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Birth:
Youngwood, Pennsylvania 1
Death:
Alameda, California 1
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Full Name:
George F Blanda 2
Birth:
Youngwood, Pennsylvania 1
Male 1
Birth:
17 Sep 1927 2
Death:
Alameda, California 1
Death:
27 Sep 2010 2
Residence:
Last Residence: Oak Brook, IL 2
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Card Issued: Unknown Code (PE) 2

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George Blanda, Hall of Fame Football Player, Dies at 83

George Blanda, a quarterback and place-kicker who played professional football longer than anyone else and who retired having scored more points than anyone else, died Monday. He was 83.

The Oakland Raiders announced his death but provided no details. Blanda finished his career with the Raiders, playing for them from 1967 until his retirement, at 48, just before the 1976 season.

Elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, Blanda played for 26 seasons and was one of only two men to have played in four separate decades. (Jeff Feagles, a recently retired punter, is the other.) Blanda played in the National Football League, the American Football League and, after the leagues merged in 1970, the unified N.F.L.

He began his career in 1949 with the Chicago Bears, playing for George Halas, the legendary coach and team owner who helped shape pro football in its early years.

He finished playing for Al Davis, the Raiders’ legendary owner (and one-time coach) who helped shape the contemporary professional game.

Blanda was a reliable kicker with a strong enough leg to have blasted a 55-yard field goal in 1961 and, nine years later, a 52-yarder. And he was a guileful, gutsy quarterback, a pocket passer who was never known for his arm strength or accuracy, his agility or his foot speed but who stood up to rushing linemen, saw the whole field and often delivered his best performances when the most was at stake.

“Blanda had a God-given killer instinct to make it happen when everything was on the line,” Davis said to The Sporting News in 1989.

“I really believe that George Blanda is the greatest clutch player I have ever seen in the history of pro football.”

Davis had a firsthand look at Blanda’s most famous stretch of games. On Sunday, Oct. 25, 1970, Blanda stepped in for the Raiders’ injured starting quarterback, Daryle Lamonica, and threw for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to beat Pittsburgh.

The next Sunday, against the Kansas City Chiefs, he kicked a 48-yard field goal, salvaging a tie with eight seconds left in the game. The week after that, against the Cleveland Browns, Blanda entered the game with a little more than four minutes to play and the Raiders down by a touchdown. He threw a touchdown pass, kicked the extra point, drove the team into position for the winning field goal and kicked it — that 52-yarder — with three seconds on the clock.

The next Sunday, he beat Denver with a late touchdown pass; the Sunday after that, he beat San Diego with a last-minute field goal. Five straight weeks he saved the game; he was 43 at the time.

“He never got older,” The Sporting News once wrote of Blanda. “He just got better. He was the epitome of the grizzled veteran, the symbol of everlasting youth.”

George Frederick Blanda was born on Sept. 17, 1927, in Youngwood, in western Pennsylvania, an area that has produced more than its share of Hall of Fame quarterbacks, including John Unitas, Joe Namath and Joe Montana. His father was a coal miner.

Blanda played college ball at the University of Kentucky, where his coach was Bear Bryant, who went on to win six national championships at the University of Alabama. In 1949, Blanda was drafted by Halas’s Bears, who already had celebrated quarterbacks in Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack.

Just before the 1950 season, the Bears traded Blanda to the Baltimore Colts, but the day after the Colts’ first-ever game, a 42-0 loss, he was sent back to the Bears.

Halas never warmed up to Blanda as a quarterback, and Blanda spent the first decade of his career mostly as a kicker. He started as a quarterback for one season, 1953, but lost the job because of an injury.

In any case, he and Halas never got along. “He was too cheap to even buy me a kicking shoe,” Blanda once said.

An incident from Blanda’s bench-warming days in Chicago, recalled by The Houston Chronicle in 2003, sums up Halas’s attitude toward Blanda: “Once, the Bears were getting crushed in the second half and the crowd started to chant, ‘We want Blanda. We want Blanda.’ Halas looked down the bench and barked, ‘Blanda.’ George jumped to his feet and ran over to his coach, buckling his helmet. Halas jerked his thumb toward the stands and said, ‘Get up there. They’re calling for you.’ ”

Before the 1959 season, tired of only kicking, Blanda retired. A year later, however, the American Football League was born, and he became the starting quarterback for the Houston Oilers, leading them to the league’s first two championships.

In one game, he threw seven touchdown passes, a feat only four other professional quarterbacks have equaled. He was voted the A.F.L player of the year in 1961.

His survivors include his wife, Betty. Neither the Raiders nor the N.F.L. could provide information about other survivors.

Blanda’s career record showed 1,911 completions out of 4,007 passes for 26,920 yards, 236 touchdowns and 277 interceptions (including 42 in 1962, a record).

He kicked 335 field goals and more extra points (943) than anyone else in football history. He rushed for nine touchdowns during his career, which gave him a total of 2,002 points, a record at the time.

Blanda was judged to be too old for pro ball after the 1966 season, when the Oilers wanted him to retire. Instead he went to the Raiders. He had only nine more seasons in him.

George Blanda was man of miracles

Al Davis is sitting across from me at the long table in his black, black office. We are dwelling in a gloriously silver-and-black past. He is more than eager to revisit the era. Without my asking, he is riffing from the cellulite reels that are still playing in his brain, like a Roman general remembering his greatest battles.

"The Heidi Game," he says. "The Immaculate Reception. The Sea of Hands. The Ghost to the Post. The Holy Roller. The miracles of Blanda."

