And Now You Know: Ernie Ladd is the biggest man in pro football

Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 9, 2019

Ernie Ladd was born in Rayville, Louisiana and came to Orange as a young boy.

His stepfather James Ford and his mother, Louada, raised him. Ladd attended Wallace High School and played football under the legendary coach Willie Ray Smith, Sr.

He was an outstanding player and a very large young man. He said some of his size came from his mother who was six feet tall and weighed 245 pounds.

After high school, he attended Grambling State College and played football there under another legendary coach, Eddie Robinson. He was drafted in the 1961 AFL draft by two teams, the Chicago Bears and the San Diego Chargers. He opted to play for the Chargers.

At the time he joined the Chargers he stood six feet, nine inches tall, weighed 315 pounds with a 52-inch chest, 39-inch waist, 20-inch biceps, 19-inch neck and wore size 18D shoes. He was listed as the largest man in professional football.

Ladd once said, “There were probably bigger players than I was, but they couldn’t run like I could run.”

He played for the chargers from 1961 to 1965. In those years, he played in four AFL championship games and was an AFL All-Star from 1962 to 1965.

His contentious relationship with the Chargers front office led him to become a free agent. He signed with the Houston Oilers and played one season there, 1966 to 1967.

In 1967, Ladd moved to the Kansas City Chiefs for the 1967-68 season.

At Kansas City, he joined former Grambling teammate Buck Buchanan. Buchanan was also large, standing six foot seven inches and weighing 286 pounds. Ladd and Buchanan filled out the largest defensive tackle team in pro football, at that time.

Jon Morris, who played center for the Boston Patriots, said, “Ladd was so big if it was dark. I couldn’t see the linebackers, I couldn’t see the goal posts, it was like being locked in a closet.”

During the 1963 offseason, Ladd started wrestling. He spent offseasons in the wrestling ring until knee problems and the ability to make more money led him to go into the sport full time.

For a period, he was a fan favorite then he decided to change to become a “heel”. He was so successful at being the heel that throughout the 1970s he was one of the most hated wrestlers in the sport.

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He delighted in riling up the crowds by being arrogant and colorful when doing interviews. He gave his opponents less than politically correct nicknames, like calling Wahoo McDonald, a “drunken Indian”, and Mr. Wrestling “The Masked Varmint”.

In some areas, he was called “The King” and wore a crown. In other areas he was billed as “The Big Cat” and wore a cowboy hat.

In 1986, he retired as a wrestler due to recurring knee problems and shifted to doing color commentary for the WWF.

Ladd’s strength and appetite were as legendary as his prowess on the football field and in the ring.

Boyhood friend, Rudolph Bell, told about the time he and Ladd and some friends were “out and about” in Orange.

“We had a flat tire on the car and Ernie picked up the rear end and held it in the air while the rest of us changed the tire.”

“One time we were in a restaurant in Dallas that advertised ‘All the pancakes you can eat’. Ernie ate so many pancakes that the owner went out and took the ‘all you can eat’ sign down,” said Bell.

Ladd missed out on the mega bucks in football and wrestling, but said he had no regrets.

“Someone had to be a pioneer. If I was coming out of college today, they would have to start talking at five million dollars,” said Ladd.

During the winter of 2003-2004, he was diagnosed with colon cancer and told he had only three to six months to live.

He died three years later, March 16, 2007, at the age of 68. He was survived by his wife of 45 years and four children.

“And now you know.”