The image of the grizzled veteran is perhaps the most endearing icon in the universe of professional sports. In the world of football, no one was more grizzled—or, for that matter, more veteran—than George Blanda. He threw his first pass as a collegian a few weeks after the bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He kicked his final field goal 30 years later, during the Disco Era.

No one played longer than George, and few played better. Twenty-six pro campaigns. Eleven championship games. A pair of MVPs. More than two dozen records as a kicker and quarterback. The list of his accomplishments is so long that, one season, Topps had to print two Blanda cards just to commit all those numbers to cardboard. Over the years, some of the greatest minds in football wrote George off, and some of the best minds also rescued him from the scrap heap. What they all agreed on was that, when it came to performing under pressure, few athletes ever were mor clutch or reliable than George.

George Frederick Blanda was born on September 17, 1927, in Youngwood, Pennsylvania. (Click here for today's sports birthday.) The Blandas came to America from Czechoslovakia and eventually settled in Westmoreland County, on the western slopes of the Alleghenies in the Keystone State’s southwest corner. His parents, Mary and Michael, had a dozen children—seven boys and five girls.

The Blandas were a tough and resourceful family. There were frequent mine closings when George was a boy in the 1930s, putting his father out of work for long stretches. The kids found themselves scrounging and competing for everything from attention to table scraps. George was no stranger to poverty.

Football offered a way out the meager surroundings for the young men in the Blanda’s region of the coutnry. George, who stood 6–2 and was a rock-solid 180 pounds, excelled as a quarterback, kicker, blocker and tackler as a teenager. He starred in football, basketball and track & field for Youngwood High School, which competed in the Southeastern Conference of the Western Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic League.

Football in this era was not a passing game. It was about blocking and tackling, and George excelled in both areas. His greatest talent—and the skill that would pay his mortgage well into his 40s—was his powerful right leg. In one game for the Railroaders, he boomed a kickoff that rattled the crossbar 60 yards away.

George’s best sport was actually basketball, but his most memorable moments for the Railroaders came on the track team. Or, rather, as the track team. In several meets, he was Youngwood’s only member. The team had no coach or uniforms. George learned how to throw the javelin, discus and shot put by reading books borrowed from the town library. He competed in sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt. At one meet, George was hit in the upper right thigh by a stray javelin. That day, he liked to joke, he nearly became the “Queen of Pennsylvania.”

George re-habbed his injury on the basketball court. It was there that a recruiter from Notre Dame found him one day. Which one is Blanda, the scout wanted to know? When George identified himself, the Fighting Irish rep turned around and headed back to South Bend. The kid was dragging his leg like a war veteran. George was devastated. It had been his dream to attend Notre Dame. He refocused his ambitions on Penn, which along with Penn State, Purdue and Pitt had offered him a scholarship. Geroge passed the entrance exam and was ready to start his life as the unlikeliest of Ivy Leaguers.


George Blanda
     
 

Alas, George‘s college plans changed toward the end of his senior year when a recruiter from the University of Kentucky showed up on his doorstep, handed him a train ticket, and told him that if he liked the school he would get a full ride. George was embarrassed to admit he had no idea where Kentucky was; he had never been farther away from home than Pittsburgh. George got his bearings and took the train to Lexington. He quickly impressed Wildcats coach Bernie Shively with his powerful right arm and leg.

Shively knew George had all but committed to Penn, so he held him hostage on campus for the better part of a week. When the coach discovered his freshman recruit’s first love was basketball, he arranged a tryout with Adolph Rupp. Afterward, Rupp assured George that he would make the team if he chose Kentucky. George was intrigued. When the school presented him with two new suits, he began to have second thoughts about Penn. The Quakers’ football coach, George Munger, had actually oversold George. Beyond Penn’s superb football team—which starred Chuck Bednarik—a lot was made of the social advantages that would be available to George. It was his chance to scale the ladder, so to speak. At first, this appealed to George, but he soon began wondering how a coal miner’s kid would actually be received by a student body made up of the rich and privileged.

George decided to attend Kentucky and majored in Physical Education. Looking back, he admitted he probably should have been a business major. He was smart, competitive and disciplined both on the field and off it .

