Interesting Football Stories–XI
Redskins' Cheap Scouting

George Preston Marshall, owner of the Washington Redskins from 1932-1969, had a reputation as a cheapskate. One area where he skimped was scouting college players for the draft.

  • Eddie LeBaron, Redskins QB (1952-59), joked, "They used to say the Red­skins scouting budget was 50 cents, the cost of Street and Smith and another football magazine."
  • Even though he had a GM, Marshall exercised total control over the personnel decisions. He prided himself on evaluating talent even though he had no background as a player or coach.

The Redskins did so little preparation for the draft that other coaches suspected Marshall of cheating.

  • In his autobiography, legendary Cleveland Browns coach (1946-62) Paul Brown wrote:

At the player draft meetings, we all sat at separate tables with our lists spread before us, and Marshall inevitably made the rounds of each table, coming up from behind, leaning over and giving the big hello. At the same time, he would look over our shoulders at our lists, trying to get some in­formation. After a while, it became so obvious that everyone just closed his book when he saw Marshall coming.

  • LeBaron says that some teams actually showed lists of players they did not want to sucker Marshall into taking them.

As you might imagine, the Redskins didn't fare well in the drafts. The most egregious example of their lack of preparation occurred in 1946.

  • With their first round pick, Washington took UCLA RB Cal Rossi.
  • One problem - Rossi was only a junior and therefore not eligible for the draft.
  • Undeterred, Marshall selected Rossi again the following year even though he had made it clear that he had no interest in playing pro football.
Reference: Showdown: JFK and the Integration of the Washington Redskins,
Thomas E. Smith (2011)
Interesting Stories Archive | Top of Page
Redskins Owner George Preston Marshall
George Preston Marshall
Redskins QB Eddie LeBaron
Eddie LeBaron
NFL Commissioner Bert Bell
Bert Bell
Steelers Owner Art Rooney
Art Rooney
LA Rams Owner Dan Reeves
Dan Reeves
NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle
Pete Rozelle
Baltimore Colts Owner Carroll Rosenbloom
Carroll Rosenbloom
"I Come to You with Clean Hands"
Bert Bell became commissioner of the NFL in 1946.
  • The former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles presided over the growth of the league after World War II, including the assimilation of three teams from the rival All-America Football Conference.
  • The high point of Bert's tenure was the famous 1958 overtime championship game between the New York Giants and the Baltimore Colts. That game raised public awareness of pro football and made the NFL a much more valua­ble TV commodity.

Bell was not an ivory tower commissioner. He enjoyed mingling with the fans during games.

  • He spent the third Sunday of the 1959 season at the Steelers-Eagles game at Franklin Field in Philadelphia, sitting in the cheap seats.
  • Near the end of the game, the 64-year-old commissioner suffered a massive heart attack and died in his seat amid the cheering fans.

Caught off-guard, the NFL owners hadn't groomed anyone to take Bert's place.

  • They met at the Kenilworth Hotel in Miami in January 1960 to choose a suc­cessor.
  • The obvious choices were Austin Gunsel, who served as acting commissioner since Bell's death, and 49ers executive Marshall Leahy.
  • However, neither could gain a majority through 23 ballots. So the revered owner of the Steelers, Art Rooney, said, "This voting's going nowhere. We need another candidate."
  • Los Angeles Rams' owner Dan Reeves nominated his 34-year-old GM, Pete Rozelle.

Rozelle began working in public relations as a student at the University of San Francisco.

  • After graduation, he held a series of public relations jobs before joining the Rams as the public relations specialist, a relatively new position in those days.
  • He so impressed Reeves that, within a year, the owner offered Pete the GM position to turn around the disorganized, unprofitable team.
  • Now, after two years in that job, he found himself nominated for commissioner. A big reason why he had a chance was the fact that he had made no enemies in the other front offices.
  • The Mara brothers who owned the Giants liked him, and he had impressed league insiders with his intelligence.

Pete left the meeting room while the owners debated.

  • He didn't want to wait in the hallway outside the meeting room as if he was trying to overhear the proceedings inside.
  • So he stepped into the men's room across the hall. He waited and waited.
  • Rozelle washed and rewashed his hands - at least twenty times by his esti­mate - so that no one entering would get suspicious.
  • Finally, Colts' owner Carroll Rosenbloom came into the restroom, smiled, and said, "Hello, Mr. Commissioner."
  • When Rosenbloom led Pete back into the meeting room, the new chief an­nounced to his new bosses, "I can honestly say I come to you with clean hands."

While Bell presided over the league's baby steps toward national prominence, the "Child Czar's" 29-year career saw the NFL become the most successful sports league in the world.

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Blanda's Incredible String - I

George Blanda, Houston Oilers QB
George Blanda, Oilers

George Blanda and Daryle Lamonica, Raiders
Blanda and Daryle Lamonica, Raiders

QB Ken Stabler and John Madden
Ken Stabler and John Madden

Raiders TE Raymond Chester

Raiders WR Warren Wells
Warren Wells

It is nearly noon (PST) on October 25, 1970, as the Oakland Raiders prepare to host the Pittsburgh Steelers. Backup QB and PK George Blanda is about to be­come a national hero.
  • At age 43, George is by far the oldest player in the NFL, which is playing its first season after the complete merger with the American Football League.
  • After playing for a young Bear Bryant at Kentucky, Blanda put in nine sea­sons with the Chicago Bears in the NFL.
  • After a year out of football in '59, he resurfaced with the Houston Oilers of the AFL. Already old at 33, George led the Oilers to the first AFL Champ­ionship, leading the league in passing yds (3,330) and TD passes (36).
  • Although the Oilers lost the championship game to the Dallas Texans the next season, Blanda earned both the AP and UPI Player of the Year Awards for the AFL.
  • In 1962, the veteran led the AFL in a stat you don't want to be #1 in - INTs with 42.
  • Blanda returned to the top in passing yards in '63 with 3,003. Although he cut down his INTs to 25, that figure again led the circuit.
  • For three years in a row, 1963-64-65, he flung the most aerials in the AFL, with an incredible 505 in '64.
  • Throughout this period, Blanda also served as Houston's PK, leading the league in FG% in '61 with 61.5% in that era of straightahead booting that didn't produce the accuracy that the soccer-style kickers would provide later in the decade.

After the '66 season, the Oilers decided to release their 39 year old field gen­eral.

  • The Oakland Raiders decided George could help them as a PK and back­up QB.
  • He rewarded them in '67 by leading the league again in FG%, making 20 of 30.
  • From '67-'69, Blanda threw only 90 passes, completing 51, but 11 of them resulted in TDs.

The 1970 Raiders of second-year coach John Madden bring a 2-2-1 record into their clash with the 2-3 Steelers, who are one of three teams - along with Cleveland and Baltimore - that agreed to move to the AFC to even up the two con­ferences.

  • Blanda expects to take the field just to kick especially after QB Daryle La­monica starts splendidly with a scoring pass to rookie TE Raymond Ches­ter for 37y in Q1.
  • But later in the half, Lamonica pinches a nerve in his back when hit while passing and must leave the fray.
  • Madden has two choices: (a) Ken Stabler, the 25-year-old southpaw out of Alabama who hasn't thrown a regular season pass in the NFL or (b) old George, "a born adventurer who could have saved a lot of intercep­tions over the years if he weren't so damned determined to throw the ball into the EZ." Big John doesn't hesitate. He opts for experience.
  • Stabler, whom Blanda had been tutoring, had been so frustrated sitting on the bench that he asked to be traded. But George counselled pa­tience, citing his own career as a prime example.
  • So Ken took being passed over in stride. There was never any question. I knew George was the next one up. He had been in that situation so many times before.

So Blanda the Alpha Male trots onto the field.

