From Destroying Defenses to Fixing Fences: John Hannah

Courtesy of the New England Patriots

Joey Blackwell

Every morning at 5 a.m., former Alabama and New England Patriots All-Pro offensive guard John Hannah gets to work at his farm, starting his morning by rotating his cows among different paddocks.

“I have a different type of rotation system, so every morning a little after sunrise I have to get my cattle into some smaller paddocks where I let ‘em intensively graze and then I come back, eat breakfast, then about two-and-a-half to three hours after I put the cows in those little paddocks I go back and take ‘em out,” Hannah said. “Then I start my daily routine of fixing some fences and you know doing the little things you have to do around the farm to keep it up and keep it going.”

That’s a lot of work for a 68-year-old former lineman, but Hannah says he enjoys it and takes the routine to heart each and every day.

“You know, I’ve always – I guess because of the football background – enjoyed being outdoors and I enjoy physical labor,” Hannah said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

After graduating from Albertville High School, Hannah played both offensive tackle and guard for the Crimson Tide from 1970-1972 under Paul “Bear” Bryant.

Sports Illustrated cover, August 3, 1981, John Hannah

The transition from Albertville to Alabama didn’t come easy, though.

“A lot more intense by a longshot,” Hannah said. “Coach Bryant treated football as a job. He figured that your college tuition was a salary, so he demanded a lot from you in return for getting your education paid for. It was a lot more intense and a lot more disciplined. It was just a lot better competition. All those things combined.”

Intense it was, and Hannah established himself as one of the best linemen in the history of the sport. He was so good, in fact, that Bryant himself once said that Hannah was the best lineman that he had ever coached.

“I don’t know where these people got that story from because that’s not what I heard,” Hannah laughed. “I heard just the opposite.”

To prove his point, Hannah regaled with a story. After three successful seasons at Alabama, Hannah began hearing that he was likely to be a top pick in the NFL draft. Back in the 1970s, the draft was held in January, so Hannah knew that he would need to ask Bryant for help before the end of the season.

After a practice in preparation for the Crimson Tide’s 1973 Cotton Bowl matchup against Texas, Hannah decided to approach Bryant.

“Coach Bryant walked out of his office when I was heading to the meeting room,” Hannah said. “I looked down and I said ‘uh coach I don’t want to talk about this now but when we get back from the bowl game do you think I could sit down and talk to you about who I might could hire as a representative to help me negotiate a contract because it looks like I may get drafted pretty good?’ He looked at me and he said ‘S--- John, you ain’t good enough to need no damn lawyer.’”

Hannah said that while that might not be his favorite Bryant story, that is certainly one that sticks out in his mind.

Bryant ran a tight ship at Alabama, but prepared players for life after their college days had concluded. While many of the athletes under him went on to NFL careers, Bryant also prepared players for their professional lives outside of sports.

Hannah recalled that the most important lesson he learned from Bryant was the value of teamwork.

“There’s one key one that he taught me that you might get beat the first quarter, maybe even get the second quarter but if you stay close enough and you keep working and keep fighting then eventually he’s going to quit and if you don’t quit you’ll wind up winning,” Hannah said. “I guess the thing I try to do is to just outwork. I may not be a better player than the guy against me but maybe I can beat him because I’ll outwork him.”

Contrary to Bryant’s statement, Hannah was indeed drafted. In the 1973 NFL Draft, Hannah was the fourth-overall pick and packed his bags for Massachusetts to join the Patriots.

During his time at the Patriots, Hannah was a force to be reckoned with, being named First-Team All-Pro 10 times and attending nine Pro Bowls. His jersey number, No. 73, was retired by New England and in 1991 Hannah became the first Patriot inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

After playing football at the professional level for thirteen seasons, Hannah had decided the time had come to hang up his cleats and retired in 1985. He then became the owner/operator of Acres of Grace and went from battling in the trenches to repairing fences while raising cattle in Blountsville, Ala., and has worked there ever since.

Hannah lives happily at Acres of Grace, but he will never forget the lessons he learned during his time at Alabama with Bryant.

“I guess in my old age I’ve learned probably the most is persistence, the value of help and going to other outside sources to where you’re weak, to be able to rely on others, to gain their strength,” Hannah said. “I think the other thing is just having faith. To hope is a powerful thing. Whether it’s faith in God and hope. Hope is what allows you to be an optimist. Hope allows you to continue and to be resilient and without faith there can be no hope. I think that’s probably the most important thing that I can pass on.

“No, that is the most important thing I can pass on.”

Comments (1)
Anthony Sisco
Anthony Sisco

Editor

Fantastic story. I’m sure Coach Bryant was pulling his leg when he told John he wasn’t good enough to need a lawyer!

I also appreciate John’s views on persistence, faith in God and hope. All essential ingredients for a successful life.


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