George was a bench-warmer for the Wildcats in 1945. Normally, freshmen didn’t play varsity ball, but during World War II this rule was relaxed because of manpower shortages. George didn’t learn much watching from the sideline, as Kentucky went 1–9. Things changed dramatically his sophomore year, when Paul “Bear” Bryant arrived in Lexington. Bryant whipped the Wildcatsinto shape, and George’s final three years were all winning seasons. He remembered meeting Bryant in January of 1946 and thinking he looked like God.

That summer, Bryant put his new team through grueling workouts. The returning players not only had to deal with the demands of their coach; there were also several veterans coming back from military service. They were hungry, tough and already in great shape.

After playing primarily as a punter and blocking back, George became Bryant’s starting quarterback in 1947. He kept the job in 1948. As a junior, George guided the Kentucky to a 7–3 mark, with his only losses coming against powerhouse squads from Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee. After the regular season, he led the Wildcats to their first-ever Bowl Game, the short-lived Great Lakes Bowl, where they beat Villanova 24–14.

Chuck Bednarik, 1949 Leaf
     
 

Bryant was a master of the T-Formation offense, and George excelled under his coach’s stern hand. Kentucky was primarily a ball-control team, so he was required to pass only when the Wildcats needed long first downs. George read defenses quickly, and he threw hard and accurate passes, esepcially on short- and mid-range routes. Oppnents rarely had time to react to his pinpoint passing. The die was cast—he would continue to operate this way into his 40s.

The Wildcats repeated their 7–3 record in George’s senior year. His final numbers for Kentucky were impressive—120 completions in 242 attempts for 1,451 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also handled all of the team’s kicking chores. Though not viewed as a standout passer, George had some appeal to the pros because of his talent as a placekicker and punter.

George was a married man at this point, having wed his girlfriend, Betty Harris, a co-ed at Kentucky. They met in a tumbling class during their first year on campus. George and Betty later had two children.

After graduation, George was drafted by the NFL’s Chicago Bears and the AAFC’s Los Angeles Dons. The AAFC was already in trouble, and the Dons were one of the league’s shakier franchises. Signing with Los Angeles meant an uncertain future for George. With the Bears, by contrast, he felt he would have a chance to one day lead a legendary team. Among his heroes on the club were Bulldog Turner and George McAfee. He had read about their exploits as a boy.

The Bears were coming off a 10–2 season, which, under normal circumstances, might have landed them in the NFL Championship Game. But the 1947 and 1948 seasons belonged to the crosstown rival Cardinals, who finished one game ahead in the Western Conference both years. The Bears were stacked at the quarterback position, so much so that George Halas was able to sell Bobby Layne to the New York Bulldogs. That left superstars Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack as the main signal callers, and enabled George to make the club as a third-stringer.

This came as something of a surprise, as Halas did not seem to appreciate George’s talents—and Pape Bear really never would. Indeed, as the years wore on, the animosity between the two continued to grow. Halas was always trying to dominate George, and George would never submit.

Chicago fans were known to chant, “We want Blanda! We want Blanda!” Halas would then tell George that he should go up in the stands. When things were going badly for the Bears, George would sidle up to his coach and say something like, “Why don’t you put me in if you’re supposed to be such a great coach?”

It was, to put things mildly, an unhealthy relationship. Halas resisted playing George at almost every turn. And George made no secret of the fact that he believed pro football had passed Papa Bear by.

The Bears played well in 1949, even though Luckman suffered from a thyroid disorder and only threw 50 passes. Lujack filled in and led the league in passing yards and touchdowns, but the Bears finished second again, this time behind the Los Angeles Rams.

Bear Bryant book
     
 

George attempted only 21 passes during the year and was picked off five times. His only touchdown came on a quarterback keeper. He made his primary contributions as the Bears’ field goal kicker, connecting on seven of 15 attempts. George also punted 19 times for Chicago and played defense as a linebacker and defensive back. What he lacked in speed he more than made up for in effort and anticipation.

Prior to the 1950 season, Halas traded George to the Baltimore Colts, a trainwreck of a team that had been absorbed by the NFL in the AAFC merger that spring. George found himself in competition for the quarterback job with Y.A. Tittle and Adrian Burk. As luck would have it, the Colts and Bears squared off in the season opener. Chicago trounced Baltimore, 42–0. After the game, coach Clem Crowe cut George, and he re-signed with the Bears.

