The Legend of George Blanda

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At 39 years old and a 17-year veteran in professional football, George Blanda still felt he had something to prove when he joined the Oakland Raiders as a free agent in 1967.

His previous AFL team, the Houston Oilers, had just "retired" the quarterback/kicker, claiming there was little use for a player his age. Blanda thought otherwise. He knew he could still contribute if someone would give him a chance to play.

"One day Al Davis of the Raiders calls me up and tells me I belong to them," said Blanda. Blanda responded to Davis' call by giving the Raiders nine years of unforgettable football, becoming a folk hero across America.

Blanda was a 12th round draft choice by the Chicago Bears in 1949 out of the University of Kentucky. During his 10 seasons with Chicago, Blanda moved in and out of the starting quarterback job, while handling most of the placekicking duties."Playing on the same team with Sid Luckman and Bulldog Turner and against people like Sammy Baugh - those were nostalgic days for me," said Blanda.

His association with the Bears ended in 1958 when legendary "Papa Bear" - George Halas - labeled Blanda as "too old." Blanda quit, sat out the 1959 season and joined the Houston Oilers of the newly formed American Football League.

The birth of the AFL gave Blanda a second chance at football and he responded by leading the Oilers to championships in his first two seasons. Both championship wins came against a Chargers team on which Al Davis was an assistant coach.

In 1961, Blanda set a pro football record with 36 touchdown passes, but was not recognized for his accomplishments because the pro-NFL media proclaimed the AFL a minor league. Blanda resented that belief saying, "I think the AFL might have won the Super Bowl as early as 1960 or 1961, when I was with the Oilers. We had a fine team and the NFL will never be able to prove that we couldn't have beaten them even then."

Blanda remained the Oilers top quarterback through the 1966 season, but did not see the same success as his earlier seasons. Houston fans began to boo him for his escalating interception totals. "When you're down by 14 points, I'd rather be throwing and trying to win, than playing it safe and losing by 14," explained Blanda. "I'd rather throw 300 interceptions in my career than have a 58 percent completion average and never win a championship."

Blanda's competitive nature earned him a ticket out of Houston and a place on the Raiders' roster. Rejuvenated by his new surroundings, Blanda helped lead the Raiders to their first AFL championship, topping the league in scoring with 116 points in a 14-game season. He also played effectively in a back-up role at quarterback.

In 1970, Blanda was placed on waivers during the late preseason and considered retirement. Al Davis assured Blanda that the waiver move was to allow the organization to protect a young quarterback by the name of Ken Stabler and that Blanda would be active when the season began. Blanda remained with the Raiders and began a season that was later described by Raiders radio voice Bill King as "one part fantasy, one part imagination and one part miracle."

On October 25, 1970, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, George Blanda came off the bench to replace injured QB Daryle Lamonica, threw three touchdown passes, and kicked a field goal to lead the Raiders to a 31-14 victory.

The next week in Kansas City, Blanda kicked a 48-yard field goal with just three seconds remaining to tie the Chiefs 17-17.

The following Sunday, Blanda again replaced an injured Lamonica, throwing a touchdown pass to tie Cleveland at 20 with 1:34 remaining. He then kicked a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left to earn a 23-20 Raiders win.

The magic continued the next week when Blanda threw a TD pass with 2:28 left to defeat Denver 24-19.

He completed his five-game miracle streak with a 16-yard field goal with just seven seconds left to defeat San Diego 20-17.

Blanda continued to impress over the course of the season and, at 43 years old, became the oldest quarterback to play in a championship game. Although the Raiders lost to the Baltimore Colts that day, Blanda accounted for all 17 points for the Sliver and Black.

For his supreme efforts and accomplishments, Blanda was honored as the AFC Player of the Year for 1970.

The Youngwood, Pennsylvania native played five more years for the Raiders before retiring prior to the 1976 season, just weeks before his 49th birthday. He scored 2,002 points and played 340 league games during his career - records that remained unchallenged for many years to come.

"When I look back on my nine years with the Raiders, what comes to mind first is my great association with Al Davis," said Blanda. "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 respect him highly."

During his record-breaking, 26-season pro career, George Blanda played in 11 championship games, seven with the Raiders. "It was great to be a part of a winning organization with some of the best coaches, great players, the Pride and the Poise…everything."

Al Davis had equal praise for Blanda, who was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981. "He's the greatest competitor the game has ever seen. Some may have been his equal, but none greater. Pride and Poise, Commitment to Excellence go hand in hand with George Blanda," said Davis. "No player has made more of a contribution to the growth of professional football than George Blanda."

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