Nov. 28, 1938-March 10, 2007 Orange, Texas
Ladd was born in Rayville, Louisiana, and raised in Orange, Texas, where he was a high school football and basketball star. His football coach was William Ray Smith, Sr., father of MOGC Hall of Famer Bubba Smith.
He attended Grambling on a basketball scholarship and also excelled in football, playing defensive tackle. He was drafted by both the National Football League and the American Football League when they were separate football organizations. He chose to join the San Diego Chargers of the AFL. This began a stormy eight-year career as a professional defensive tackle. Ladd played for the Chargers from 1961 to 1965, during which time which he participated in three AFL championship games and was twice named All-AFL. Ladd spent the 1966 season with the Houston Oilers before moving to the Kansas City Chiefs for two years in 1967.
Ladd combined was immensely strong and agile, with a fearsome temper. He fought with management over his salary and with the league office over his right to wear a beard. At 6'9" and 315 pounds, Ladd was the biggest player throughout the 1960s. With Buck Buchanan of Kansas City, a former Grambling teammate, he formed what was probably the biggest defensive tackle combination ever, at that time. Buchanan was 6'7" and weighed 275 pounds.
He ability to ability to consume large quantities of food was legendary. At a charity pancake-eating contest in 1965, he ate 124 pancakes topped with six containers of syrup. Ladd didn't win because he was competing alone against two-person teams. Ladd claimed he started late and was "only four pancakes behind at the end."
Ladd became a professional wrestler initially as a publicity stunt. He was billed as "The Big Cat" or "The King" and was famously matched up against Andre the Giant, Mr. Universe, and Dusty Rhodes. During his career as a wrestler, Ladd was one of the top "heels" (villains) in the business. Often when Ladd appeared to be in serious trouble during a match, he'd walk out of the arena and accept a countout loss, known since as "pulling an Ernie Ladd." He was inducted into the WCW Hall of Fame in 1994 and the WWF Hall of Fame class of 1995, becoming the first (and for several years only) inductee in both halls. Ladd also appeared in an episode of That '70s Show entitled "That Wrestling Show." He was in the locker room with The Rock, who played his own father, "Soul Man" Rocky Johnson.
The 1965 AFL All-Star Game was scheduled to be played in New Orleans just six months after Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. City officials assured the black AFL players that New Orleans was safe and there would be no problems. It eventually turned into a nightmare as many were left stranded at the airport for hours when they arrived. Some African American players were refused cab service, and others were dropped off miles from their destinations. Nearly all were refused admittance to nightspots and restaurants, and subjected to a hostile atmosphere in the French Quarter while sightseeing. The situation became so uncomfortable that most returned to their hotels. After a dramatic altercation with a doorman to one of the clubs, Ernie Ladd told the other black players that he would not play a game in New Orleans under any circumstances. The black players on both the East and West All-Star teams got together and subsequently announced they were boycotting the game as well. AFL commissioner Joe Foss announced the next day that the game would be moved to Houston. The stand the AFL and its players took against the city of New Orleans was unprecedented. It ultimately brought about change that was necessary for the city to get an NFL franchise. That came to fruition two years later when the league granted New Orleans a team. It was a very gutsy decision to make for players who were on the cutting edge of the fight for equality in a relatively new league. Ernie Ladd is a member of the Museum of the Gulf Coast, Sports Hall of Fame.