George played only a handful of downs for Chicago in a second straight 9–3 season. Once again, he did the field goal kicking, this time making six of 15 attempts. As in 1949, Lujack handled the team’s extra point conversions.

By 1951, Halas had entrusted George with all of the Bears’ kicking chores. He was perfect in 26 extra-point attempts and converted six of 17 on three-pointers. The Bears found themselves playing in a tough conference; despite a respectable 7–5 record, they finished fourth behind the Rams, the Detroit Lions and the San Francisco 49ers.

Chicago’s two great passing stars retired in 1952, and George split the starting job with Steve Romanik. Neither enjoyed a standout season, as the Bears dropped below .500 for the first time since the war years. Romanik became a Cardinal in 1953, leaving George—now 25—with a clear shot as the team‘s starter. Chicago’s anemic running game forced George to throw early and often. As a result, he led the NFL with 169 completions and 382 attempts, and he was one of only six quarterbacks to surpass 2,000 yards. The important numbers were less impressive—three victories, one tie and eight defeats.

The Bears began the 1954 campaign with low expectations, especially after a dispiriting 48–23 loss to the Lions. However, a talented young line of blockers and acrobatic rookie receiver Harlan Hill gave the offense some much-needed oomph. By the end of the year, the Bears sat in second place, finishing the season with a 28–24 win in a rematch with Detroit. Halfway through the schedule, some sportswriters were predicting George was on the verge of becoming the league’s best passer.

Johnny Lujack, 1951 Sport
     
 

Meanwhile, Halas wasn’t even sure George was the best passer on the Bears. Every Sunday, the coach seemed to look for reasons to take George out and play his backups, Zeke Bratkowski and Ed Brown. Only the insistence of assistant Clark Shaughnessy—whom George regarded as “the real brains behind the Bears”—kept him on the field. Starting in late October, George led the team to three rousing comeback wins over the Rams, 49ers and Green Bay Packers. He seemed on his way to stardom until he was sandwiched between Len Ford and Don Colo in a gamea against the Cleveland Browns. George separated his shoulder and was pretty much done for the year.

Although George continued to be an exceptional placekicker, Halas never gave him a sniff of the starting quarterback job again. From 1955 to 1958, George watched Brown take the lion’s share of the snaps. And after Bratkowski returned from a stint in the military, George was relegated to third-string. He referred to these years as the ones Halas “stole from me.”

Not that they were all bad. In 1956, the Bears edged the Lions for the conference title on the final day of the regular season. Unfortunately, their shot at a championship ended on an icy field in New York, where the Giants shut down the Chicago offense. Even in this game, Halas took the opportunity to diminish George. With the score 35–7, Pape Bear sent him onto the field and said sarchastically, “Go in and beat ’em, kid.”

In the spring of 1959, Halas informed George that the team was unlikely to bring him back for another season. The coach claimed George had been stirring up trouble between Brown and Bratkowski. He encouraged George to retire so that he could stay in Chicago and continue working for the trucking company that employed him during the offseason. That way, if the Bears lost a quarterback or placekicker, he could be an instant fill-in. The team agreed to pay George $6,000 just to hang around and stay in shape.

During the exhibition season, rookie kicker John Aveni was atrocious. George expected the call to replace him, but it never came. He began to realize that Halas had conned him into retiring so that he wouldn’t kick for another NFL club.

This became clear after Weeb Ewbank contacted George to be the kicker for the Colts in 1959, and also serve as the backup to Johnny Unitas. George called Halas and asked for his release, but the coach refused. Instead Halas called up Ewbank and demanded two first-round draft-choices, which the Colts could not afford.

George informed the Bears that if they wouldn’t release or trade him, then they had to play him. He showed up in the Chicago locker room at Wrigley Field and was promptly thrown out. When George called and complained to commissioner Bert Bell that the Bears were depriving him of making a living, Bell said that he could not “un-retire”—and that was that.

George added an interesting wrinkle to the dispute when he informed the commissioner that he never actually signed a letter of retirement. In other words, if the NFL considered him to be retired, then the league needed to produce some sort of document with his signature on it. He filed suit against the Bears, the commissioner, and all of the other NFL teams. Bell backed down and assured George’s attorney that he would find some resolution—and then promptly dropped dead the following Sunday while watching the Eagles play in Philadelphia.

