ALAMEDA, Calif. » George Blanda, who played longer than anyone in pro football history and racked up the most points in a career that spanned four decades, mostly with the Chicago Bears and Oakland Raiders, died yesterday. He was 83.
"We are deeply saddened by the passing of the great George Blanda," the Raiders said in confirming his death. "George was a brave Raider and a close personal friend of Raiders owner Al Davis." The Pro Football Hall of Fame said on its website that Blanda died yesterday after a brief illness.
Blanda retired a month shy of his 49th birthday before the 1976 season. He spent 10 seasons with the Bears, part of one with the Baltimore Colts, seven with the Houston Oilers and his final nine with the Raiders.
He held the pro scoring record when he retired, with 2,002 points. He kicked 335 field goals and 943 extra points, threw for 236 touchdowns and ran for nine more.
He also threw for 26,920 yards in his career and held the pro football record with 277 interceptions until Brett Favre passed him in 2007. His points record stood until it was topped by several players in recent years.
"It certainly doesn’t bother me," Blanda said about losing the scoring record. "The one record I was happy to get rid of was the one for the most interceptions, when Brett Favre got that one."
A moment of silence was held in Blanda’s honor before last night’s Green Bay-Chicago game.
It was a five-game stretch for Oakland in 1970 that is the lasting imprint of his career. As a 43-year-old, Blanda led the Raiders to four wins and one tie with late touchdown passes or field goals.
Later that season, he became the oldest quarterback to play in a championship game, throwing two touchdown passes and kicking a field goal in Oakland’s 27-17 loss to Baltimore in the AFC title game. His performance that season earned him the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year.
Blanda joined the Oilers of the new American Football League in 1960 and played 16 seasons before hanging it up for good following the 1975 campaign. He led the Oilers to the first two AFL titles, beating the Chargers for the championship following the 1960 and ’61 seasons.
"George Blanda will always be remembered as a legend of our game," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement, "including his amazing career longevity of 26 seasons in four different decades. George’s multi-talented flair for the dramatic highlighted the excitement of pro football during an important period of growth for our sport."
Blanda began his memorable run in 1970 by throwing three touchdown passes in place of an injured Daryle Lamonica in a 31-14 win over Pittsburgh on Oct. 25. The following week he kicked a 48-yard field goal in the final seconds to give the Raiders a 17-17 tie against Kansas City.
Blanda was just getting started. He threw a tying touchdown pass with 1:34 remaining and then kicked the game-winning 52-yard field goal in the final seconds the following week in a 23-20 win over Cleveland.
He followed that with a 20-yard TD pass to Fred Biletnikoff in place 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 San Diego 20-17 on Nov. 22.
"The game that I remember the most was playing against Cleveland in 1970," he once said. "We were down 20-13 and I came in and we got a touchdown and then we got a field goal in the last 3 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 the next decade with the Bears, leaving to play one game for the Colts in 1950. After winning the Bears starting job in 1953, Blanda promptly lost it the following season because of injury. His playing time at quarterback quickly diminished and he retired in 1959 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 Oilers the next season.