By: Steve Balestrieri
Offensive Conduct: My Life on the Line By John Hannah with Tom Hale
Forward by Andre Tippett
Fans of the New England Patriots will want to read John Hannah’s illuminating, thoughtful look at his life. From early childhood in Alabama to the playing field at Foxboro to New Orleans for Super Bowl XX, his book takes a no-holds barred look, warts and all to life in the NFL.
Hannah was a two-time All American at Alabama under legendary coach Bear Bryant and was drafted in the first round of the 1973 NFL by the Patriots. He was part of a rebuilding process started by Coach Chuck Fairbanks. The Patriots’ fortunes had been turned by Fairbanks, who used three 1st round picks in 1973 to draft Hannah, Sam Cunningham and Darryl Stingley.
Hannah played for the Patriots from 1973 to 1985 culminating in a crushing loss in Super Bowl XX against the Chicago Bears. He was dubbed by Sports Illustrated as the Greatest Offensive Lineman to ever play the game.
Hannah’s book is a must read for serious NFL fans
Legendary Coach and NFL announcer John Madden was once asked, if he could take any player to start an NFL franchise, who would it be, he simply answered, “John Hannah.”
“The thing I always liked about Hannah,” Madden said, “was that he had the same defensive players’ attitude, the same aggression. There is no rule that says an offensive player has to have a milder personality although most of them seem to.”
But beneath it all Hannah created a larger than life personality, a cocky alter-ego that had to control everything in his life through being brash and confident but underneath he was still the man struggling with his desire to excel and still be one of the guys.
This alter-ego destroyed his marriage and many of his relationships he had until he was forced to confront it and found his faith had more calling than his ego did and he as he puts it, “got back to his roots.”
Hannah and Hale talk candidly about the then rampant use of amphetamines and illegal drugs in the NFL, the crushing injuries he suffered over his long career and of course the now infamous fights with Patriots management over being paid what he felt was a fair wage.
Hannah and Leon Gray staged a famous walkout during the 1977 season after learning how little they were paid by the ownership of the Patriots at the time, the Sullivan family. And after the Sullivans reneged on a promise to renegotiate, they did what they had to do and sat out for the first three games of the 1977 season.
Eventually Gray was traded to the New Orleans Saints, “there goes our Super Bowl,” lamented Hannah. Not coincidentally, the Patriots running game which in 1978 had set the still NFL record of 3185 rushing yards, dropped to just under 2300 in 1979. The Sullivans meddling eventually got too much for even Fairbanks to handle and he bolted to the University of Colorado.
Hannah would stay on for another rebuilding project by Raymond Berry which in 1985 culminated in the Patriots becoming the first wild card team in NFL history to win three playoff games on the road to reach the Super Bowl. They did it behind an excellent ground game and QB Steve Grogan hitting on big passes when needed.
It is also no coincidence that the Patriots ground game in 1986 after Hannah retired averaged a paltry 2.9 yards per rush. Hannah was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1991 and his induction speech was given by his father who played briefly in the NFL in 1951.
There are some great moments in the book, some of his on-field battles with the Jets, and Dolphins and such players as Leroy Jordan, Randy White, Dick Butkus and Buck Buchanan. Some off-field incidents stand out as well.
After the infamous “Ben Drieth” playoff game of 1976, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell of the Raiders were giving Hannah and Gray a very hard time at the Pro Bowl for having “blown” the playoff game. It all came to a screeching stop when Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Jack Lambert told both Shell and Upshaw to “shut up….they beat you soundly, everyone knows the refs gave you that game on a platter.”
So Raiders fans still lamenting about the “Tuck Rule” game take note…
This book is a must read for not only Patriots or ‘Bama fans, but for any serious NFL fans who love reading about its rich history and the men that played in it. It is the real story of the real man who wore #73 for the Patriots.
Offensive Conduct can be found at most local book stores and is available from Amazon.com as well as through the publisher Trimuph books. Hannah will be making some appearances in the area signing his book in the early to mid-December time frame.