George Halas,
Black Book Partners archives
     
 

In any other year, George’s prospects would have been bleak. Suing the NFL, no matter how strong a player’s case, would take years and cost countless thousands of dollars. But as luck would have it, a new league—the American Football League—announced that it would begin play in 1960. If the Bears and the NFL considered George retired, then that was just peachy. He was free to join the AFL!

During the winter and spring, George was contacted by every AFL team. He and Jack Kemp were by far and away the two best “unemployed” quarterbacks. The first to call was John Breen, who had been an executive with the Chicago Cardinals in 1953 and 1954 when George was turning heads with the northside Bears. Breen, the personnel director for the Houston Oilers, convinced George that owner Bud Adams was committed to spending money and winning championships. While other clubs were feeling out free agents, Breen was actually signing them. George reasoned that the Oilers would have the best players in the AFL, which meant that even if the league failed, Houston might be in position to join the NFL. He signed with the Oilers for $20,000.

The Oilers surrounded George with a group of talented but somewhat eclectic players. His best receivers were a gangly schoolteacher named Charley Hennigan, who had washed out of the CFL, and sure-handed Bill Groman, whose nose for the end zone went unnoticed by the NFL after he graduated from Heidelberg College. Blanda’s go-to guys in the backfield were Charlie Tolar, who stood 5–6 but weighed over 200 pounds, and Billy Cannon, who arrived in training camp amidst much fanfare after Adams triumphed over the Rams in a legal battle over the Heisman Trophy winner. Houston’s offensive line was anchored by Dirty Al Jamison, a CFL retread who stood 6–5 and weighed 250 pounds.

Under the watchful eye of coach Lou Rymkus, the Oilers went into the season with a roster of has-beens and never-weres—and absolutely destroyed the competition. Houston clinched the AFL Eastern Division with a month to go and finished 10–4. Early in the season, George dazzled opponents with his long passes to Hennigan and Groman. When defenses backed off, Cannon, Tolar and Dave Smith went to work, amassing close to 1,500 yards between them.

In the AFL Championship Game, the Oilers faced the other team that had courted George heavily, the Los Angeles Chargers. George had shied away from LA after seeing too many similarities between coach Sid Gillman and his old nemesis Halas.

In the title game, George connected with Smith for a second-quarter touchdown and kicked a field goal to make the score 10–9 at the half. The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter to make it 17–16. The Oilers increased their lead when George connected with Cannon, who galloped into the end zone for an 88-yard touchdown. The Houston defense held strong on the next two drives to nail down the championship.

George ended up with 301 yards on 16 for 31 passing, with three TDs and no interceptions. He always maintained that the 1960 Oilers would have beaten the NFL champs that year, the Philadelphia Eagles.

George Blanda, 1960 Fleer
     
 

The 1961 season was George’s best, although it hardly started that way. After a 55–0 Opening Day win over the Oakland Raiders, the Oilers lost three games and tied another. During this streak, Rymkus panicked and benched George in favor of 22–year-old Jacky Lee. Adams later canned Rymkus and promoted Wally Lemm, who in turn reinserted George into the starting lineup.

The Oilers were unstoppable after that. Not only did they run the table with nine straight wins, they humiliated many opponents along the way. It was not unusual for Houston to win by three, four or five touchdowns. Houston finished 10–3–1, a half-game ahead of the Boston Patriots, to earn its second-straight trip to the AFL Championship Game.

Cannon, an easy choice as All-Pro, was sensational with more than 3,000 total yards and 15 touchdowns. George was magnificent as well, once he regained the starting job. He threw for 3,330 yards and set a pro football record with 36 touchdown passes. George was 64 for 65 on extra points and was the league’s most accurate field goal kicker. He booted a 55-yarder, which was the second-longest ever made by a pro at that time. Between his arm and his right toe, he accounted for 328 of the team’s league-best 513 points. He was a no-brainer for AFL MVP.

