By Mike Mooneyham
Sept. 18, 2005
Final of two parts
Few men ever cast a more imposing figure on a football field or in a wrestling ring than Ernie “Big Cat” Ladd.
At 6-9 and well over 300 pounds, the Grambling State product was arguably the biggest, strongest and toughest man in professional football during the ’60s when he played for the fledgling American Football League. Boston Patriots Hall of Fame center Jon Morris once said Ladd was so big, he blocked out the sun. “It was dark. I couldn’t see the linebackers. I couldn’t see the goalposts. It was like being locked in a closet.”
Boasting a 52-inch chest, 39-inch waist, 20-inch biceps, 19-inch neck, 20-inch calf and size 18D shoes, Ladd played in three AFL championship games, helping the San Diego Chargers win the AFC league title in 1963 with linemate Earl Faison, both members of the original Fearsome Foursome. He later was recognized by the Chargers as their all-time greatest lineman.
Dubbed “Big Cat” for his amazing quickness and agility for his size, the All-Pro defensive tackle also played for the Houston Oilers and the Kansas City Chiefs during his eight years on the pro gridiron. In Kansas City in 1967, he reunited with 6-7 Buck Buchanan, another legendary fellow Gramblinite and member of coach Eddie Robinson’s famed football factory. The two combined for what was probably the biggest defensive tackle tandem in history, and won another AFL title.Surgery on his left knee sidelined the giant tackle during the 1969 season when the Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings, 23-7, in Super Bowl IV. It was to be Ladd’s final season in football.
Ladd, who also had wrestled in the off-season, found that sport much more lucrative despite being the highest-paid lineman in pro football. The only person in both the American Football League and World Wrestling Entertainment halls of fame, the well-traveled athlete gave up the gridiron and established himself as one of pro wrestling’s elite, earning $98,000 his first full year in the business, and earning more than $100,000 each year over the next decade except for one when he was sidelined with an injured knee.
The powerful knees, however, that once bulldozed through offensive lines have now failed the 66-year-old Ladd. They are crisscrossed by scars, and Ladd often uses a wheelchair just to navigate. One knee has been replaced, and he’ll see a surgeon to determine whether the other can be cleaned up or will have to be replaced as well. The amazing body that threw football blockers and wrestling opponents around like rag dolls now hunches over.
Ladd, who has been battling colon cancer over the past couple of years, is confronting his own physical problems with the same dogged determination he displayed in sports. He currently is undergoing chemotherapy treatments, but remains confident that his future is in the hands of a much higher power. He is fighting the disease with his abiding faith, but knows that whatever happens, there is a plan. He pauses and quotes a Bible verse from Isiah 53:5.
“By his stripes we are healed … I can’t be wavering. I just love the Lord, and I have to stand on the fact that the Lord’s will will be done in my body.”
Ladd, a longtime resident of Franklin, La., still finds time to help those less fortunate. He recently ministered to evacuees at the Houston Astrodome who had been transported from New Orleans after the floods. He also regularly speaks in churches and prisons around the country.
Ladd’s career and life has come full circle from the days when he admittedly “had a lot of hell in me.”
He related in a 1997 interview with The Post and Courier how the anger he exhibited in athletic competition manifested itself years later at a restaurant in a small Georgia town. It would forever change the direction of his life.
“I met a young white boy in the restaurant and he told me he wanted to go into my room and read the Bible with me,” Ladd recalled. “I was quite disturbed. The guy wanted me to get on my knees and pray with him. I told him he must have been strange. I just wanted to knock the guy out right there in the restaurant.”
But something happened on his way to thrashing the young man.
“I thought I was going to beat the guy up, but the Holy Spirit beat me up. I went upstairs to read the Bible with him. I ended up giving my life to the Lord. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. The Holy Spirit came up on me and changed my life in its entirety. I could never repay that.”
Ladd and his wife, Roslyn, have been married for 43 years. The two met while both were attending Grambling.
“I’ve been with the same girl since the first time I saw her in college,” says the father of four – all of whom went to Grambling – and grandfather to another 13. “My wife tried to get me saved for 15 years. She finally had to give up on me. She eventually gave it to the Lord, and that’s when I became saved. As long as she was trying to be a part of it and do it herself, it wasn’t working out. She’s been a great wife and a great mother. I’ve been blessed.”
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