- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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Hannah's moment of truth came in the second regular-season game his rookie year when he faced the Chiefs' 6'7", 275-pound Buck Buchanan. "He said, 'Home Boy, I'm gonna welcome you to the NFL,' " Hannah recalls. "He's from Bessemer, Alabama. One time he actually picked me up and threw me. No one had ever done that before. Then I started trying to cut him and he just stepped over me—or on me."
It was a miserable year for Hannah, in all areas. He came to the Patriots "with a head so fat I couldn't fit it through the door." He split up with his wife for six months. He'd go out at night looking for trouble. His car was stolen and then he banged up his roommate's. He liked the NFL, but he didn't much like Foxboro.
Before long, however, he settled down. He gives a lot of credit to religion, to rediscovering Christ with Page. He started getting his life in order. On the field he was picking up tricks to go with his raw power and great natural quickness.
"I got films of some of the other offensive linemen and tried to study them," he says. "I tried to copy Kuechenberg because I thought my style would be suited to his. I also tried to copy Randy Rasmussen of the Jets because we were built similarly, the same wide base. He's got to get some low-top shoes, though. Those high-tops....
"I studied my opponents. Ernie Holmes of the Steelers, for instance, hated to be cut. So I cut him four or five times. He'd get so mad he'd just keep going for me and forget about the ball carrier. He'd beat me up but he wouldn't make many tackles.
"One thing I found out was that the guy you'd see on film wasn't always the same player you'd meet on the field. If they thought you were one of the best, they'd get all fired up and play over their heads, just like teams when they go up against the Steelers. They all seemed to try to use more movement against me. If they did use muscle, it was always set up by movement.
"There was a certain amount of fear I took into the games. Not physical fear, but the fear of being humiliated, being made to look bad. The worst thing is to get beat early. That fires a guy up. A guy like Coy Bacon, for instance. He just goes wild if he gets to the passer early.
"Having Leon Gray next to me all those years helped so much. We got to know what each of us could do. We ate together, studied films together. I knew the air he breathed." Off the field Hannah and Gray shared an interest in music even though their talents in that sphere weren't as well matched. Gray was accomplished on the trumpet well before he started playing football as a senior in high school. Hannah only took up the country fiddle a few years ago, teaching himself how to play from books. But as friends will attest, he's no All-Pro with a bow. "When the Patriots traded Leon...well, I never wanted to sign another contract with them," says Hannah. "I still haven't gotten over it."
Everyone has a showpiece game that he frames and nails to the wall. Hannah's came against the Cowboys' Randy White in 1978. The coaches still talk about it in Foxboro. But Hannah says he's had his share of bad ones, too. "Oh, Alan Page gave me a rough time one year," he says. "And Gary Johnson of the Chargers. He got by me one time and he had a clear shot at Steve Grogan, so I tackled him. The ref threw the flag. I said, 'Gee, I'm glad you did that. For a minute I thought I was going to get away with something.' The ref started laughing. He thought that was the funniest thing he had ever heard.
"No matter how good you are you're going to have one or two bad games every year. All you can do is take it calmly and think about technique and fundamentals and try to get yourself together. Joe Klecko of the Jets gave me a bad time two years ago. I was sitting back on my heels too much. Last year I had a rough one against Larry Brooks of the Rams. And Larry Pillers of the 49ers—in the mud. That game made me change my style. I realized you can't fire out so much on a muddy field. Pillers was just sitting there waiting for me."