In the introduction to Offensive Conduct: My Life on the Line, John Hannah’s autobiography, his former teammate and fellow Pro Football Hall of Famer Andre Tippett refers to Hannah as the best offensive lineman of all time. Later in the book, Hannah, who played for the New England Patriots from 1973 to 1985, says he was an imposter. He joined Bill Littlefield to explain.
Highlights From Bill’s Conversation with John Hannah
BL: Let’s get right to your contention that throughout your career with the New England Patriots you were, as you write, an imposter. Because football fans who read that are going to say, “Gee, he did a pretty good impression of a really good offensive lineman.”
JH: I think the imposter was not the fact that I was a football player but the reason I was an imposter was because I was playing for the wrong reasons. I tell a little story at the beginning which had a big impact on my life: when I was 9 years old and in the fourth grade, a lot of friends were making fun of me for being fat.
I had a group of teammates that serenaded me with the song, “Fatty, fatty, two by four, can’t get through the kitchen door,” in front of everybody. So my dad created an opportunity for me to play junior high football when I was only 9 years old. So my whole life and the whole reason for playing football was basically very selfish – drawing attention to myself and being respected and accepted by others. So it was the reason behind playing football. Not the playing of the game.
BL: And obviously as a 9-year-old you were big and determined enough to play up.
JH: Well, I was big and determined, but I was fat, too. There’s no lie about that. I’m fat today, but not like I was then. When people played basketball, I was the basketball.
BL: You write that though football fans might have seen you as fulfilling the American Dream, “Most of my life and my pro career were more of a living nightmare.” How so?
JH: Well, because the whole time I played I was so stressed. Every day I felt like I had to prove myself. I had to be the best, and if I wasn’t the best then nobody would care about me or nobody would accept me as a person. So it was a very stressful existence at that time.
Bill’s Thoughts On Offensive Conduct: My Life on the Line Early in his autobiography, John Hannah says “most of my life and pro career was … a living nightmare.”
He maintains that the medals, trophies, and distinctions he won “were not gained from pursuing ideals” because he was “fighting against God’s will.”
This might seem an odd way for the man often characterized as the best offensive lineman ever to knock heads in the NFL to describe his long career, but as Offensive Conduct proceeds, Hannah’s intention and his orientation become evident. He is determined to put “the false face and imposter image” and “the scowl and swagger” that he adopted during his playing days and for some years thereafter behind him. He wants his readers to understand that the real John Hannah is concerned primarily with “the inner gifts of sensitivity and compassion” and how he can use those gifts to “do some good things for God.” Accordingly, he’s planning to create a program on his farm in Alabama where fathers and sons can gather to rebuild their relationships with each other.
Offensive Conduct is not without football. Hannah, who says he “talked” the book so that Tom Hale could write it, covers his days at the University of Alabama, where, according to Hannah, Coach Bear Bryant motivated his players through fear. He writes about his career with the Patriots, where he forged great friendships with his teammates and learned never to trust the Sullivan family, owners of the team.
But what makes Offensive Conduct extraordinary is the determination of a great ex-player to minimize what he accomplished on the field. Hannah’s contention is that his “mind and heart were severely stunted” in “the very small world of professional football,” and that whereas he once was blind, now he can see.