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Ernie Ladd, 68; football star, pro wrestler

March 14, 2007|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd, a monolithic defensive tackle who played on the San Diego Chargers' 1963 American Football League championship team then left professional football after eight years for a more lucrative career in pro wrestling, has died. He was 68.

Ladd, who also played for the Houston Oilers and Kansas City Chiefs and is a member of the World Wrestling Federation Hall of Fame, died Saturday at his home in Franklin, La., after a long bout with cancer.

"The doctor told me I had three to six months to live," Ladd said in 2005, then at the midway point in his nearly four-year battle with cancer, first in his colon, then later in his stomach and bones. "I told him Dr. Jesus has the verdict on me."

Ladd, who was 6 feet 9 and weighed more than 300 pounds, was drafted by the Chargers in 1961 from Grambling State University. He had played on Coach Eddie Robinson's first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship football squad.

A three-time All-AFL player, Ladd played in four AFL championship games with the Chargers. They beat the Boston Patriots after the 1963 season but lost the 1961 title game to Houston and the 1964 and '65 title games to the Buffalo Bills.

After playing out his option with the Chargers, Ladd signed with Houston in 1966. The next season he was traded to Kansas City, where he played two years. He sat out the 1969 season after having knee surgery and announced his retirement before the 1970 season.

While playing football, Ladd began making appearances at wrestling events at first as a special referee and later as a wrestler. Knee problems, and what at the time ended up being a more lucrative career as a wrestler, ended his football career.

"I loved wrestling way more than I did football," Ladd told the Palm Beach Post in 1999. "In wrestling, the crowd is close to you. You hold them in the palm of your hand. You can make them boo or cheer. In football, the crowd is far away. They can't see you behind a mask, especially if you're a lineman. A football player is just a football player."

As big as he was, Ladd was known for his quickness, something that inspired his lifelong nickname.

Ladd's bad-guy story lines, not to mention signature moves that included the "guillotine drop" and a boot to the face, made him a star in the WWF.

Born Nov. 28, 1938, in Rayville, La., and raised in Orange, Texas, Ladd ran various businesses in Louisiana after retiring from pro wrestling. He also became involved in prison ministry and community service projects.

A longtime friend of George Herbert Walker Bush, Ladd helped the former president raise money for victims of Hurricane Katrina, and he served on the organizing committee for President George W. Bush's 2001 inauguration.

Among his survivors are his wife, Roslyn, and four children.

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