Yes, this is not about Redskins football… but, please, bear with me. Among my cherished memories is that of watching a grizzled old Raiders “kicker” and part time back up quarterback winning a game with no time left. There are not many like George Blanda. The man was effective, till the end. Brett Favre? Not quite yet.
I’ve filtered through my (admittedly limited) personal list of hero “senior citizen” team athletes, and the only one I can think of who was in the same league, in terms of effectiveness and competitiveness up ’til the end of a very extensive career, is Satchell Page… That’s some rare altitude.
For those of you who never had the pleasure of watching the old man, the best I can do to help you is to imagine a combination of Billy Kilmer and Mark Mosely, and make him 48 years old. Yes, I know… those of you who are too young to know Blanda are also likely too young to remember Kilmer and Mosely, but that’s what I’ve got. There is no modern player to compare. They just don’t make them like that anymore.
He was a first ballot Hall of Famer, and was prized as perhaps the master of clutch. He was the record holder for career points scored when he retired, but my first memory is of this old man… I mean REALLY old man, taking over for a beaten up Daryle Lamonica, late in a game. I thought is was a joke… but, George Blanda, who probably loved the unconventionality of a +40 year old player as much as anyone, was no joke. Blanda knew how to win. And, he loved winning… I have memories of last minute clutch field goals, and a quiet, “can-do” attitude.
His 1970 season captures his spirit and tenacity like no other season in his 26 year career (during which he played Linebacker, Quarterback and Kicker).
Oakland actually released Blanda during the preseason. Fortunately for the franchise, he was still availible when they needed him. Fortunately for football fans everywhere, he was back in time to begin a 5 game stretch of incredible clutch performances… During the early fall game with Pittsburgh, Blanda was pressed into service as quarterback, in relief of Daryle Lamonica. His three touchdowns resulted in a critical win against the perpetually strong Steelers. The next week, versus a strong KC Chiefs team, his clutch field goal yielded a very important tie as the clock wound down to 3 seconds.
He was called off the bench against the Browns when Lamonica was hurt again to lead an Oakland comeback to tie with less than 2:00 remaining, and THEN kicked the game winning field goal with 3 seconds left. Clutch? The kick was 53 yards. Against Denver the next week, he again came off the bench as Lamonica was, again, knocked out of the game. He connected with Fred Biletnikoff with only 2:28 on the clock, to win by a 24-19 score.
The next week, his 16 yard field goal as time ran down yielded a 20-17 win over the Chargers. He wasn’t done… in the AFC Championship game with the Colts, Lamonica went down again… only it was early this time. Blanda did not miss a beat… he went 17-32 for 219 yards, and threw for 2 touchdowns. He also kicked a field goal and kicked 2 extra points. The magic ran out in the 4th quarter, when the Colts were able to intercept him twice, sealing their victory… No matter. Anyone who watched appreciated this man’s incredible season performance.
In 1970, he was named the AP Male Athlete of the Year.
My friends… THAT was a football player. There will never be another like him. Those of us who were lucky enough to watch him were blessed. When I hear the words “clutch player” I always have to make the comparison with George Blanda… against that standard, they rarely measure up.
God Speed, George Blanda…
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