The title game was a rematch between the Oilers and the Chargers, who had moved south to San Diego for the 1961 season. San Diego’s defense contained George and his teammates with a whopping six interceptions, but the Houston defense—led by Don Floyd, Ed Husmann, Tony Banfield and Mark Johnston—was just as good. George scored the only points of the first half with a 46-yard field goal. The Oilers extended their lead to 10–0 in the third quarter when George scrambled and spotted Cannon open over the middle. He hit him with a 17-yard pass, and Cannon juked his way into the end zone for a 35-yard touchdown.

Jack Kemp tried to guide the Chargers back, but a potential game-tying drive late in the fourth quarter ended with an interception by Julian Spence. It was Houston’s fourth pick of the contest. The final score was 10–3, and the Oilers were champions again.

The interception bug bit George in a big way the following season. He was picked off 42 times—which is still a pro record—against 27 touchdown passes. But that was the price of the high-risk, high-reward offense sketched out by Pop Ivy, Houston’s third head coach in three seasons.

When everything clicked, George put up fantastic numbers, including a pair of 400-yard passing days and a seven-touchdown performance against the New York Titans. The ground attack faltered somewhat after Cannon injured his back, but Tolar picked up the slack with a 1,000-yard season. The Oilers finished with 11 wins, their best record yet, and a third trip to the AFL Championship Game.

The Oilers faced the Dallas Texans, who would later become the Kansas City Chiefs. Len Dawson and Abner Haynes, two of the AFL’s greatest stars, connected for a pair of first-half touchdowns. Meanwhile, George could not move the Houston offense. At halftime, Dallas led 17–0. The Oilers turned it on in the final two quarters, with George passing for a touchdown and kicking a field goal before Tolar barreled into the end zone to knot the score at 17–17 with just over five minutes left.

The game went into overtime, and the two teams battled through a scoreless extra period. Toward the end of the “fifth quarter,” George threw an interception at midfield, which gave Dallas good field position. A little less than three minutes into the second overtime, the Texans moved into position for a 26-yard field goal. Tommy Brooker’s kick was true, and Dallas won pro football’s longest championship game, 20–17.

Injuries decimated the Oilers in 1963, and they failed to repeat as Eastern Division champions. Cannon was out almost all year, as was Jamison. With Houstn’s running and blocking diminished, George found himself scurrying away from pass rushers almost every time he dropped back. Injuries to the defense in the season’s second half only compounded the Oilers’ problems, and they lost five of their final six games to finish in third place with a 6–8 record. George led the AFL with 224 completions and 3,003 yards, but it was small consolation. Two more victories would have meant another shot at the title.

Billy Cannon, 1961 Topps
     
 

George led the AFL in completions the next three seasons, but the Oilers were a sub-.500 team. Their young players were slow to develop, their veteran players were aging, and their ability to pluck unknowns off the trash heap was weakened by the growing number of pro teams, not to mention the sophistication of scouting in general. Late in the 1966 season, the Oilers benched George in favor of Don Trull; at 38, it looked like his reclaimed career was finally drawing to a close. He was released after the season.

Enter Al Davis, a man who appreciated George’s strong toe and feisty personality. After stumbling through his first few AFL seasons, the Oakland owner had assembled a championship-caliber club. The only thing missing was a difference-making quarterback. Davis traded two stars—Tom Flores and Art Powell—to the Buffalo Bills for rocket-armed Daryle Lamonica. He then signed George to be his backup and placekicker. A shrewd judge of character, Davis believed George possessed the heart of a killer. In the years that followed, he would often call George the best clutch player in football history.

The 1967 Raiders came within a victory of a spotless regular season. They won the West with a 13–1 record and obliterated George’s former club 40–7 to win the AFL title. George contributed a league-leading 116 points and was the circuit’s most accurate kicker. His three field goals in Week 3 sunk the defending champion Chiefs, and a four-FG game on the road in Houston provided the winning margin in early December. George also threw three touchdown passes in relief of Lamonica, who led the AFL with 30. He was every bit the influence that Davis had hoped he would be, and then some.

Oakland faced the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II. The youthful swagger that had served the Raiders well all year worked against them in the big game. They made mistake after mistake, and the Packers made them pay. Blown coverages and a fumbled punt took the Raiders out of the game early, and they never caught up. Green Bay won 33–14. George took the field for a grand total of five plays—three kickoffs and two PATs.

