J.R. reflects on Ernie Ladd
It was with deep sadness that I heard of my friend Ernie Ladd's recent passing, after fighting a losing battle with cancer, first in his colon, then his stomach and bone cancer. Ernie was only 68 years of age.
Ernie played college football at Grambling State University for legendary coach, Eddie Robinson. Ernie and fellow football great, former Kansas City Chief Buck Buchanan, both had intended on only playing basketball at Grambling, but wise Coach Robinson saw two giants of men who told the coach they never got enough to eat in the cafeteria and were thinking about transferring to another school that would feed them better. Coach Robinson made Ernie and Buck a deal, Robinson would give each of them a key to the cafeteria's kitchen so they could go there and eat whenever they were hungry IF they would both come out for the football team. Obviously, the deal was done and history was made, as both Ernie and Buck made it to the top level of professional football with "The Big Cat" going to San Diego and Buchanan being drafted by Kansas City.
I became great friends with Ernie while he was working as Cowboy Bill Watts's booker/matchmaker in the '80s. Watts defied his peers when naming a black man, Ernie "The Big Cat" Ladd, as Watts's right hand man. Ernie taught me so much about wrestling psychology, how to handle talent/athletes, the intricacies of building a black Superstar in that era (JYD), and gave me more info on race relations than I ever thought I would ever know. Ernie was one of my mentors, and a man I respected immensely.
We used to battle, sometimes all night, playing heads up dominoes, as Ernie was reputed to be the "best domino player in the NFL." I brought Ernie to a couple of WWE TV events to talk to the wrestlers, but many of them did not take it seriously because of Ernie's "old school" demeanor and message. It's too bad some of the talents did not respect or listen to Ernie's message because now they will never have the chance to hear it again.
I will miss "Foots," who coined so many phrases including, "I'm six feet nine and my feet cover the ground I walk on." Or, "There's two things in life that I hate, dogs chasing cars and broken down wrestlers chasing me." Ernie actually made much more money wrestling than he did in the early days of the AFL, pre-merger days, who still treated the black players disrespectfully and, as Ernie would say, "like field hands." Ernie was a true man of God and I am sure he is in heaven at this very moment and has perhaps already engaged one of his former teammates or wrestling associates in a game of "bones" (dominoes). God Bless you, Ernie, and thanks for teaching me so much about life, people, and our business. I will miss you until we see each other again.