Willie Brown (football), Willie Davis (football) and Charlie Joiner (football).