Saturday, January 7, 2012
#25 - GEORGE BLANDA, K, Raiders
The ageless wonder, George Blanda, who at 45 let the NFL in extra points in 1972. Amazing. He would lead again two years later with 44, and his last year he would hit 44 again in 1975.
I remember a Happy Days episode where the Cunninghams are watching a football game on TV and Richie makes a comment on how washed up old George Blanda was. Truth is, Blanda was pretty much out of the loop as Bears QB after the 1954 season, though he led the NFL in passing yards a game that year. Ed Brown and then Zeke Bratkowski passed him on the depth chart, and Blanda was mostly relegated to kicking duty his last four seasons with the Bears.
After a year away, the AFL Oilers picked him up and Blanda's numbers exploded, tossing passes to the likes of AFL great Charley Hannigan. His point totals climbed, too, as one of the more accurate kickers of the era. By 1966, Blanda was 39 and only started 8 of the 14 games as Houston struggled to get to 3 wins.
It was off to Oakland and career number 3. Daryle Lamonica was incumbent and the Raiders just needed a backup and a kicker. Blanda provided both as the Raiders made the Super Bowl, losing to the Packers. As late as 1972 Topps listed Blanda as a QB-K, and Blanda threw his final pass as a Raider in 1975 at age 48.
In 1972, the Raiders were in transition. The highly productive Lamonica would have his last year as the regular starter, and Ken Stabler would take over and be even more productive at that spot. Lamonica would play into 1974, but the 1972 Topps card would be his last.
Blanda's football card history starts with the Bowman set of 1954, though his pro career started in 1949. Skipping a year for the 1959 layoff, and 1967, he would be in a Fleer or Topps set each season through 1976. His 1975 card was actually three different ones, a Record Breaker card and two career cards. His 1976 card had to break format on the back from a horizontal career format to a vertical one just to get all the years in.
His 1969 appearance reflected the laziness of Topps for their football and baseball sets of that year. His 4-in-1 Topps card of that year manages to use a picture of him in a Raider uniform. His regular issue card of that year has him in an OILER uniform...the red and white one they used before 1965.
A year or so ago when looking through the Blanda records at pro-football-reference.com, I noticed something strange. In the uniform numbers listed at the top, there was his first Bears number, 22, and his last number, 16. There was also a number 64 surrounded by green. Now I know that Blanda had played some defense early on in his pro career, in fact he had an interception in 1949, but this looked weird.
Listed in 1950 was the Baltimore Colts. Now none of Blanda's cards had ever listed the Colts as one of his teams, so I assumed it was a mistake. Not so.
Blanda had been traded to the Colts by the Bears after the 1949 season. He lasted one game, as this version of the Colts (who folded after one season) had two other quarterbacks, Y.A. Tittle and Adrian Burk. All the players that were listed as QBs for the green-and-white 1950 Colts wore numbers in the 60s. Tittle was 63. Blanda found himself back in Chicago with the Bears the rest of the season.
This Baltimore Sun article says that the hapless Colts were going to trade Blanda to the Packers (!!!!) but George Halas claimed that he had an agreement that the Colts couldn't trade him to Green Bay, and Blanda ended up back in Chicago.
An odd tiny chapter in the long career of George Blanda that many didn't realize existed. Imagine if he had gone to the Packers....
CARTOON! Big Smilin' Football Guy is evidently Fred Biletnikoff, illegally using a net to lead the AFC in receiving! Silly Topps, everyone knows Biletnikoff didn't use a net, he used giant gobs of Stickum.