Friday, October 8, 2010
Raiders legend George Blanda dies at 83
Raiders legend George Blanda dies at 83
Vittorio Tafur, Dwight Chapin, Chronicle Staff Writers
September 27, 2010
"George Blanda has just been elected King of the World!"
Those were the words of radio announcer Bill King after another great comeback orchestrated by the Raiders' legendary quarterback/kicker in 1970. Having come off the bench to first throw a game-tying touchdown pass and then kick the game-winning field goal, Mr. Blanda continued an amazing stretch of five games that etched his name onto a short list of the NFL's all-time clutch performers.
Today, football fans around the world are mourning the loss of Mr. Blanda, who died Monday after a brief illness. He was 83.
Mr. Blanda was known for his toughness, versatility and longevity, surviving 26 seasons and 340 games in the NFL as a quarterback and a kicker. That's five more years than any other player in history. In 1975, at the age of 48, he retired as the league's all-time leading scorer, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
"George's multitalented flair for the dramatic highlighted the excitement of pro football during an important period of growth for our sport," Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a prepared statement.
Best came last
Some of Mr. Blanda's best work came in his last decade in the NFL, with the Oakland Raiders.
"He's a legend who you think would live forever," former Raiders coach Tom Flores said.
"He was about as tough a competitor as I've ever been around, and he never changed. He became a very good friend."
After playing college ball for Bear Bryant at the University of Kentucky, the Pennsylvania-born Mr. Blanda spent 10 seasons with George Halas and the Chicago Bears, helping lead them to the NFL title game in 1956.
When he left the Bears in 1959 after a squabble over money and playing time, he retired and sat out a season.
The next season, Mr. Blanda was coaxed into joining the Houston Oilers of the new American Football League.
"I signed with Houston because I knew Bud Adams (the team owner) had a lot of money," Mr. Blanda recalled later.
He paced the Oilers to the first two AFL titles in 1960 and 1961. Blanda nearly won a third straight title, but his team lost to the Dallas Texans in double overtime after coming back from a 17-0 deficit.
"I will always think of myself as an AFL player," he once said.
Raiders owner Al Davis acquired the 39-year-old Mr. Blanda in 1967, after he had already put in 17 years of pro ball, for the waiver price of $100. Mr. Blanda played nine seasons in the Bay Area, often spectacularly, as a kicker and backup quarterback to Daryle Lamonica.
Mr. Blanda's most memorable season in Oakland was 1970, when over a five-game stretch, he won four games and tied another with either his arm, his foot or both. The feat led him to be named AFC Player of the Year at age 43.
"Al Davis always liked my attitude, and my time with the Raiders was special, because it looked like my career was over," the always blunt Mr. Blanda said. "Instead, I played another nine years, which by itself was more than twice the average playing career."
Final-game field goal
In his last game, Mr. Blanda kicked a 41-yard field goal and made an extra point in a 16-10 loss to Pittsburgh in the 1975 AFC Championship Game.
When he retired after the 1975 season, he held the pro scoring record of 2,002 points, since broken by kickers Gary Anderson and Morten Andersen. Mr. Blanda also passed for 26,920 yards but held the record for interceptions (277) until Brett Favre passed him in 2007.
Mr. Blanda also set marks for most career field-goal attempts (637) and most points after touchdowns made and attempted (943 of 959).
With Davis as his presenter, Mr. Blanda was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
"Two renegades, me and Al Davis," Mr. Blanda said. "It was great."
Among other things that day, Davis said, "George Blanda inspired a whole nation in 1970. I really believe he is the greatest clutch player in the history of this game."
Mr. Blanda was voted into the Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame in 1989.
After retirement, Mr. Blanda gave motivational speeches to corporate groups, played celebrity golf events around the country (he was a 7-handicapper) and followed another favorite sport, horse racing.
He and his wife, Betty, split time between Chicago and La Quinta, near Palm Springs.
The Raiders released a statement mourning the loss of one of their greatest players.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of the great George Blanda. George was a brave Raider and a close friend of Raiders owner Al Davis. Our heart goes out to his wife, Betty, and the Blanda family, and we grieve with them for our great friend."
The family will hold a private funeral service. A memorial service will be held, with the time and place to be announced.
E-mail Vittorio Tafur at email@example.com. Chronicle staff writer Ron Kroichick contributed to this report.
This article appeared on page A - 1 of the San Francisco Chronicle