Ladd, only person in AFL, WWF halls of fame, dies

Updated: March 12, 2007, 8:57 PM ET
Associated Press

GRAMBLING, La. -- Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd, who starred in professional football and professional wrestling, has died. He was 68.

Ladd, the only person in both the American Football League and World Wrestling Federation halls of fame, died Saturday night after a long bout with cancer.

"It's a personal loss not just to our family, but to the whole community," said Eddie Robinson Jr., whose ailing father coached Ladd at Grambling State. "I was fortunate enough to be in high school when he was here, so my football heroes growing up were people like Ernie Ladd."

Ladd, who was almost 6-foot-10 and weighed over 300 pounds, was the 15th player taken in the 1961 American Football League draft and played for the San Diego Chargers, Houston Oilers and Kansas City Chiefs.

Born Nov. 28, 1938, in Rayville, La., but raised in Orange, Texas, he had battled cancer -- first in his colon, then later in his stomach and bones -- since 2004.

"The doctor told me I had three to six months to live," Ladd said in 2005, then at the midway point in his nearly four-year battle with cancer. "I told him Dr. Jesus has the verdict on me."

Funeral arrangements were still pending on Monday, said W.J. Otis at the Otis Mortuary in Franklin.

"It will be Saturday, but we don't know where or when yet," Otis said.

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.

"In what other sport can you pick up a $14 pair of boots, 59-cent socks -- spend maybe a total of $50 -- and convert it into $100,000 a year, if you are sharp and train?" Ladd would ask. "My intention was to go back to football, but pro wrestling was so good to me"

Ladd was a defensive stalwart on Grambling's first-ever Southwestern Athletic Conference championship football squad. He then helped form the nucleus of the 1963 AFL championship team at San Diego. He was named to the San Diego Hall of Champions in 2004.

"We were like a family," Ladd said in May 2005. "We were one of the first integrated teams, with black players and white players as roommates."

When Ladd completed his eight-year pro career, he had played in 112 consecutive AFL games, and appeared on the roster for both Super Bowl I and IV with the Chiefs.

As big as he was, Ladd was known for his catlike quickness, something that inspired his lifelong nickname.

Ladd's bad-guy story lines, not to mention signature moves that included the "guillotine drop" and a boot to the face, resonated with the next generation of sports fans.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press