In the National Football League the average career lasts 4.62 years. One by one the 1,100-odd players fall victim to injury or diminished skills. Those who endure are extremely artful or awfully lucky or downright impregnable or named George Blanda. This month 11 NFL players are to begin their 15th (or more) season. Four of them are celebrated on the following pages: Offensive Guard Gene Hickerson of Cleveland, who is shown at right and below; Don Maynard of the Jets; Blanda of the Raiders; and Defensive Tackle Charlie Krueger of the 49ers. The other seven are Ray Nitschke of Green Bay and Richie Petitbon of Washington, both of whom saw limited action last year, and five quarterbacks—Johnny Unitas, Len Dawson, Sonny Jurgensen, Earl Morrall and John Brodie—whose working conditions must be more conducive to longevity. Some of these old pros are motivated by pride, others by love of the game and still others by sheer orneriness. Of course, money counts, too. A 15-year NFL veteran gets an annual pension of $13,020 at age 55.
At age 36, Don Maynard begins his 16th pro season with only himself to surpass. Last December against Oakland (below) he set the career record (632) for receptions; he is also tops in receiving yardage with 11,816.
George Blanda will be 46 on Sept. 17, which may be another NFL record. The old rascal holds or shares 15, including most seasons (23), points (1,742), extra points (824), field goals (288); passes attempted and completed in a game (68 and 37); and—oops!—passes intercepted, season and career (42 and 276).
Charlie Krueger (70), who stubbornly refuses to wear a lineman's bird cage, spars with Cowboy Blaine Nye. Now 36 and in his 15th season, Krueger leads the 49ers in being double-teamed—an indication of his prowess. Says Dallas Coach Tom Landry: "No one is able to gain running at Charlie Krueger."