George Blanda has died at the age of 83. He was a quarterback and kicker. When he retired after 26 seasons of football in the 1970s, he held many records, including most points scored and most interceptions thrown. The only record that is still his is most seasons played.
All the stats pale in comparison to what he did in 1970 at the age of 43, coming off the bench in mid-season when Oakland Raiders starting QB Daryle LaMonica was injured. Blanda lead his team to win five games in a row, several in such heroic fashion an author would be considered a hack to invent the tales.
He wasn't written off at the age of 43. He was written off at the age of 33. In 1960, when he left the NFL to join the fledgling AFL, he was considered a has-been. He lead the Houston Oilers to the first two championships in the new league, but in the mid 1960s, they gave up on him and the Raiders picked up his contract for the waiver price of $100. Everybody agreed he was still a reliable place-kicker, but his arm wasn't as strong and he had slowed down considerably. In 1970 when the call came, Blanda wasn't just older than everyone on the team, he was nine years older than head coach John Madden and two years older than the owner Al Davis.
He won games with his arm. He won them as a kicker. LaMonica returned from his injury, but Madden put Blanda in the game late to run the two minute offense. This is nearly unprecedented in football. When a QB is replaced late in a game, it is a strong vote of no confidence and the man replaced might as well asked to be traded. It wasn't lack of faith in LaMonica, but a crazy faith that gripped the entire Bay Area sports scene that we were seeing something no one had seen before and no one might ever see again. My dad is not a sports watcher, but he told me to tell him when Blanda entered the game. For those five weeks, Blanda never disappointed. He was a miracle worker.
The story does not end with final glory. On January 3, 1971, the Bay Area fans who had seen such promise in the entire 1970 season were hit with the Raiders losing to the Colts and the 49ers losing to the Cowboys. Neither team played for the Super Bowl that year, but that in no way diminishes what George Blanda's name means in the pantheon of Bay Area sports heroes.
A lot of great players have been quarterback for the Raiders and 49ers. Frankie Albert, Y.A. Tittle, Daryle LaMonica, John Brodie, Ken Stabler, Jim Plunkett, Joe Montana, Steve Young. Some held the Super Bowl trophy over their heads, Montana four times. But there's a special place for George Blanda in our hearts that is about so much more than just championships. We saw something when he was on the field that no one had seen before or since. We will likely never see his kind again.
Best wishes to the family and friends of George Blanda, from a fan.