George Blanda, the seemingly ageless Hallof Fame quarterback and kicker whose 26-year career was bestremembered for a remarkable run of late-game theatrics with theOakland Raiders, has died. He was 83.
The Raiders confirmed the death Monday and issued a statementsaying "we are deeply saddened by the passing of the great GeorgeBlanda. George was a brave Raider and a close personal friend ofRaiders owner Al Davis."
Blanda retired a month shy of his 49th birthday before the 1976season, playing longer than anyone else in pro football history. Hespent 10 seasons with the Chicago Bears, part of one with theBaltimore Colts, seven with the Houston Oilers and his final ninewith the Raiders.
He scored 2,002 points in his career, a pro football record atthe time of his retirement, kicking 335 field goals and 943 extrapoints, running for nine touchdowns and throwing for 236 more.
But it was a five-game stretch for Oakland in 1970 that is thelasting imprint from his career. As a 43-year-old, Blanda led theRaiders to four wins and one tie with late touchdown passes orfield goals.
Later that season, he became the oldest quarterback to play in achampionship game, throwing two touchdown passes and kicking afield goal in Oakland's 27-17 loss to Baltimore in the AFC titlegame. His performance that season earned him The Associated PressMale Athlete of the Year.
Blanda joined the Oilers of the new American Football League in1960 and played 16 seasons before hanging it up for good followingthe 1975 campaign. He led the Oilers to the first two AFL titles,beating the Chargers for the championship following the 1960 and'61 seasons.
He nearly won a third straight title when he led the Oilers backfrom a 17-0 halftime deficit to the Dallas Texans in the 1962 titlegame before losing in double overtime.
"George Blanda will always be remembered as a legend of ourgame," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement,"including his amazing career longevity of 26 seasons in fourdifferent decades. George's multi-talented flair for the dramatichighlighted the excitement of pro football during an importantperiod of growth for our sport."
Blanda began his memorable run in 1970 by throwing threetouchdown passes in place of an injured Daryle Lamonica in a 31-14win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 25. The following week he kicked a48-yard field goal in the final seconds to give the Raiders a 17-17tie against Kansas City.
Blanda was just getting started. He threw a tying touchdown passwith 1:34 remaining and then kicked the game-winning 52-yard fieldgoal in the final seconds the following week in a 23-20 win overCleveland.
He followed that with a 20-yard TD pass to Fred Biletnikoff inplace of Lamonica in a 24-19 victory over Denver the next week,then kicked a 16-yard field goal in the closing seconds to beat SanDiego 20-17 on Nov. 22.
"The game that I remember the most was playing againstCleveland in 1970," he once said. "We were down 20-13 and I camein and we got a touchdown and then we got a field goal in the lastthree seconds."
Blanda entered the NFL out of Kentucky as a 12th-round pick(119th overall) of the Chicago Bears in 1949. He spent most of thenext decade with the Bears, leaving to play one game for the Coltsin 1950. After winning the Bears starting job in 1953, Blandapromptly lost it the following season because of injury. Hisplaying time at quarterback quickly diminished and he retired in1959 at age 31 when Chicago planned to make him a full-time kicker.It was a short-lived break because he then joined the AFL's Oilersthe nest season.
Blanda was one of the new league's many prolific passers,throwing for 19,149 yards and 165 touchdowns in seven seasons forthe Oilers. He was the AFL Player of the Year in 1961, holds AFLsingle-game passing record of 464 yards on Oct. 29, 1961, againstBuffalo, and was chosen the league's all-time kicker.
"We did all the strategy right on the field," he once said."Today, the coaches call all the plays, so all the quarterbackshave to do is perform. They are more or less programmed."
The Oilers thought he was at the end of his career in 1967, butthe Raiders picked him up as a backup quarterback and kicker and helasted nine more seasons.
Blanda threw for 26,920 yards in his career and held the profootball record with 277 interceptions until Brett Favre passed himin 2007. He retired with the most points in history before thetotal was topped by several players in recent years.
"It certainly doesn't bother me," Blanda said about losing thescoring record. "The one record I was happy to get rid of was theone for the most interceptions, when Brett Favre got that one."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times