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John Hannah Doesn't Fiddle Around
Paul Zimmerman
August 03, 1981
At least not on the football field, where, says the author, his brains, brawn and speed have made him the top offensive lineman in NFL history
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August 03, 1981

John Hannah Doesn't Fiddle Around

At least not on the football field, where, says the author, his brains, brawn and speed have made him the top offensive lineman in NFL history

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Parker, 47 years old now and the owner of a successful liquor store in Baltimore, says he's only gone to three games since he retired in 1967. "I get so flustered watching football nowadays," he says, "so carried away by watching guys making $100,000 a year and making so many mistakes in technique. I get so upset that I wake up with a headache the next morning from banging my head all night in my sleep. But I like to watch Hannah play. He's the only one out there who can do it all—every aspect. I pray to God that he doesn't get hurt, but the way he plays football I don't think he will, because he gives it everything he has. If you want me to rate myself, compared to him, I'll say that I sure would have enjoyed playing alongside him. We would have been hell on that side of the line. I always thought my best games were at tackle, not guard. The only comparison I can make between us is that I made All-Pro for eight years and he's got to accomplish that. The way he's going, I think he will.

"I see some things in him that remind me of myself, the way he teases 'em on plays going the opposite way, the way he changes his style on aggressive pass blocking. One time he'll fire out, the next time he'll sit back, lazy, and make 'em think it's a regular pass and then—pow! He'll pop 'em. And on the running plays he's big enough to beat the hell out of them. I've seen him beat them right down into the ground. That's the joy of it, the joy I got out of it."

The joy of being even bigger in a big man's game. And quicker. The joy of being a superior athlete. Parker and Hannah were both gifted in other sports. They were both wrestlers. Parker was a mid-America champion. Hannah won the National Prep Championship and was unbeaten as a freshman at Alabama, before he quit wrestling because it was cutting into spring football. Parker did some amateur boxing before he went to Ohio State; he says he received offers from the Rocky Marciano group to turn pro. Hannah was a three-year letterman in the shot and discus at Alabama and his 61'5" toss in the shotput was a school record at the time.

"He didn't even work at track," says his brother Charles, an offensive tackle for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. "He'd just show up for the meets. There were so many things he could do. At that time he might have been the greatest large athlete in the world."

The scouts were noting his numbers carefully. In the spring of Hannah's junior year, Bear Bryant, in an unaccustomed moment of generosity, let the CEPO combine scout onto the campus to time him in the 40 at the end of a track workout. Hannah weighed 305 pounds. He finished the last five yards falling on his face. "I apologized to the scout for being fat and out of shape," he says. "The guy said, 'Don't apologize. You just ran a 4.85.' "

At a Hula Bowl workout after Hannah's senior year, John Madden was overheard saying casually, "You know, the best player I've seen out here is John Hannah." That observation was widely quoted but Madden never regretted the remark. In fact, he repeated the sentiment several years later at a league meeting, on a questionnaire which asked: "If you were to start a new franchise and you could pick one player in the NFL to start your team with, whom would you pick?" Without hesitating Madden wrote "John Hannah."

"The thing I always liked about Hannah," says Madden, "is that he' has that defensive player's attitude, that same aggression. There's no rule that says an offensive player has to have that milder kind of personality, although most of them seem to. I've heard that when you tend to go after people aggressively, like Hannah does, it hurts your pass blocking, and I looked for that weakness in Hannah. But I never saw it, except maybe in his first year or so."

Dick Steinberg, a Patriot scout when Hannah was coming out of college, and now the club's player personnel director, says that when he first started scouting Hannah, "all you saw was that raw power. Boom, the shot, and then he'd be scrambling on all fours." Steinberg's first direct contact with Hannah came at the Hula Bowl. "I ran into him in the lobby of the Surfrider Hotel in between practices and sat him down and gave him a little quiz we used to give," Steinberg says. "There was a lot of noise, a lot of people running around every which way. They'd wave at him, he'd wave back. He was sweating like hell. He apologized because he'd been up late the night before. But he was the only guy who answered every question in the time allotted. His IQ was very high. If you look at the great offensive linemen in history you'll find that they were all smart people."

New England, picking fourth in the first round, drafted Hannah, right after Philadelphia had chosen another offensive lineman, Texas' Jerry Sisemore. He reported to the Pats' mini-camp that March in Tampa and ran a 4.8 on grass. "I remember we were all shocked," says Patriot Coach Ron Ehrhardt, who was then the backfield coach. "That's all we talked about that night, this big guy coming down the runway and, bang, hitting the clock in 4.8."

It is 8:30 p.m. in Crossville, Ala. Hannah's 253-acre cattle and chicken farm is here, 15 miles northeast of Albertville, on a plateau in the Sand Mountain range. It's bedtime for the little Hannahs, nine-month-old Mary Beth and 2½-year-old Seth, except that Seth has no such plans. He's giving a graphic demonstration of what is known as bloodlines.

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