George Blanda: American footballer who played in the NFL at the age of 48

In a sport where the average career lasts less than four years, George Blanda's lasted 26 seasons. Blanda retired after the 1975 season, at 48 the oldest man to play in a National Football League game, and at the time the only one to have played in four separate decades. His career record for points scored (2,002) stood for 25 years, but his reputation as the ultimate clutch player was cemented in one five-week period in 1970.

Blanda, already 43, replaced an injured Daryle Lamonica at quarterback and threw three touchdown passes to rally the Oakland Raiders to a31-14 win over Pittsburgh. The next Sunday he kicked a game-tying field goal with three seconds left, and a week later replaced an injured Lamonica in the final quarter, tying the game with a touchdown pass with just over a minute to go, then won it with a 52-yard kick, the second-longest of his career, again with three seconds on the clock. The next week he took over with four minutes to play and threw a game-winning pass, and in the following game a short field goal for another win. He failed to rally the team the next week, but his legend was established. He won the Bert Bell award for player of the year, even though he threw only 55 passes the entire season.

Known as "the ageless wonder", Blanda's longevity was remarkable because his career appeared to have ended twice. He was born in 1927, the son of a Czech-born coal-miner, in Youngswood, a town in the western Pennsylvania area known as "the cradle of quarterbacks". Blanda played for the legendary coach Bear Bryant at the University of Kentucky, but wasn't chosen until the 12th round of the 1949 NFL draft, by the Chicago Bears.

Chicago, were already stocked at quarterback and Blanda and George Halas, the coach, took an instant dislike to each other. Halas was autocratic, since he also owned the team, and stingy, "too cheap to even buy me a kicking shoe". Blanda became his whipping-boy. In 1950 Halas traded him to Baltimore, but bought his contract back the next week to be the team's kicker, playing occasionally at linebacker. He started at quarterback for only parts of two seasons, but once, when Chicago was getting thrashed, the fans began chanting for him. Halas called him off the bench, but as Blanda prepared to go into the game, Halas pointed to the stands, saying "go up there, they want you".

The frustration led Blanda to retire after the 1958 season, but in 1960 the American Football League was formed to challenge the NFL's monopoly. Blanda signed with the Houston Oilers and led them to the league's first championship, throwing an 88-yard touchdown pass to Billy Cannon, and won again in 1961, when he was the league's most valuable player, throwing a record seven touchdown passes in a game against the New York Titans.

Blanda was the epitome of the players whose talent went unrecognised by the conservative NFL but was allowed to flourish in the free-flowing AFL. He was fearless in the face of pass rushing, but had more confidence in his arm than it deserved; when he retired he held the career record for passes intercepted.

In 1966 the Oilers, feeling Blanda was too old, dropped him, leaving him to be signed by Oakland. They were another team run by an autocratic owner (and former coach), but Al Davis loved "renegades". Blanda led the AFL in scoring in 1967, and kicked Oakland to Super Bowl II the following year. Davis released Blanda before that amazing 1970 season, only to re-sign him immediately. His final game was the Super Bowl semi-final in January 1976, which the Raiders lost to Pittsburgh. Oakland would win their first Super Bowl, without him, the following season. In 1981 Blanda was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Davis introduced him, calling him the greatest clutch player he had ever seen.

George Blanda, American footballer: born Youngswood, Pennsylvania 17 September 1927; married 1949 Betty Harris (two children); died La Quinta, California 27 September 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line IT Engineer

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Co...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent