George Blanda essentially had three careers in professional football, the last with the Oakland Raiders.
Blanda, a quarterback, and kicker who started for legendary Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant in his last two seasons at Kentucky was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 12th round of the 1949 NFL Draft and signed for $600, playing for another coaching legend George Halas, who also used him at linebacker.
“Playing on the same team with Sid Luckman and Bulldog Turner and against people like Sammy Baugh, those were nostalgic days for me,” Blanda said years later. “Halas was a great coach, but the only problem I had with him, the problem all the players had with him, was that we didn’t get paid very much.”
After 10 seasons, Blanda retired from the Bears after a salary disagreement with Halas, but the next year when the American Football League came into existence, he signed with the Houston Oilers and was one of the first stars in the AFL.
Blanda helped the Oilers win AFL Championships in 1960 and 1961, was the league’s Most Valuable Player in 1961, was a four-time AFL’s All-Star, and was named to the AFL All-Time Team (1960-69).
“(The Oilers) were a great group of guys and a great team with a lot of speed,” said Blanda, who led the AFL in passing in 1961 and 1963. “It was exciting to start something new and I was proud of playing in the AFL. I felt, even in the early years, that we had some teams that were as good as a lot of teams in the other league.
“We had to do some things to get the fans and the television people interested, so we threw the ball. I threw the ball 68 times in one game, 58 in another, 55, 50. It was a fun period of time.”
When the Oilers thought Blanda was washed up in 1967 at the age of 40 after seven seasons and released him, Managing General Partner Al Davis of the Raiders claimed him on waivers and played on until he has 48 in 1976.
“One day Al Davis of the Raiders calls me up and tells me I belong to them,” Blanda recalled. “ … When I look back on my nine years with the Raiders, what comes to mind first is my great association with Al Davis. If it had not been for him I may not have done the things I did once I left Houston. I may not have even kept playing if it weren’t for Al. I respected him highly.
“I did have three careers. I was fortunate after the first two that there was some else who wanted to pick me up.”
The 6-2, 215-pound Blanda was the backup quarterback to Daryle Lamonica, kicked so well that he was the Raiders’ all-time scorer until kicker Sebastian Janikowski broke his record, but perhaps his greatest contribution occurred on the sidelines and in quarterback meetings.
Blanda mentored young quarter Kenny “Snake” Stabler, basically took him under his wing, since they had a connection since Stabler played for Bryant at Alabama before the Raiders selected him in the second round (No. 52 overall) in 1968.
“We had a natural bond for a couple of reasons,” Stabler said. “We both played for Coach Bryant in college, and we were both quarterbacks with the same philosophy about the game. He definitely grabbed me and gave me the advice I needed when I came to the Raiders.
“George talked to me and was always there for me. Daryle was the starter, so George and I spent a lot of time on the sidelines during games and behind the huddle during practice. He did most of the talking and I did most of the listening. They were good lessons learned.
“I wanted to play right away, but George, who had been through the same thing in Chicago, told me to take my time, keep my eyes open, and learn the game. He was right.”
Stabler’s time would come, but so did Blanda’s, again, in 1970.
The Raiders, who had won three consecutive division titles, were 2-2-1 when Lamonica went down with an injury early in a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at the Oakland Coliseum.
Stabler was the quarterback of the future, but Coach John Madden went with his veteran, Blanda.
“There was no question,” Stabler said, even though he was dying for his chance. “George was the next man up. It was the right move.”
Blanda came off the bench to throw three touchdown passes and kicked a field goal to lead the Raiders to a 31-14 victory over the Steelers.
The next week in Kansas City, he kicked a 48-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to tie the Chiefs, 17-17.
The following Sunday, Blanda came off the bench to throw a 14-yard touchdown pass to Warren Wells to tie the Cleveland Browns, 20-20 and then kicked a 52-yard field goal with three seconds remaining to earn the Raiders a 23-20 win.
During a timeout when the Raiders trailed, 20-13, Blanda went to the sideline talk with Madden, who had some ideas about what play to call.
But Blanda interrupted him and said: “Let me run three post patterns to Warren Wells and I guarantee you will have a touchdown.”
Said Madden: “If you guarantee it, then do it.”
First down, incomplete. Second down, touchdown to Wells.
The magic continued the next week when Blanda threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Fred Biletnikoff in the final minutes to defeat the Denver Broncos, 24-19.
The five-week streak culminated with Blanda’s 16-yard field goal in the final seconds to beat the San Diego Chargers, 20-17.
For this incredible 4-0-1 streak, Blanda was honored as the AFC Player of the Year in 1970.
Over the course of his 27-year pro career, Blanda played in 340 games and completed 1,911 of 4,007 passes for 26,920 yards and 237 touchdowns, in addition to connecting on 89-of-189 passes for seven touchdowns in 20 post-season games.
In addition, Blanda converted 335-of-639 field goals attempts while making 943-of-959 extra-point tries (98.3 percent), for a total of 2,002 points. In the playoffs, those numbers were 22-of-39 on field goals and a perfect 49-of-49 on extra points for a total of 115 points.
Blanda, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, passed away on Sept. 27, 2010, at the age of 83.
Looking back, each of Blanda’s three pro careers was quite remarkable, but rolled together they were one of a kind.
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