The Raiders were, in many ways, better in 1968 than in 1967. Week in and week out, injuries prevented coach John Rauch from fielding his best lineup. Yet Oakland still managed to go 12–2. The Silver & Black won their final eight games in a wild race with the division-rival Chiefs, who also notched 12 victories.

Oakland’s most thrilling win came against the Jets in the famous “Heidi Game.” A late comeback turned certain defeat into a 43–32 win that New York fans never saw. Lost in the mythology of this game is the fact that, had Oakland not pulled it out, the team would have lost the division.

In a playoff against Kansas City to decide the West, Lamonica hurled five touchdown passes in a rousing 41–6 blowout.

George topped his previous year’s point total by one, finishing with 117. He also tossed six touchdown passes backing up Lamonica. The Raiders took on the Jets in the AFL Championship. After falling behind in the first quarter, Oakland evened the score 13–13 in the second half on George’s second field goal. The Raiders held a 23–20 lead late in the fourth quarter when Joe Namath found Don Maynard in the end zone with a short pass. The Raiders stormed back but lost the ball on a lateral that the Oakland players thought was an incomplete pass. The referees saw it otherwise, and Oakland’s great year ended in disappointment, 27–23.

Al Davis,
Black Book Partners archives
     
 

The AFL played its 10th and final season in 1969. After beating the Raiders in the ’68 title game, the Jets had gone on to defeat the juggernaut Colts in Super Bowl III, eliminating any possibility that the planned merger between the two leagues would crumble. Under new coach John Madden, the Raiders advanced to the last AFL Championship Game after winning the West with 12–1–1 record. It marked the sixth time that George—who put up 105 points during the regular season—had participated in this contest. He was one of 20 players who had been active in every AFL campaign.

The AFL added a second tier of playoffs in 1969, meaning Oakland had to beat the Oilers to reach the title game. This they did with points to spare, 56–7. The Raiders could have used some of that offense a week later, when they played the Chiefs for the right to compete in Super Bowl IV.

Oakland had won both of its games against Kansas City during the regular season, but the Chiefs prevailed in the playoffs, 17–7. Lamonica had to leave the game with a hand injury, forcing George into action after seeing limited snaps during the year. It showed. George only completed two passes and was picked off in the end zone by Emmitt Thomas. He also missed three field goals during the contest. Those 16 “lost” points would have made for a very different outcome. After the loss, George criticized Lamonica, Davis and Madden.

Even the most ardent Oakland fans weren’t surprised when they learned that the team placed George on waivers during training camp in 1970. After 20 seasons, it seemed the 42-year-old had little left to offer. As the season opener approached, however, Madden decided he wanted George on the bench. Besides his quarterbacking skills, he was still one of the best clutch kickers around.

A couple of months later, George made his coach look like a genius. The Raiders began their season a lackluster 2–2–1. In Week 6, they were losing to Pittsburgh when Madden waved George into the game. He threw a pair of touchdown passes to beat the Steelers, 31–17. The following week, against the Chiefs, George booted a 48-yard field goal with three seconds left to earn a 17–17 tie. Kansas City positioned 6–9 Morris Stroud in front of the goal posts. As the kick descended, Stroud jumped high but the ball cleared his fingertips by a couple of inches.

A week after that, George’s 52-yarder with time expiring beat the Browns, 23–20. Against the Denver Broncos the following week, George subbed for Lamonica again and led the Raiders to a game-winning touchdown drive. And a week later, he was at it again, splitting the uprights with four seconds to go to beat the Chargers and give Oakland sole possession of first place in the West. George had a chance for a sixth straight miracle finish on Thanksgiving Day. With the Raiders trailing the Lions, Madden inserted him the game, but he could not put the ball in the end zone and Oakland lost 28–14.

The Raiders went on to win the division with an 8–4–2 record. Five of those wins were a direct result of George’s heroics. Oakland triumphed over the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs. In the AFC Championship, the Colts opened a 10–0 lead when Bubba Smith knocked Lamonica out of the game in the second quarter. George came in, moved the Raiders within field goal range, and then booted one through the uprights before halftime. In the second half, George knotted the score at 10–10 when he found Fred Biletnikoff with a beautiful 38-yard scoring pass.

