Howard Cosell watched Daryle Lamonica play quarterback for the Oakland Raiders on Monday Night Football in 1967 and nicknamed him “The Mad Bomber.”
Lamonica was not wild about it at first.
“I heard it and I said, ‘What a dumb name,’” Lamonica said, before changing his mind shortly afterward. “I didn’t like it at first. It sounds like a guy throwing wildly. But the next game I got under our center, Jim Otto, and made eye contact with the left cornerback and he backed up two steps, and I realized I could use it as a weapon.
“I thought, ‘Ooh. I like that. Maybe that is not such a bad nickname.’ It stuck and that is what I ended up with. … Now it’s my registered trademark.”
Lamonica grew up in Clovis, in California’s San Joaquin Valley outside of Fresno, played in the Little League World Series, and became such a star that the Clovis High football field now is named Daryle Lamonica Stadium.
After turning down an offer to sign with the Chicago Cubs, Lamonica became the starting quarterback at Notre Dame, where his statistics were not all that impressive with eight touchdown passes and 10 TD runs in three seasons.
However, there were those who believed Lamonica’s talents were not utilized by the Fighting Irish, and he proved it by completing 20-of-28 passes for 349 yards and two touchdowns to lead his East team to a 25-19 victory and was named Most Valuable Player in the 1962 East-West Shrine Game at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco.
The 6-3, 218-pound Lamonica was drafted in the 12th round (No. 168 overall) in the NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League and in the 24th round (No. 188 overall) in the American Football League Draft by the Buffalo Bills.
“After the (Shrine) game, I had a (Bills) scout come up to me and said, ‘Here is a $100,000 bonus and a $100,000 contract.’” Lamonica recalled. “I didn’t know there was that much money in pro football. … What it did prove is that maybe I had some ability and that I could possibly play at the next level.”
So he signed with the Bills.
Lamonica backed up Jack Kemp as the Bills captured AFL championships in 1964 and 1965, and were runners-up in 1966, with Lamonica playing mostly in mop-up duty or when Kemp struggled.
“In March (of 1967) I had a talk with Coach (Joe) Collier and he assured me an equal shot at the No. 1 job (with the Bills),” Lamonica recalled. “So, 10 minutes before the common draft the Bills traded me to the Raiders.”
Lamonica, an avid hunter, was on a hunting trip in California when the trade was announced, and bagged a 35-pound bobcat that day. He promptly named the catch “Raider” and had its head-mounted so that it would be a “constant reminder of one of the greatest days in my life.”
The Raiders sent quarterback Tom Flores, Art Powell and two draft picks to Buffalo for Lamonica, wide receiver Glenn Bass and a draft pick.
“Daryle Lamonica was the perfect quarterback for the Raiders at that time,” said Hall of Famer John Madden, who in 1967 was an Oakland assistant under John Coach Rauch. “He wasn’t intruding on a team that was set, he eased into a team that was being built, a team that went to the Super Bowl that season, a team that was starting a tradition of success.”
Lamonica was an instant sensation in Oakland, completing 220-of-445 passes for 3,228 yards and 30 touchdowns in 1967, leading the Raiders to a 13-1 record that was the best in AFL history.
Said quarterback Len Dawson of the Kansas City Chiefs: ‘“The Mad Bomber,’ they named him right. He was going after it. He went back and unloaded that ball. He was going for broke on every play.”
The Raiders routed the Houston Oilers, 40-7, in the 1967 AFC Championship Game as Lamonica threw for two touchdowns and ran for another, before losing to the Green Bay Packers, 33-14, in Super Bowl II even though Lamonica threw two scoring passes to wide receiver Bill Miller.
However, Lamonica and the Raiders were handicapped by the loss of their most explosive player, dual-threat running back Clem Daniels, who was out because of a knee injury.
Although the Raiders went an astounding 62-16-6 over eight seasons with Lamonica starting at quarterback, they didn’t return to the NFL’s biggest game until quarterback Kenny Stabler led the Silver and Black to a 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI after the 1976 season.
In his eight seasons in Oakland, Lamonica completed 1,138 of 2,248 passes for 16,655 yards and 148 touchdowns.
“Our long passing game on the Raiders came from Al Davis,” said Lamonica, who guided the Raiders into the playoffs every year he was a starter except 1971, but his 8-4-2 playoff record as a starter wasn’t quite good enough to get them back to the Super Bowl. “Al convinced me that the vertical game would work. He wanted me to throw the ball downfield.
“It was an exciting time. We were innovative in the AFL. We brought the passing game more into play than the NFL did. AFL fans wanted to see the ball in the air.”
Longtime members of Raider Nation remember Lamonica fondly and even in the Raiders’ last season in Oakland two years ago, many fans would wear his familiar No. 3 jerseys to games at the Coliseum.
And on some, the name on the back was not Lamonica, but “The Mad Bomber.”
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