Monday, October 4, 2010

George Blanda, 1927 - 2010

     When George Blanda performed his greatest feats on the gridiron, he was 43 years old and had been retired from the Bears for 12 years. Yes, he had retired in 1958 after 10 seasons of moderate success with the Bears—only to return to the fray when the American Football League opened for business in 1960.
     Blanda was selected by the Bears from the University of Kentucky in the 12th round of the 1949 draft. He was the Bears’ starting quarterback for the entire 1953 season, compiling a record of 3-8-1, and he started seven more games in 1954, going 4-3. Thereafter his playing time at quarterback steadily diminished, and he was exclusively a placekicker in his later years with the Bears.
     Blanda did not recall his tenure in Chicago fondly. He later said that Bears head coach and owner George Halas “was too cheap to even buy me a kicking shoe.”
     After sitting out the 1959 season, Blanda joined the upstart AFL and led the Houston Oilers to back-to-back titles in 1960 and 1961. In the pass-happy new league, Blanda threw for 36 touchdowns in 1961 and was voted Player of the Year. But it was in 1970 (the year of the AFL-NFL merger) that Blanda became a household name. His heroics as placekicker and backup quarterback carried the Oakland Raiders to four late comeback wins in a five-week period. He was named Player of the Year of the newly expanded NFL.
     “If you put him in a group of the most competitive, clutch-type players,” former Raiders head coach John Madden said, “he’d have to be the guy who would win it all.”
     Blanda retired for good in 1975 at the age of 48, having played for an all-time record 26 seasons—16 of them after his initial retirement. He entered the Hall of Fame in 1981, his first year of eligibility. He passed away last Monday at the age of 83.

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