R.I.P. George Blanda

If you are of a certain age where you grew up watching football in the late 1960s and early 1970s, there were certain players that will forever live in your memory banks no matter what zip code your television was in.

There was Joe Namath and those white shoes. There was the little receiver they called Bambi, as Lance Alworth caught passes in those baby blues of the Chargers. There was Butkus and Nitschke who patrolled the middle of the defenses and were always picking turf out of their facemasks.

George Blanda was one of those memorable guys. Wearing the silver and black of the Raiders, pulling that helmet down as he trotted on the field, it was always an amazing sight to see this guy who seemed so old, on the field deciding games with his arm and-or his foot. He didn’t so much run as he waddled out to the huddle. He would take those short choppy steps when he dropped back to throw, and there was never any question that he would take off running (in his last nine years he ran three times.) He was a statue, staring down the pass rush of men half his age.

George Blanda passed away on Tuesday. He had just turned 83 years old, celebrating his birthday some 10 days before he died. Details of his death have not been released by the Raiders or the family. Considering how many games he played (340) and how many years he was in pro football (from 1949 through 1975, missing only 1959), the fact he lived as long as he did was testimony to the constitution of a coal miner’s son from western Pennsylvania.  

“He was one tough SOB,” said Hall of Fame TE and coach Mike Ditka, who meant that description in the most respectful and loving way. “He was a competitor, whether it was playing golf, or playing gin. That didn’t stop when he retired.”

Over the years, Blanda made several trips to Arrowhead Stadium as part of Al Davis’ entourage of former Raiders. Always it was Jim Otto, leading the group and every other year or so, Blanda would come along. At the old Arrowhead, the visiting owner’s box was two doors down from the Chiefs Radio booth and Blanda would come down and renew acquaintances with Len Dawson.

“It wasn’t really until after our careers were over that we became friends,” Dawson said of Blanda. Both of them retired after the 1975 season. “There wasn’t a lot of fraternizing between teams like there is today and certainly not us with the Raiders. He would run past our bench and yell and curse at Hank and me. He was a Raider, but he turned out to be a gentleman.”

Chiefs fans got plenty of opportunities to see Blanda as a quarterback and kicker, with both Houston and Oakland. In the 1970 season, Blanda then a 43-year old kicker and backup quarterback, had a five-game stretch where he either won or tied the game for the Raiders. The second of those five games came at Municipal Stadium on November 1, 1970. It was Blanda’s 48-yard FG as time expired that tied the score at 17-17.

That was the famous Len Dawson-Ben Davidson-Otis Taylor game, where a scrambling Dawson was on the ground at the end of a 19-yard run on third down that was enough to move the sticks with a minute to play. But Dawson was speared in the back by Davidson, who came flying in after chasing the play downfield. Taylor came flying in and hit Davidson, starting a brawl that brought both benches together (remember at Municipal the teams shared one sideline). Taylor was thrown out of the game and flagged for a penalty, offsetting the flag that had been thrown on Davidson. That cost the Chiefs 15 yards.

They eventually gave the ball back to the Raiders who were driven down the field by QB Daryle Lamonica. He hit four of five passes putting Oakland into Blanda’s FG range. From 48 yards away, Blanda hit the ball into the dark late afternoon sky. At the goal post was the Chiefs 6-9 receiver Morris Stroud, who was to get his hands on the ball if possible. “I got close to it,” Stroud said after the game. “I figure my hand was six inches above the cross bar as it went over and the ball was out of reach a foot. It was a perfect field goal.”

Blanda was one of those classic stories that came out of the formation of the American Football League by Lamar Hunt. He had spent the better part of 10 seasons with the Chicago Bears and couldn’t get on the field as a quarterback. Frustrated and tired of fighting with George Halas for a paycheck, he quit and did not play the 1959 season. The next year the AFL started and Blanda signed with the Houston Oilers. He led them to the first two AFL championships in 1960 and 1961. Houston made the title game in 1962 but lost to the Dallas Texans in that famous double overtime game.

The Oilers thought him too old after the 1966 season, and released him. The then 39-year old was claimed on waivers for $100 by Al Davis and the Raiders. He would go on to play nine seasons with Oakland. Five years after he retired, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He would play 26 seasons, throw more than 26,000 yards and scored over 2,000 points. He also held the league record for career interceptions (277) until the mark was broken by Brett Favre.

6 Responses to “R.I.P. George Blanda”

  • September 29, 2010  - Butler says:

    In my younger years George Blanda was my Idol

    R.I.P. George Amen

  • September 29, 2010  - Mark says:

    I remember many a Chiefs-Raiders game where George came off the bench and rallied the Raiders.

    My first Chiefs game was that 1970 game. I sat in the Huddle Club with a bunch of other kids. I’ve been a Raider Hater ever since that day.

    Godspeed, George. You will be remembered.

  • September 29, 2010  - johnfromfairfax says:

    Thanks for the great memories Bob. I watched those battles and brawls with great interest as a young man. The Chiefs and Raiders rivalry was a great one. I remember the games like it was yesterday. There were a lot of great players on both teams in those days. A lot of great players have also come from the football fields of Western Pennsylvania. George Blanda was one of those characters that will never be forgotten.

  • September 29, 2010  - Russell says:

    I was at that game also(1970), and watched Blanda
    single-handily come in and win that game. Forgot that was the Brawl game, another landmark that forever etched OTIS as the HERO of the team. Great great memory. WOLF PACK too. In fact on another Board I specifically recalled the incident as one of the best memories of Municipal. May George not rest but play again in the heavenly kingdom….

  • September 30, 2010  - Dan says:

    Otis Taylor deserves HOF too before he passes

  • September 30, 2010  - Mark says:

    Blanda’s football cards are iconic images from my childhood. I recall the photo shot in profile; his weathered face staring out at the field, hand on chin. It’s strange what we’re able to recall…

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