THE GEORGE BLANDA COLLECTION
The late George Blanda was a study in persistence, perseverance and durability. A quarterback and a kicker, he played 26 seasons in the NFL, the most in the sport’s history, and had scored more points (2,002) than anyone else at the time of his retirement in 1976 at the age of 48. He was one of only two players to compete in four different decades (John Carney, 1988 to 2010, is the other) and still holds the record for most extra points ever made: 943.
George Frederick Blanda was born on Sept. 27, 1927, in Youngwood, Pennsylvania, an area known for producing its share of top-flight quarterbacks including NFL Hall of Famers Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath and Joe Montana. Blanda went on to play college football at the University of Kentucky. Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant, who would later win fame and set countless records at SEC rival Alabama, arrived at the start of Blanda’s sophomore season, following a dismal 1-9 campaign. The Wildcats lost no more than three games in each of the next three years. Years later, upon returning to the Kentucky campus and recalling the time he first met Bryant, Blanda said: “I thought this must be what God looks like.” Blanda served as the starting quarterback his last two seasons at Kentucky (1947-48) and completed 120 passes on 242 attempts for 1,451 yards and 12 touchdowns.
He was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 12th round of the 1949 NFL Draft, but his relationship with legendary Bears head coach and owner George Halas was frigid from the start. It would not be until 1953 when Blanda emerged as the Bears’ top signal-caller, but an injury the following year effectively ended his first-string status. For the next four years, he was used mostly in a kicking capacity. Commenting on his testy relationship with Halas, Blanda once said: “He was too cheap to even buy me a kicking shoe.”
Before the 1959 season, tired of only kicking, Blanda retired from football. A year later, however, the American Football League was born and Blanda got a second chance. He became the starting quarterback for the Houston Oilers and led them to the league’s first two championships and was even named AFL Player of the Year in 1961. He played a total of seven seasons in Houston and in 1967, when the team wanted him to retire, Blanda instead went on to play for the Oakland Raiders. As it turns out, he had only nine more NFL seasons left in him.
Blanda was a throwback player during the NFL’s coming of age in the 1970s under then-Commissioner Pete Rozelle. He played quarterback as well as kicked field goals and did both with equal aplomb. He remains the oldest player in NFL history to start at quarterback in a championship game; in 1971, at age 43, he started for the Raiders against the Baltimore Colts in the AFC title game and threw for 217 yards. The Raiders lost the game, 27-17, but Blanda defied the odds once again by accounting for all of Oakland’s points off two touchdown passes and a field goal.
For his career, he threw for more than 26,000 yards and 236 touchdowns. Oh yeah, and he kicked 335 field goals. In fact, he was the first player in NFL history to score more than 2,000 career points. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, in his first year of eligibility. He passed away on Sept. 17, 2010, at the age of 83.