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George Blanda, NFL great, dead at 83


George Blanda, the legendary quarterback and kicker for four differentNFL teams, died at the age of 83. George Blanda played a record 26seasons.

George Blanda, the Hall of Fame quarterback and kickerwho played a record 26 seasons of professional football and once almostsingle-handedly won five consecutive games for the Oakland Raiders, hasdied. He was 83.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame said Blanda diedMonday after a brief illness, and the Raiders issued a statementcalling him "a brave Raider and a close personal friend of Raidersowner Al Davis."

Blanda, who career dated to an era when players routinely manned two positions, scored a then-record 2,002 points.

Hescored those by throwing for 236 touchdowns and running for nine, aswell as kicking 335 field goals and 943 extra points. He retired beforethe 1976 season, a month shy of his 49th birthday, having spent 10seasons with the Chicago Bears, part of one with the Baltimore Colts,seven with the Houston Oilers and his last nine with the Raiders.

Ifyou put him in a group of most-competitive, biggest-clutch players, Ithink he'd have to be the guy who would win it all," his Raiders coach,John Madden, said in a phone interview Monday. "He was the mostcompetitive guy that I ever knew."

Never was that more evidentthan during a five-game stretch in 1970 when the 43-year-old Blanda,his chiseled jaw framed by salt-and-pepper sideburns, led the Raidersto four victories and one tie with late touchdown throws or field goals.

"Itgot to the point where when he'd come in [the game], the whole teamwould go, 'Here comes George. We're going to do it now,' " Madden said."Then pretty soon all the fans started believing, and they'd all gonuts. And then the topper is when the opponents knew it. It was like,'Oh no, here he comes.' "

That remarkable stretch began on Oct.25, 1970, when Blanda replaced an injured Daryle Lamonica and threwthree touchdown passes in a 31-14 victory over Pittsburgh.

In the four games that followed, he:

Kicked a 48-yard field goal in the final seconds to forge a 17-17 tie at Kansas City.

Threwa tying touchdown pass with one minute, 34 seconds remaining, thenkicked the game-winning 52-yard field goal in the final seconds of a23-20 victory over Cleveland.

Threw a 20-yard touchdown pass to Fred Biletnikoff in a 24-19 victory over Denver.

Kicked a 16-yard field goal in the final seconds for a 20-17 victory over San Diego.

SaidDavis in an interview with NFL Films: "Whenever we were in trouble,John just went to the bullpen, waved his hand, and George came in andstarted throwing those miraculous touchdown passes and kicking thosemiraculous field goals."

In looking at that incredible streak,NFL Films called Blanda "football's King Tut exhibit," noting that eventhough people initially thought the quarterback was too old to be aplayer, "He was just the right age to become a legend."

Blandawas born Sept. 17, 1927, in Youngwood, Pa., one of 11 children of acoalminer and his homemaker wife. When Blanda entered the NFL as a12th-round draft pick out of the University of Kentucky in 1949, heshowed even more versatility by playing linebacker for George Halas'Bears. That was out of necessity, considering he was the thirdquarterback behind Johnny Lujack and future Hall of Famer Sid Luckman.

Blandawon the starting quarterback job in 1953 but lost it the followingseason because of injury. His playing time dwindled after that, and heretired in 1959 when it became clear the Bears wanted him as afull-time kicker.

But he didn't sit around long. In 1960, hejoined the Oilers of the new American Football League, and wound upplaying a total of 16 more seasons in Houston and Oakland beforecalling it quits after the 1975 season. Among his many NFL records,he's in the books as the only player whose career spanned four decades.

Blandamade an immediate splash in the upstart AFL, earning player-of-the-yearhonors in 1961 after throwing for 3,330 yards and setting a profootball record with 36 touchdown passes. That stood until 1986, whenit was broken by Miami's Dan Marino.

Also in 1961, Blanda tied apro football record with seven touchdown passes in a game, a mark henow shares with Joe Kapp, Y.A. Tittle, Adrian Burk and Luckman.

"Whatpeople don't know is when we look at the film, Blanda probably couldhave topped that number," said Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films."They were routing the [New York] Titans, and Blanda came out of thegame early in the second half. He had seven touchdown passes midwaythrough the third quarter when they took him out."

Sabolremembers going to Blanda's home and interviewing the recently-retiredquarterback. When they were finished, Blanda proudly showed him ahomemade Christmas card drawn by his wife, who had been an art major incollege. It was a cartoon of Blanda standing with Santa, who told him,"You're the only little boy I gave a uniform to that's still using it."

Blanda,who split time between homes in Chicago and La Quinta, is survived byhis wife, Betty, and two children. Services are pending.

Copyright 2010 Los Angeles Times
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Copyright © 2010, Tribune Interactive

Entry #150


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