ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP)—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 Monday. He was 83.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of the great George Blanda,” the Raiders said Monday 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 Monday 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, running for nine touchdowns and throwing for 236 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.”
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.
He nearly won a third straight title when he led the Oilers back from a 17-0 halftime deficit to the Dallas Texans in the 1962 title game before losing in double overtime.
“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 three 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.
Blanda was one of the new league’s many prolific passers, throwing for 19,149 yards and 165 touchdowns in seven seasons for the Oilers. He was the AFL Player of the Year in 1961, holds AFL single-game passing record of 464 yards on Oct. 29, 1961, against Buffalo, 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 quarterbacks have to do is perform. They are more or less programmed.”
Oilers owner Bud Adams said Blanda’s flair was a reason the AFL attracted so much attention.
“He was the perfect fit for the start of the AFL, joining our league from the NFL and displaying the ability to lead a high flying offense,” Adams said in a statement. “His play garnered our league a lot of attention and fans. We had a celebration last year in Houston for the 1960 and 1961 AFL championship seasons and the team hall of fame members and it was great to have George join us and remember fondly those early years.”
In 1967, the Oilers thought Blanda was at the end of his career, but the Raiders picked him up as a backup quarterback and kicker and he lasted nine more seasons.
“A seemingly ageless wonder, George inspired legions of fans over a 26-year career, with his clutch performances as a quarterback and place kicker. He will be truly missed,” said Steve Perry, executive director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.