Remembering George Blanda

George Blanda, 1st Oiler QB, 1960

Longtime NFL fans remember George Frederick Blanda as “The Grand Old Man.” Born September 17, 1927 in Youngwood, Pennsylvania, He was the son of a Slovak-born Pittsburgh area coal miner. For one thing, that just meant that George came into his adult years totally unafraid of hard work or play. You worked hard, if there was work to be done; you played hard, if there was any time left on the clock. Everything about George’s total package (his genes, his culture, and his desire) prepared him for the major recorded accomplishment of his football career: George Blanda would play 26 seasons as a professional football player, the longest such career on record. It was a career that would take Blanda through Houston during one of the most periods in the city’s sports history.

When George Blanda. came of age athletically in the golden Post World War II Era. it was a time of recovery from war for professional baseball, but more silently, at first, it served also as a time for American discovery of professional football.

George Blanda first played as a quarterback and kicker at the University of Kentucky (1945-48). The legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant arrived in Blanda’s sophomore year as the new Kentucky head coach. The Bear got there in time to take over a Wildcat team that went only 1-9 in Blanda’s freshman year, but this was back in the day that first year students were withheld from varsity play in favor of freshmen team ball.

Change was measurably positive. Kentucky lost only three games per year over the course of Blanda’s three varsity seasons (1946-48) under Bryant. Years later, upon a return visit to Kentucky, George Blanda recalled the time he met Bryant: “I thought this must be what God looks like.”

Blanda was the starting quarterback for UK during his junior and senior seasons at Kentucky (1947–1948), compiling 120 pass completions in 242 attempts (49.6 percentage) for 1,451 yards gained and 12 touchdowns.

During his first year out of college, December 17, 1949, George Blanda married Betty Harris. The couple parented and raised two children together – and they remained married until George’s death in 2010.

Blanda signed with the Chicago Bears prior to the 1949 season. Bears owner/coach George Halas gave $600 to sign, but then demanded the money back once Blanda made the team. It was very different era.

After a brief sojourn to the 1950 Baltimore Colts, Blanda was back in Chicago that same season for a nine-year rocky run with the Bears as a QB/Kicker. Blanda mostly kicked until 1953, when he moved up to starting QB just around the time America started seeing these professional games televised out of Chicago each Sunday with Red Grange calling same for both the Bears and then local Cardinals.

 On TV, the name and form of George Blanda became a redundant visual memory and Red Grange sound of what we all thought of as a professional football quarterback. What we didn’t see was the ongoing cheapskate struggling that went on between player Blanda and coach Halas. Blanda was scoring points at a record pace as a straight-on style placekicker, but he still complained that Halas was too tight to even buy him a decent kicking shoe.

Blanda retired after the 1958 season, but came out of retirement to sign with the Houston Oilers of the new American Football League in 1960. Dismissed as n over-the-hill NFL reject, Blanda showed his metal big time as starting QB and kicker for the Oilers. In 1960-61, George Blanda led the Oilers to the first two AFL championships  and in 1961 he was named as both the AFL QB and Player of the Year.

In 1961, Blanda of the Oilers threw for 3,330 yards and 36 touchdowns, the most TD passes ever thrown in a single AFL/NFL season through that time. Y.A. Title of the New York Giants tied Blanda’s 36-season TD mark in 1963 and these two men remained as joint record-holders until 1984, when Dan Marino of the Miami Dolphins blew the record open as 48 TD pass completions for the season.

In 1962, Blanda also hit the ignominy scale by throwing a record 42 pass interceptions. It is a record that still stands and it was just the downside of Blanda’s all-out production drive that season. He also netted two 400 plus yard games in 1962 and almost led the Oilers to a third straight AFL title before the Boys in Columbia Blue fell in a double overtime title game loss at Jeppesen Stadium to the Dallas Texans.

The Oilers gave up on Blanda in March 1967, releasing him, they thought, into retirement, but in so doing, they simply became the second professional team to underestimate the talent and staying power of the coal miner’s son. George signed with the Oakland Raiders in the summer of 1967 as a kicker and played another nine seasons (1967-75). All he did was lead the AFL in scoring (116 points) in his first season (1967) as a kicker.

Blanda helped the Raiders reach the Super Bowl and he even took them to the brink of nearly derailing the 1975 version of Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain. The Raiders didn’t win, but their loss to the Steelers on January 4, 1976, the 48-year old Blanda kicked a 41-yard field goal and an extra point in the Raiders’ 16-10 loss. What a man, this guy George Blanda was.

 Crowning his many achievements. George Blanda was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1981.

George Blanda died on September 27, 2010 in Alameda, California at the age of 83.

During his lifetime, his major playing records include these:

Blanda holds the following professional football records:

  • Passing TDs in a game: 7 (Tied with 4 others) November 19, 1961 vs. New York Titans
  • Most seasons played: 26 (1949–58, 1960–75)
  • Most seasons scoring a point: 26
  • One of three players to play in 4 different decades: (40s, 50s, 60s, 70s)
  • Most PATs made (943) and attempted (959)
  • Most interceptions thrown, single season: 42 (1962)
  • Held record of most pass attempts in a single game: 68 (37 completions, vs. New York Titans on 11/1/1961) until 1994 when Drew Bledsoe had 70
  • Oldest person to play in an NFL game: 48 years, 109 days
  • First player ever to score over 2,000 points
  • Oldest quarterback to start a title game
  • Most total points accounted for (including TD passes) in a career: 3,418 (not an official stat)

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3 Responses to “Remembering George Blanda”

  1. Herb Whalley Says:

    Tim Tebow’s so-called miracle comebacks this season so greatly remind me of George Blanda’s season with the Oakland Raiders when he came off the bench in the 4th quarter to lead the Raiders to several come from behind victories. I do not recall seeing so much buzz about a quarterback leading 4th quarter comebacks since the days of Blanda in Oakland.

  2. Bob Hulsey Says:

    I was going to mention the 1970 season where either his arm or his leg saved the Raiders from losses for five straignt weeks and earned him Player of the Year honors.

    Al Davis used to do a little roster trick with Blanda. Every season during the 1970s, the Raiders would cut Blanda late in training camp so they could keep one extra player to evaluate. They were secure in knowing that no other team was going to claim a grizzled 40+ placekicker so they’d cut him and then re-sign him before the opening week of the regular season. Did that for years.

    The Oilers tried from 1964-66 to replace George with Don Trull, Jackie Lee and others but he always managed to work his way back onto the field.

    It was around this time too that there was a film clip of Blanda missing a field goal with the Oilers during a game and was razzed by one of the opposing players. As that player was jogging back to the sidelines, George came running up behind him and gave him a stern kick in the butt, sparking a brawl. George was definitely a competitor.

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    Remembering George Blanda | The Pecan Park Eagle

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