When Hannah showed up at the Player Club Relations committee hearing in Washington, D.C., the Patriots had a little surprise for him. Chuck Sullivan, the club's vice-president, began to discuss a letter which owner Billy Sullivan's wife had sent John's mother in Alabama. It was along the lines of "I wouldn't want a son of mine to show such disdain for what is right," etc.
"The thing backfired," Hannah said. "I broke down completely and cried. Wellington Mara just shook his head and stared at the table. My dad had played for him. Dan Rooney was horrified. Len Hauss of the Redskins looked embarrassed. I had to excuse myself and go to the bathroom to try to get myself back together, and Ed Garvey came in there and said, 'Great performance, John!' I said, 'Dammit, I broke down. I flat broke down. It wasn't a performance.' Then I broke down again."
What the letter had done was firm up the Hannah family and place them solidly in John's corner. You have to understand this about the Hannahs. They are very close. Herb Hannah and his wife, Geneva, nicknamed Coupe, are proud of their sons (Ron, the oldest and the only non-football player, is the accountant for Hannah Supply), but they are not in awe of their football achievements. They see things through twinkling eyes, never losing sight of the humor in this world, and they express things in a wry and cryptic style.
"Can you imagine me up in New York with the Giants?" Herb Hannah says, "A country boy from Alabama. I remember Bill Stribling and me...he was an end from Mississippi...taking the subway one day and ending up in Queens. I was always getting lost on the subway. Anyway, we stepped out there in Queens, and everyone was speaking Spanish, and Bill said, 'Herb, this thing's done carried us to a foreign country. Let's get on it and get back.' "
All the Hannah boys work for Hannah Supply and John and Charley will continue to do so when their NFL careers are over. The company has six warehouses; it distributes through seven states in the South. John is the management equipment director and troubleshooter. His office overlooks the Albertville warehouse, and he isn't above driving 50 miles to make sure that Hannah Supply is installing the wiring correctly in a chicken house.
Members of the family are in constant touch. When Charley made the switch from defense to offense with the Bucs, he called John once a week.
"Sometimes we'd have two-hour conversations," John says. "I'd be telling him stuff and I'd say, 'Get on the floor,' and I'd get down in my stance with the phone in my ear, and so would he, and I'd say, 'O.K., now let's work on the crossover step.' Page would watch me, and Charles' wife, Margaret Anne, would watch him, and Page would say, 'What is this, telephone football?' "
John has never hidden his dislike of the New England organization. This spring, when a story broke out of Foxboro that he was considering a future job with the club, he laughed. "Just someone making something up," he said.
Like the giant Antaeus, he gets his strength from the earth—those 253 acres of it, 75 planted in feed crops, the rest devoted to livestock. He raises chickens, 43,000 at a time, in two houses. He has a bull and three cows of his own, and a herd of 134 Holstein cattle that he's raising for a breeder in Tampa. Someday he'll have his own herd of Santa Gertrudis, a Shorthorn-Brahman crossbreed developed in Texas. "Only registered stock," he says. "I'll have 100 to 120 brood cows, three or four good-quality bulls. I'll raise the calves to 500 or 600 pounds and then we'll have production sales, our own auction, closed sales; I'll go in with two more breeders like myself who want to upgrade the Santa Gertrudis stock."
The farm is set in rolling foothills. There's a pond as you enter, mink and deer in the woods. The house stands on a treeless knoll in the middle of the property, a stark, striking, sharply defined house, a Grant Wood painting.