Very good, for a very long time

GE­ORGE BLANDA (1927-2010)

Los Angeles Times - - Sports - Sam Farmer sam.farmer@latimes.com

The Hall of Fame quar­ter­back and kicker played to the age of 48, a record 26 sea­sons of pro foot­ball, the last nine with the Raiders.

Ge­orge Blanda, the Hall of Fame quar­ter­back and kicker who played a record 26 sea­sons of pro­fes­sional foot­ball and once al­most sin­gle-hand­edly won five con­sec­u­tive games for the Oak­land Raiders, has died. He was 83.

The Pro Foot­ball Hall of Fame said Blanda died Mon­day af­ter a brief ill­ness, and the Raiders is­sued a state­ment call­ing him “a brave Raider and a close per­sonal friend of Raiders owner Al Davis.”

Blanda, whose ca­reer dated to an era when play­ers rou­tinely manned two po­si­tions, scored a then-record 2,002 points. He scored those by throw­ing for 236 touch­downs and run­ning for nine, as well as kick­ing 335 field goals and 943 ex­tra points.

He re­tired be­fore the 1976 sea­son, a month shy of his 49th birth­day, hav­ing spent 10 sea­sons with the Chicago Bears, part of one with the Bal­ti­more Colts, seven with the Hous­ton Oilers and his last nine with the Raiders.

“If you put him in a group of most-com­pet­i­tive, biggest-clutch play­ers, I think he’d have to be the guy who would win it all,” his Raiders coach, John Mad­den, said in a phone in­ter­view Mon­day.

“He was the most com­pet­i­tive guy that I ever knew.”

Never was that more ev­i­dent than dur­ing a five-game stretch in 1970 when the 43-year-old Blanda, his chis­eled jaw framed by salt-and-pep­per side­burns, led the Raiders to four vic­to­ries and one tie with late touch­down throws or field goals.

“It got to the point where when he’d come in [the game], the whole team would go, ‘Here comes Ge­orge. We’re go­ing to do it now,’ ” Mad­den said. “Then pretty soon all the fans started be­liev­ing, and they’d all go nuts. And then the top­per is when the op­po­nents knew it. It was like, ‘Oh no, here he comes.’ ”

That re­mark­able stretch be­gan Oct. 25, 1970, when Blanda re­placed an in­jured Daryle La­mon­ica and threw three touch­down passes in a 31-14 vic­tory over Pitts­burgh.

In the four games that fol­lowed, he:

Kicked a 48-yard field goal in the fi­nal sec­onds to forge a 17-17 tie at Kansas City;

Threw a ty­ing touch­down pass with one minute, 34 sec­onds re­main­ing, then kicked the gamewin­ning 52-yard field goal in the fi­nal sec­onds of a 23-20 vic­tory over Cleve­land;

Threw a 20-yard touch­down pass to Fred Bilet­nikoff in a 24-19 vic­tory over Den­ver; and

Kicked a 16-yard field goal in the fi­nal sec­onds for a 20-17 vic­tory over San Diego.

Said Davis in an in­ter­view with NFL Films: “When­ever we were in trou­ble, John just went to the bullpen, waved his hand, and Ge­orge came in and started throw­ing those mirac­u­lous touch­down passes and kick­ing those mirac­u­lous field goals.”

In look­ing at that in­cred­i­ble streak, NFL Films called Blanda “foot­ball’s King Tut ex­hibit,” not­ing that even though peo­ple ini­tially thought the quar­ter­back was too old to be a player, “he was just the right age to be­come a leg­end.”

Blanda was born Sept. 17, 1927, in Young wood, Pa., one of 11 chil­dren of a coal miner and his home­maker wife.

When Blanda en­tered the NFL as a 12th-round draft pick out of the Uni­ver­sity of Ken­tucky in 1949, he showed even more ver­sa­til­ity by play­ing linebacker for Ge­orge Halas’ Bears. That was out of ne­ces­sity, con­sid­er­ing he was the third quar­ter­back be­hind Johnny Lu­jack and fu­ture Hall of Famer Sid Luck­man.

Blanda won the start­ing quar­ter­back job in 1953 but lost it the next sea­son be­cause of in­jury. His play­ing time dwin­dled af­ter that, and he re­tired in 1959 when it be­came clear that the Bears wanted him as a full-time kicker.

But he didn’t sit around long. In 1960, he joined the Oilers of the new Amer­i­can Foot­ball League, and wound up play­ing a to­tal of 16 more sea­sons in Hous­ton and Oak­land be­fore call­ing it quits af­ter the 1975 sea­son.

Among his many NFL records, he’s in the books as the only player whose ca­reer spanned four decades.

Blanda made an im­me­di­ate splash in the up­start AFL, earn­ing player-of-the-year hon­ors in 1961 af­ter throw­ing for 3,330 yards and set­ting a pro foot­ball record with 36 touch­down passes. That stood un­til 1986, when it was bro­ken by Mi­ami’s Dan Marino.

Also in 1961, Blanda tied a pro foot­ball record with seven touch­down passes in a game, a mark he now shares with Joe Kapp, Y.A. Tit­tle, Adrian Burk and Luck­man.

“What peo­ple don’t know is when we look at the film, Blanda prob­a­bly could have topped that num­ber,” said Steve Sabol, pres­i­dent of NFL Films.

“They were rout­ing the [New York] Ti­tans, and Blanda came out of the game early in the sec­ond half. He had seven touch­down passes mid­way through the third quar­ter when they took him out.”

Sabol re­mem­bers go­ing to Blanda’s home and in­ter­view­ing the re­cently re­tired quar­ter­back. When they were fin­ished, Blanda proudly showed him a home­made Christ­mas card drawn by his wife, who had been an art ma­jor in col­lege.

It was a car­toon of Blanda stand­ing with Santa, who told him, “You’re the only lit­tle boy I gave a uni­form to that’s still us­ing it.”

Blanda, who split time be­tween homes in Chicago and La Quinta, is sur­vived by his wife, Betty, and two chil­dren.

Ser­vices are pend­ing.

Hous­ton Oilers

HALL OF FAMER

In a ca­reer that spanned four decades, Blanda played for the Raiders, Bears, Colts and Oilers.

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