Now, note: he could have said, "The Heidi Game, when Lamonica pulled off his miraculous fourth-quarter comeback." Or, "The Ghost to the Post, where Casper caught Stabler's pass in that miraculous six-quarter playoff win over the Colts." He didn't. The first name that jumped to Davis' head was George Blanda: the real man of miracles.

This conversation came to mind on Monday afternoon when the news broke that Blanda died at the age of 83 after a brief illness.

Technically, the Blanda miracles occurred in 1970, and numbered five. Blanda personally won five straight games that year for the Raiders, who reached the AFC Championship Game. The first miracle featured two late off-the-bench touchdown passes to Raymond Chester (who was 14 months old when Blanda played his first pro game), in an upset of the Steelers. The next four: a field goal to tie the hated Chiefs; a touchdown pass that tied a game against the Browns, and the field goal that won it; a touchdown pass to Fred Biletnikoff to beat the Broncos, and a late, winning field goal against the Chargers.

But the real miracle, of course, was that Blanda was 43 years old in 1970. The son of a coal miner born in Czechoslovakia, he played his first NFL game when Harry Truman was the president, The Lone Ranger premiered on TV and the most intriguing NFL rivalry in New York was between the New York Giants and the New York Bulldogs. In that season, Blanda, then with the Chicago Bears, helped his team beat the Chicago Cardinals. Twice.

But these are simple statistics, and, as history tells us, the truth lies not in the facts, but in the legend. And if you remember football as football, and not as entertainment, George Blanda was a mythic legend.

So flash forward to 1958, when the NFL caught hold with the nation, thanks to the historic overtime Giants-Colts championship game. Blanda, after 10 years in the NFL, quit the sport because Bears coach George Halas, a man who watched fights in Rush Street bars on Saturday nights and would sign the winners to Sunday's roster, had lost his faith in the Blanda's passing, and relegated him to kicking. The fledgling Houston Oilers of the AFL, in their first year, were more than happy to sign Blanda. In his first game in 1960, Blanda beat ... the Oakland Raiders, then led the Oilers to the AFL's first title.

There was ample reason for Davis to remember Blanda's name before all others in the Raider pantheon: Blanda was an emblem of the rebel AFL, of which Davis was commissioner for a few months in 1966, when, before the merger, Davis wanted no merger; he wanted to bring the NFL to its knees. For Davis, who has never put any faith in players who point to themselves, Blanda represented the men he had worshipped since childhood: football players.

Blanda wasn't boastful like Joe Namath, the first AFL --and pro football --entertainment superstar. Blanda was the sport's consummate icon: a man who reveled in the game itself, and was pissed off if he wasn't starting. Blanda was the old-world guy, with one foot back in the days of the Decatur Staleys, an athlete who would pass for the touchdown, kick the extra point, and then, if necessary kick the game-winning field goal. Blanda represented football. When the Oilers released him at the age of 40, Davis pounced.

To the Raiders, Blanda became an instant mentor. He was never beloved, and he never wanted to be. But people listened to him. And they revered him. When Blanda gave his old golf bag to Kenny Stabler, the gesture represented a beloved rite of passage.

Today, the players remember Blanda as a tough, sometimes surly competitor who had astounding confidence and was never afraid to speak his mind. If a pack of sportswriters interviewing Stabler spilled over into Blanda's locker space, he'd bite their heads off.

With apologies to Dylan Thomas, when the end came after 26 seasons, Blanda, characteristically, did not go gently into that good night. In 1976, Davis the businessman drafted a kicker from Germany named Fred Steinfort. In camp, contrary to rumors that Blanda and Steinfort never spoke during training camp, they actually did. Steinfort walked to Blanda's locker one day and said, "Hello, I'm Fred Steinfort."

"You didn't have to tell me," Blanda answered. "I knew who the f--- you were."

Blanda didn't play during the six-game exhibition season. And he wasn't reluctant to vent his frustration. "It's been embarrassing," Blanda told a writer from a lounge chair at the pool of the El Rancho Tropicana motel, the Raiders' wild and woolly summer-camp retreat. "It's like waiting to be beheaded. I'm like a cancer out on that field. The players treat me like I have leprosy. I have no animosity toward Al Davis or John Madden. I just don't care."

The words were hollow. He cared. Before the final preseason game against the Rams, Blanda was cut. He left camp during one of the final practices. Players came off the field to see a disarmingly empty locker.

"It's kind of sad," said Biletnikoff that day. "There should have been some way of having him leave that would give you a good feeling. There should have been something to bring a tear to your eye ... it's like the guy going to the electric chair."

"I was three years old when he started," said Stabler, about to lead the Raiders to their first Super Bowl. "I remember getting his autograph one time. As cold and hard as he was, I enjoyed being around him. He would tell you what he thought. If you liked him, fine. If you didn't like him, the hell with you. He had that certain quality a lot of people don't have. He was sort of like the Knute Rockne thing -- win one for the Gipper, work hard. Times have changed. Football isn't like that anymore."

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen's spin reflected the sentiments of the Raider Nation at large in his column a few days later: "Raider boss Al Davis' ticker has to be as hard as the 'Banker's Heart' sculpture outside the Bank of America headquarters," Caen wrote.

That 200-ton sculpture is made of granite. It will endure for a long, long time. Maybe back then, Al's heart was just as hard as Blanda's will to play. Today, Blanda's legacy lives on, lovingly, in the heart of Davis, now desperately searching for football players. If he's looking for Blandas, they no longer exist. But Al can't shake the memory of the man. And neither should we.




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