Like any living legend, you remember things about John Hannah. Not just simple things like the team he spent his whole career with (New England Patriots) or his jersey number (73), but fantastic, folk tale things like how John weighed 35 pounds when he was only one year old. "That's what my mother said," Hannah confirmed.
You remember when Sports Illustrated put Hannah on its cover and dubbed him the greatest offensive lineman of all time. "My goal was always to be the best. Some people I played against may agree and some may not, but the cover made me feel real good," Hannah said.
You remember his nine straight Pro Bowl selections, or his feats of courage, like when he played in the 1985 Super Bowl with torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders and a bum knee.
One thing you may not remember, and something Hannah is quick to point out, is his actual size. "People always thought I was a big guy, but I was short compared to most guys I played against and even played with," Hannah explained. "I was probably on average two or three inches shorter than most guys I battled with on the field. I only played at about 265 while most guys I went against were around 295."
Yet, minus the three inches and thirty pounds, Hannah was a born football player. Following in his father Herb's footsteps, he played college ball at the University of Alabama, where he was a three time All-SEC guard and two-time All-American. After being selected fourth by the Patriots in the first round of the 1973 draft, he played 13 seasons on his way to the Hall of Fame and a member of the NFL's 75th anniversary team. With a list of accolades seemingly larger than he was, the only question that remains is how did he dominate?
"I had big, strong legs. The kind of game we played then was much more aggressive for offensive lineman. We didn't arm-lock people. We were much more aggressive in the way we played the ball and I had leverage. I had strong arms too, but I didn't start really lifting weights until 1978 or so." Hannah didn't need weights before then anyway. Every summer prior to playing in the NFL, he worked for his father's distribution company, loading and unloading 100 pound vats and 50 pound bags on and off of trucks.
"When you lift weights, you are specific in the muscles that you work and it tends to bind you up," Hannah explained. "Loading trucks and doing real work keeps your muscles less rigid because they get used to working together."
Intense weight training is a major change in the game since Hannah's playing days. The biggest difference he says, however, is how offensive linemen play the game. "The technique and style that we used back when I played was so different. Offense is supposed to be about attacking and defense is supposed to be about defending. Somehow the roles have been reversed."
Hannah believes that the culprit of this reversal is the prevalence of the passing game and the West Coast offense. "When you're pass-blocking all the time, defensive linemen tend not to have fear because they're coming after you. As an offensive lineman, it's tough to be as aggressive as when you run. In your running game, if you hit a defensive lineman in the mouth and keep him off balance, he's going to hesitate because he's not sure what's coming and he can't initiate the contact. Now, all of a sudden, you've got control over him, which is important."
It was that exact smash-mouth style of play that the Patriots, 17 years after Hannah's retirement, used on their way to a Super Bowl title in 2002. "I was real excited for those guys," Hannah said. "And to be quite honest, I was a little jealous also." Hannah was a member of the '85 Patriots that lost to the Chicago Bears 46-10 in Super Bowl XX. "It's such a great honor to be in that game and win it. It's not so great when you're in it and you get your butt kicked."
That Super Bowl season was Hannah's last, but for a guy who grew up in the South, he will play forever in the memories of his fans in New England. "The Boston fans are great. They don't necessarily love the star athlete as much as they love the blue-collar, hard working kids. To be known as a guy with a hard work, give-it-your-all kind of attitude, gives me great pride."
Nowadays, Hannah gives it his all playing the market for Wachovia Securities in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He approaches his job in terms of winning and losing. "Beating the market is winning," he said.
Off the job, Hannah spends his weekends on his hobbies. "We go golfing one weekend and fly fishing the next. It's pretty nice to be able to do that," Hannah said. The arrangement is the result of a compromise he made with his wife, Elise. "She's a good golfer and I'm a bad golfer, but we're both pretty good at fly fishing."
Unfortunately, for the linemen he played against, there wasn't anything Hannah did bad or even merely 'pretty good' on the field. He was always dominant, just the way you remember him.