Notes and Quotes- January 30, 2022


Tom Morrow

You’re Never Too Old for the NFL

By Tom Morrow
George Blanda

Tampa Bay Buccaneer quarterback Tom Brady won’t be in this year’s Super Bowl, and at 45 years old, he still isn’t the oldest in the NFL to ever to play the game.
Back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and, ‘70s, there was George Blanda who didn’t hang up his cleats until age 48, a mark that remains a record to this day. Reluctant to retire, Blanda would have kept playing if a team would have offered him a spot on their roster.
He was a quarterback and placekicker at the University of Kentucky from 1945 to 1948, where Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant’s Wildcats lost only three games in each of those three years.
In 1949, Chicago Bears owner George Halas signed Blanda for the “lucrative” contract of $6,000. He was used as a quarterback and placekicker, but also saw time as a defensive linebacker. Because of an injury he was used mostly as a kicker. Regarding his testy relationship with Halas, Blanda noted, “he was too cheap to even buy me a kicking shoe.”
Blanda retired after the 1958 season, but he returned in 1960 upon the formation of the American Football League. He was with the Houston Oilers as both a quarterback and kicker. Despite being called a “NFL reject” by the sports media Blanda led the Oilers to the AFL’s first two league titles. During the 1961 season he led the AFL with 3,330 passing yards and 36 touchdowns. At that time it was the most ever thrown by any professional quarterback during a single season, but on the dark side of his career Blanda’s 42 interceptions thrown in 1962 still is a record.
During the 1962 season Blanda passed for another 36 touchdowns and on 13 occasions, he connected on four or more touchdown passes.
A four-time AFL All-Star, Blanda’s career seemed over in 1967 when he was released by the Oilers. However, the Oakland Raiders signed him as a backup passer and kicker.
In Blanda’s first season with the Raiders, he led the AFL kicking 116 points. In 1967 he kicked a trio of field goals upsetting the defending league champion Kansas City Chiefs.
In 1970, Blanda was released during the exhibition season, but the “old man” bounced back. At age 43, during his 21st season, Blanda had a remarkable five-game run. Against the Steelers, he threw for three touchdowns in relief of injured Raiders’ quarterback Daryle Lamonica. One week later, his 48-yard field goal with three seconds remaining in the game salvaged a 17-17 tie with the Kansas City Chiefs.

A touch of gray hair, Oakland Raiders kicker/OB George Blanda

On Nov. 8, 1970, Blanda again came off the bench to throw a touchdown pass to tie the Cleveland Browns with 1:34 remaining, then kicked a 53-yard field goal with only 3 seconds left for the 23-20 win. Immediately after the winning field goal, Raiders radio announcer Bill King excitedly declared, “George Blanda has just been elected King of the World!” In the team’s next game, Blanda again replaced Lamonica in the fourth quarter and connected with wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff on a touchdown pass with just 2:28 left in the game, defeating the Denver Broncos 24-19. The following week, Blanda’s 16-yard field goal in the closing seconds defeated the San Diego Chargers, 20-17.
In the AFC title game against the Baltimore Colts, Blanda again relieved an injured Lamonica completing 17 of 32 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns. He also kicked a 48-yard field goal and two extra points, keeping the Raiders in the game until the final quarter, when he was intercepted twice.
At age 43, Blanda became the oldest quarterback ever to play in a championship game, and was one of the few remaining straight-ahead kickers in the NFL. Today, all placekickers use the soccer side-of-foot technique, which allows for greater distance. But Blanda, Lou “the toe” Groza, and Doak Walker all managed to come close to today’s distance records with the old-style kicking.
Although he never again played a major role at quarterback, Blanda served as the Raiders’ kicker for five more seasons. He also was named the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year, being the first-ever professional football player to earn the award.

Tom Brady

At age 48, Blanda played in his last game against Pittsburgh Jan. 4, 1976, during the 1975 AFC Championship Game. In that game he kicked a 41-yard field goal, but was released during the next year’s training camp. Reluctant to give up the ball, Blanda was quoted as saying, “I’m available as a kicker if anyone will have me.”
None did.
At age 83, Blanda died on Jan. 17, 2010. He’s in the record books and NFL Hall of Fame as one of the greatest to ever play the game. But the present-day “iron man,” Tom Brady, still has four years to catch up with George Blanda. It’s doubtful anyone will play the game longer.

(Published in OsideNews)