Reported by Daniel Pena on 03/11/2007
Wrestling Observer, PWInsider.com
The News Star out of Monroe, Louisiana is reporting that WWE Hall of Famer "Big Cat" Ernie Ladd has passed away. Ladd had been battling colon cancer, which spread to his stomach and bones for the past three plus years. Due to knee problems, he'd largely been confined to a wheelchair. Here is their story:
Ernie Ladd, NFL Hall of Fame football player and wrestler, has died
By Nick Deriso
Ernie Ladd, who rose to fame as a football player but made his name nationally as a wrestler, died overnight, according to family members.
Ladd, 68, had battled cancer ? first in his colon, then later in his stomach and bones ? since 2004. Born Nov. 28, 1938, in Rayville, but raised in Orange, Texas, he worked through his final years as a pastor in the Louisiana town of Franklin.
Funeral arrangements were still pending today, according to Roslyn Ladd, his wife of more than 45 years.
Selected 15th in the American Football League draft by San Diego out of Grambling College, Ladd appeared in three of that now-defunct league's championship games, winning the 1963 title.
"We were like a family," Ladd told The News-Star in May 2005. "We were one of the first integrated teams, with black players and white players as roommates."
He had entered professional football as a heralded 1960 first-team all-league defensive college lineman under former Grambling coach Eddie Robinson. There, Ladd helped GSU to its first-ever Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.
At 6-9 and 315 pounds, he was arguably the biggest GSU star to ever play for Robinson, who remains the all-time winningest football coach in Division I history.
"The first year he was here, he taught me a lesson," Robinson once said. "He told me how good he was. Sure, I'd say. Then he hurt somebody. I'd feel sorry for the people he was tackling."
Elected to four straight AFL All-Star Games from 1962-1965, he later played with the Houston Oilers and the National Football League's Kansas City Chiefs. While with the Chiefs, he reunited with future Pro Football Hall of Famer Junious "Buck" Buchanan, another Grambling product, and was on the roster for both of Kansas City's Super Bowl appearances.
Ladd began wrestling as a sideline during his rookie AFL season, and found the payday and fame so alluring that eventually he gave up pro football. It was there that he picked up a nickname that would remain with him for life: "Big Cat."
Ladd's storylines resonated during wrestling's earliest flowering as a national attraction, not to mention signature moves that included the "guillotine drop" and a boot to the face. Rivalries with Andre the Giant and Dusty Rhodes helped shape wrestling's 1970s persona.
Today, he's the only person in both the American Football League and World Wrestling Federation halls of fame. Ladd is also a 1994 inductee into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and joined the San Diego Hall of Champions in 2004.
Ladd's knees were so damaged ? his first surgery came while still in college ? that in his final years, he walked down long staircases backward. But Ladd's boundless spirit was unbowed by his body's failures, as he displayed a touch of humor even after that cancer diagnosis.
"The doctor told me I had three-to-six months to live," Ladd said in 2005, then at the mid-way point in his nearly four year battle with the disease. "I told him Dr. Jesus has the verdict on me."
Ladd was a father of four and grandfather to over a dozen more.