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Ehrhardt likes to run films of Hannah leading the sweeps. "You see people taking a dive to get out of his way," the coach says. "You'll see John clear out a cornerback, then a safety, and he'll just continue on. He won't leave his feet. Sometimes he'll just stick out a big paw and swat 'em out of the way. He thinks on his feet, too. He doesn't make any wrong choices. He knows exactly which man to concentrate on and which one isn't in position to make the play."
"Mack Herron taught me to hit on sweeps," Hannah says. "He'd sit back there behind me and touch my hip so I knew where he was, and vice-versa. He told me that if I couldn't reach out and touch a defensive guy with my hand, then he wasn't in position to make the play. Andy Johnson ran like that, too. He and I got it down to a science. Vagas Ferguson is learning it. Horace Ivory still has to learn. He's got so much speed he always wants to run to daylight.
"I used to have trouble with defensive backs coming up quick and cutting me. Now what I do is lower my shoulder and get down low with them. If they're going to go low on you, you've got to make them pay for it."
Hannah's father has some films of John's early games. They go back to the fourth grade. "We laugh when we look at them now," he says. "John came waddling out on the field and looked like a penguin." But Herb Hannah filmed some of his son's high school games, too, and he says that when he ran them over, "I saw John doing some miraculous things. One time he was running in front of the ballcarrier, and a defensive guy came up and knocked his legs down. John just stuck out an arm and pushed up off the ground and he was back running in full stride. It's something to see the way he went after a linebacker. He'd cover those three or four yards so fast...he was into him before the guy could even get set. John would have that three-yard advantage nullified right away. At every stage in which he played, I thought he was the best I'd ever seen."
The people who give Hannah the advantage over Parker in the head-to-head matchup point to that extra dimension—the agility and body control downfield that have allowed the Patriots to build more of a running game around Hannah than any club has ever done around a single offensive lineman. Parker was devastating on in-line blocking and short traps, but he wasn't primarily known as a pulling guard, maybe because he was almost 30 years old when he moved inside from tackle.
Very few players have faced both Parker and Hannah because there's a five-year gap between the end of one's career and the start of the other's. The closest anyone came to going against both in their prime was Mike Curtis, who played linebacker for the Colts in Parker's last three years, facing him every day in practice, and was also around during Hannah's first six years. Curtis gives a slight nod to Parker.
"It's a bitch to compare the two," says Curtis, who sells commercial real estate in the Washington area. "If he wanted to, Jim could collapse the whole side of a line. I never saw anybody he couldn't block. He was a good holder, too. Both had about the same speed and same intensity. Hannah maybe was more consistent, and I'm not trying to be derogatory to Jim. One time in practice I thought Jim was loafing around too much, so I came across the line and gave him a couple of shots. He came right after me and just crushed me. I was young then. I hadn't learned yet about sleeping dogs.
"Jim was so big and strong naturally. I think he had more upper body strength than John. If I look back and think of both of them setting up for pass protection I see Jim setting up quicker. And Jim would improvise more; he was more of an open ballplayer. Hannah was a machine, a highly trained player. Of course that could be coaching.
"You've got to look at who they played against. Parker probably played against guys who were shorter and not as quick, but they played with more intensity. But if Jim were playing now, his own intensity level would probably be higher and he'd control 'em the same way. That's the difference between the ballplayers then and now—the intensity. It sounds trite, doesn't it, kind of old, talking like that now?"
Curtis was asked if he still goes to Colt games and he shook his head. "I don't enjoy watching mediocrity," he said, "average players who bitch if they don't make All-Pro and then figure that after three years in the league they're the greatest. I didn't enjoy playing against them, either. That was one thing I liked about playing against Hannah. If you beat him, at least you beat somebody. He was after you so quick. You'd have to react and get to the hole right away or you were a dead pigeon."