Former Raider quarterback George Blanda, whose passing and kicking exploits during a 26-year NFL career led him to a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, has died. He was 83.
Blanda was known as the Ageless Wonder because he didn’t retire until he was just short of his 49th birthday.
And some of his best work came in his last decade in the NFL, with Oakland.
After playing college ball for Bear Bryant at the University of Kentucky, the Pennsylvania-born Blanda spent 10 seasons with George Halas and the Chicago Bears, helping lead them to the NFL title game in 1956.
When he left the Bears, in 1959, after a squabble over money and playing time, he retired for the first time and sat out a season.
The next season, Blanda was coaxed into joining the Houston Oilers of the American Football League.
“I signed with Houston because I knew Bud Adams (the team owner) had a lot of money,” Blanda said.
As a quarterback and placekicker, he paced the Oilers to the first two AFL titles in 1960 and 1961.
“I will always think of myself as an AFL player,” he once said.
Raiders owner Al Davis acquired the 39-year-old Blanda in 1967, after Blanda had put in 17 years of pro ball, for just a waiver price of $100, and Blanda played nine seasons in the Bay Area, often spectacularly, as a kicker and backup quarterback to Daryle Lamonica.
Blanda’s most memorable season in Oakland was 1970, when in a five-game stretch, he won four games and tied another with his arm and/or foot, a feat that led to him being named AFC Player of the Year.
“Al Davis always liked my attitude, and my time with the Raiders was special, because it looked like my career was over” the always-blunt Blanda said. “Instead, I played another nine years, which by itself was more than twice the average playing career.”
When he retired after the 1975 season, he had scored 2,002 points, a record that stood until kicker Gary Anderson broke it in the 2000 season. He also set marks for most career field-goal attempts (637), and most PATs made and attempted (943 of 959).
His 340-game career was the longest in league history, and his 26 years of service were five seasons longer than any other player.
With Davis as his presenter, Blanda was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
“Two renegades, me and Al Davis,” Blanda said. “It was great.”
Among other things that day, Davis said, “George Blanda inspired a whole nation in 1970. I really believe he is the greatest clutch player in the history of this game.”
Blanda was voted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.
After retirement, Blanda gave motivational speeches to corporate groups, played in 25 or more celebrity golf events around the country (he was a 7-handicapper) and followed another favorite sport, horse racing.
He and his wife, Betty, split time between Chicago and LaQuinta, near Palm Springs.
Source: SF Chronicle