Chicago Bears Traditions

Bears in The Hall

George Blanda

On October 25, 1970, Oakland Raiders' reserve quarterback George Blanda entered the Pittsburgh game with the score tied 7-7 and promptly threw three touchdown passes and kicked a field goal as Oakland won, 31-14. The next week, George kicked a 48-yard field goal with three seconds left to enable Oakland to tie

Kansas City, 17-17. Then came a 23-20 triumph over Cleveland made possible by Blanda's touchdown pass with 1:34 to go and his 52-yard field goal as time ran out.

A game later against Denver, Oakland won, 24-19, when the 6-2, 215-pounder threw a 20-yard scoring strike with 2:28 to play. Finally, on November 22 against San Diego, the Raiders won, 20-17, on the strength of George's field goal with seven seconds to play. Never before had an individual so completely dominated his team's destiny over such an extended period. Making the feat an 'event for the ages,' however, was the fact that George was 43 years old at the time. He became an instant folk-hero and, for the over 40 set in particular, he provided a whole new lease on life. As a humorist Erma Bombeck wrote: "After George beat Cleveland, my husband announced he was going to jog all the way to the garbage can in the morning."

Everything George did in 1970 was storybook in nature. He won a sixth game against the New York Jets with a fourth-quarter conversion and came close to encore heroics on at least two other occasions. He became the oldest quarterback ever to play in a championship game in the AFC showdown against Baltimore and, although the Colts won, Blanda accounted for all 17 of Oakland's points. Associated Press named him the 1970 Male Athlete of the Year and Sporting News tabbed him the AFC Player of the Year.

There is a little doubt that five-game stretch and the 1970 season overall did more to make George Blanda a pro football immortal than all of his many other meaningful accomplishments in a 26-year, 340-game career, the longest by far of any pro gridder.

A University of Kentucky product, he started as a 12th round draft pick of the Chicago Bears in 1949. Except for a one-game "detour" with the 1950 Colts, he stayed in Chicago for a full decade. After sitting out the 1959 season, he came back for seven strong seasons with the Houston Oilers of the American Football League in the early 1960's and then wound up with nine history-making years with the Oakland Raiders. His tenure ended just before the 1976 season at a time when George was less than a month shy of his 49th birthday. No one else, even in the early years, had played past the age of 46.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame's board of Selectors in its meeting in January of 1981 quickly recognized the legendary contributions George had made to the game and rewarded him with a near-unanimous vote for Hall membership in his first year of eligibility.

Blanda joined Morris (Red) Badgro, Willie Davis and Jim Ringo in receiving formal induction rites on August 1, 1981.

Blanda built impressive career accumulations with both of his on-the-field assignments. As a quarterback, he threw 4,007 passes for 26,920 yards and 236 touchdowns. Only six players have more TD passes and he ranks No. 10 in attempts and No. 12 in passing yardage.

As a place-kicker with the conventional straight-ahead approach, George was so successful that his 2002 points-all but 54 of them coming on kicking-rank him No. 1 among history's scorers and almost 400 points ahead of his nearest competitor.

Blanda played in Super Bowl II and a record 11 NFL or AFC title games. He holds 21 championship game records. He also infiltrates the regular season record manual with 21 entries, 16 of them marks he has either tied or claimed outright. His scoring passes in 1961 tie him with Y.A. Title for an all-time seasonal standard. That same year against the New York Titans, he connected for a record-tying seven TD tosses.

Widely recognized as one of the truly great competitors sports has known, Blanda was also crazy about the game he played. He had not been so dedicated and determined, it is likely that his career would have ended many year--a decade or more-- before it did.

The son of a Youngwood, PA., coal miner, George learned his competitive ways in a family that included seven boys, all of them outstanding high school athletes. Not all the Blanda brothers had the opportunity to go to college, but three did-Tom to Army, Paul to Pittsburgh and George to Kentucky. George insists that, in some quarters, he still is considered the "fourth best kicker and the third best quarterback in the Blanda family."

At Kentucky, George had become a fine linebacker, an outstanding punter, and place-kicker and a developing quarterback when George Halas tabbed him for the Bears. Although Chicago already had three "name" quarterbacks-Sid Luckman, Johnny Lujack and Bobby Layne-on its roster, Blanda signed with the Bears when Halas offered him a $6,000 contract and a $600 bonus.

"What could I do?" George remembers. "That's an awful lot of money for a 21-year-old kid who'd never had anything in his life."

His first pre-season game was a roaring success. Taking over in the third quarter of a 0-0 game, George threw a 40-yard TD strike to George McAfee on the first play and had a seven for seven day along with two more scoring passes to pace the Bears to a 34-0 win.

Unfortunately from the Blanda standpoint, this was not a harbinger of things to come in Chicago. All three 1949 quarterback challengers were gone within three seasons but another string of capable candidates always seemed to be on hand. Except for the 1953 and 1954 campaigns, Blanda was never a regular with the Bears. He was enjoying great success in 1954 when felled by a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined the last four games. Ironically, it was the only time in his long career that he had to miss a game because of injury.

Blanda balked at becoming a kicker only, which is what the Bears had him in mind for him in 1959, so he retired. Most 31-year-olds, with 10 years of pro experience behind them, would have agreed it was time to quit for good.

But the emergence of the American Football League in 1960 gave George another opportunity and he made the most of it. For the next seven years, he was the Oilers' play-every-game bombardier who contributed 19,149 yards and 165 touchdowns to the Houston passing game. He was the AFL Player of the Year in 1961 when he guided the Oilers to their second straight AFL championship. He just missed a third crown in the 1962 title game when he led the Oilers back from a 17-0 half-time deficit only to lose to the Dallas Texans in two overtimes.

Blanda bristles at suggestions that his great success in Houston came about because the AFL was "a Mickey Mouse League" with weak pass defenses.

"I had a front row seat from the very first AFL game," he emphasizes, " and I only regret we didn't have a Super Bowl from the start. The NFL guys ducked us. We would have more than held our own."

By the mid 1960s, the Oilers' fortunes took a sharp downward turn to Blanda, since he was the key man during the winning years, predictability took much of the heat for the losing season. After the 1966 campaign, when George was approaching 40, the Oilers put him on waivers.

But Al Davis, the Oakland managing general partner, negotiated a trade for "an unnamed player" and thus George started his third pro "career".

In Oakland, George's role was always clearly understood. He was to be the backup quarterback and the place-kicking specialist. Interestingly, in his role as substitute signal-caller, he gained more universal respect as a clutch passer than any other time in his career. As expected, he contributed mightily as a kicker with three straight 100 point-plus seasons in 1967, 1968, and 1969.

Perhaps that was why George was so deeply hurt, as well as surprised, when the Raiders put him on the waiver list just before the start of the 1970 season. No other NFL team claimed him- Blanda admits, this is the biggest blow of all.

But Davis assured George that putting him on waivers was just a roster maneuver and the Raiders had every intention of using him as their regular kicker in 1970. After several days' deliberations when he seriously pondered retirement, George decided to keep playing.

In spite of the misunderstanding in 1970, Blanda still recognizes the role Davis played in his career. "Those last nine years that meant so much to me would not have happened had he not be willing to give me a chance."

That chance was the one thing needed to assure himself of his sport's premier honor, membership in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.