George Blanda, 1968 Topps
     
 

The Colts, led by 37-year-old Unitas, struck for 10 points to take a 20–10 lead. George drove the Raiders 80 yards and hit Willie Wells with a scoring pass to cut the deficit to three points. He took the Raiders deep into Baltimore territory twice more, but each time the drive fizzled with an interception in the end zone. His magical season ended with a 27–17 loss.

At 43, George set a record as the oldest quarterback to play in a championship game. In an ironic twist, he was named 1970 NFL Player of the Year by the Maxwell Football Club. The name of the trophy is the Bert Bell Award.

From 1971 to 1975—George’s final season—he continued to handle placekicking chores for the Raiders and also filled in at quarterback from time to time. In 1971, he surpassed Lou Groza as pro football’s all-time leading scorer. George and Kenny Stabler backed up Lamonica for two more years before the Snake took over the starting job. The Raiders missed the playoffs in 1971 but won the division in 1972. That was the year they were bounced out of the playoffs by Franco Harris’s “Immaculate Reception.”

In 1973, George reached the 100-point plateau for the sixth and final time in his career. The Raiders won the West again and reached the AFC Championship, but they lost to Miami, 27–10. Oakland had a great team in 1974, and many experts predicted the Raiders would finally win the Super Bowl. They seemed in good shape after holding the Steelers to a mere field goal in the first three quarters of the AFC Championship Game. But Pittsburgh exploded for 21 points in the final 15 minutes to win 24–13.

The 1975 season was George’s 26th and last. The Raiders won the Wes for the fourth year in a row. George completed his final pass during the season, and his fourth-quarter field goal in the AFC Championship—another crushing loss to the Steelers—accounted for his final points as a pro. He retired at the age of 48 in August of 1976.

In his long career, George managed to do what had previously been considered impossible—he surpassed 2,000 career points (by just two). Gary Anderson later joined him in that club.

George established the record for most seasons played and also for being the NFL’s oldest player, at 48 years and 109 days. He was one of only two players to perform in four different decades—Jeff Feagles was the other—and the only player to amass more than 300 field goals (335) and more than 200 touchdown passes (236). Although others have trumped George’s field goal total, it’s worth remembering that he kicked the vast majority of them outdoors, many on infield dirt, and more than 100 of his kicks came at odd angles before the NFL moved in the hash marks.

No one attempted more extra points (959) or made more (943), and no one accounted for more total points (3,418) as a passer, runner and kicker. George even intercepted a pass back in his linebacking days with Chicago. When he retired, he also held the pro records for most interceptions in a career (277), most pass attempts in a game (68), and most games (340)—all since broken by Brett Favre , Drew Bledsoe and Morten Andersen, respectively. After the minimum amount of waiting time, George was enshrined in Canton in 1981.

George Blanda, 1974 Topps
     
 

George continued to work as an executive in the shipping industry after leaving football. He devoted much of his well-earned retirement time to supporting charities, and he especially enjoyed fundraising golf tournaments. He made a good living as a motivational speaker and often appeared at corporate retreats and conferences.

In his later years, George split time between his homes in suburban Chicago and Palm Springs and became an expert racing handicapper. He had started following the horses in 1945, at the age of 17, when he attended the Kentucky Derby during his recruiting visit to Lexington.

Following what was described as a brief illness, George passed away on September 27, 2010, ten days after his 83rd birthday.

As football’s ultimate old-timer, George was often asked to comment on the changing game. His pat answer was that many things had not changed—it still took hard work, skill and luck to be successful in the pros. The biggest difference?.

“We had more feel for the game because we called all the plays,” he observed in more than one interview. “Nowadays, the coaches call the plays and they're too conservative. In addition, there are too many specialists—kickers also played other positions. Guys like Bob Waterfield ... Lou Groza ... Pat Summerall ...”

“And ... um ... George Blanda.”.

George Blanda, 1965 Topps
     
 

 


© Copyright 2010 Black Book Partners, LLC. All rights reserved.

The original material appearing on JockBio.com is protected by copyright. No part of this material may be reproduced in whole or in part, or stored in a retrieval system, without permission of Black Book Partners, LLC. Please direct any inquiries regarding its use to jockbio@comcast.net.