GRAMBLING, La. – Ernie "Big Cat" Ladd, who played on championship professional football teams before finding more lucrative success in pro wrestling, has died. He was 68.
"It's a personal loss not just to our family, but to the whole community," said Eddie Robinson Jr., whose ailing father coached Ladd at Grambling State. "I was fortunate enough to be in high school when he was here, so my football heroes growing up were people like Ernie Ladd."
Ladd, who was almost 6-foot-10 and weighed over 300 pounds, was the 15th player taken in the 1961 AFL draft and played for the San Diego Chargers, Houston Oilers and Kansas City Chiefs.
Born Nov. 28, 1938, in Rayville, La., but raised in Orange, Texas, he had battled cancer — first in his colon, then later in his stomach and bones — since 2004.
"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. "I told him Dr. Jesus has the verdict on me."
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.
"In what other sport can you pick up a $14 pair of boots, $0.59 socks — spend maybe a total of $50 — and convert it into $100,000 a year, if you are sharp and train?" Ladd asked. "My intention was to go back to football, but pro wrestling was so good to me."
Ladd was a defensive stalwart on Grambling's first Southwestern Athletic Conference championship football squad. He then helped San Diego win the 1963 AFL championship.
When Ladd completed his eight-year pro career, he had played in 112 consecutive AFL games. He played for the Chiefs when they reached the Super Bowl in 1967 and '70.
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 star in the WWF.