  • On his first play from scrimmage, he throws 29y to Chester. Touchdown! But the euphoria of most of the 54,423 in attendance is short-lived as a holding penalty negates the TD.
  • On its next possession, Pittsburgh ties the game.
  • While on the sideline, the Steeler D decides the best plan is to blitz the hell out of the Old Man.
  • After the game, Blanda says: They don't know how much we love to have the other team blitz. When they blitz, they have to use single coverage on our re­ceivers and nobody can do that. I got two touchdowns against the blitz and then they quit it.
  • The Raiders add 17 points by halftime, a 44y TD pass to WR Warren Wells, who makes a spectacular leaping catch over CB Mel Blount to give the Ancient QB his 225th career TD aerial, and a 27y FG for a 17-7 lead. Then right before the break, George drills a 19y TD throw to Chester.

The Steelers try to come back but have too big a hill to climb.

  • Chuck Noll's squad - like Madden, he is in his second year as head man - cuts the margin to 10 on a 12y pass from rookie QB Terry Bradshaw to Dennis Hughes.
  • But Blanda parries that thrust three minutes later with his third TD pass and Chester's third scoring reception, this one a 43-yarder.
  • Neither team scores in Q4 to keep the final at 31-14.
  • George's final stats for the day: 7-of-12 for 148y with 3 TD and 1 INT.

Afterwards, George sits naked in front of his stall and answers reporters' questions.

  • Do you have any trouble reading modern defenses? asks a young reporter barely older than Blanda's 19-year-old son. George explains that he no­ticed that Blount tended to fall for a running fake. So that's what he did on the TD pass to Wells, when Blount took a couple of fatal steps for­ward in response to the QB's fake handoff.
  • Then George pulls his questioner's leg. Of course, I don't read defenses. If I watched them, I wouldn't be able to see my receivers.

The next day's Oakland Examiner posted this headline: Blanda's Day of Glory - Indian Summer in Oakland.

Continued below ...

Reference: Blanda Alive and Kicking, Wells Twombly (1972)
Stadium Stories: Oakland Raiders, Tom LeMarre (2003)
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Blanda's Incredible String - II
November 1, 1970: Oakland @ Kansas City. A key AFC West Division matchup between rivals from the original AFL ten years earlier. Before this day is over, Miracle II will happen.
  • Daryle Lamonica starts at QB again after back spasms sidelined him for most of the previous game, which allowed George Blanda to engineer the vic­tory over the Steelers.
  • Daryle tosses a 3y pass to TE Raymond Chester in Q2 to tie the game at 7 and an 8-yarder to Chester in Q3 for a 14-7 lead.
  • Because of the late kickoff for TV, the sun is setting and the temperature dropping as the Chiefs mount a comeback.
  • Jan Stenerud boots a 33y FG in Q3, then Len Dawson hits WR Otis Taylor from the 13 to give the home team a 17-14 advantage with 5:14 left in the game. The 85y drive was kept alive by a third down reception by TE Billy Cannon, who is playing his first year in KC after after six seasons in Oakland and before that, four in Houston with Blanda.
  • But Lamonica can't get a drive going, and the Chiefs get the ball back with a chance to run out the clock.

One of the weirdest plays in NFL history is about to happen.

  • KC faces 3rd and 11 at the Oakland 40 with 1:08 left. Another first down will clinch the game since the Raiders have used up their time­outs.
  • Dawson surprises the Raiders with a bootleg around RE for the first down before being tripped up.
  • After Len stumbles forward and falls at the 29, DE Ben Davidson comes in very late and puts his helmet in Len's back.
Davidson, in the words of Wells Twombly, has two real pas­sions in life. He likes to ride his motorcycle through the lonely Mexican mountains [and] also enjoys knocking the hell out of people when they least expect it.
  • Every official within view of the play throws his flag. No Blanda Miracle today.
  • Except that brave-but-foolish Otis Taylor goes after Ben in retribution, setting off a glorious free-for-all seen nationwide in living color. More flags fly, these against Taylor.
Ed Levitt wrote in the Oakland Tribune the next day: Otis Tay­lor, who is 6-3 and 215 pounds and was nicknamed "Slug" after he once slugged an opposing player, put the slug on Davidson, who is 6-7 and 280. Anybody who takes a poke at Big Ben de­serves one of two things - a medal for bravery or a ticket to a mental ward. Instead, Taylor got kicked out of the game.
  • On the sidelines, George Blanda, like any sane 43-year-old man, stays out of the melee and instead starts warming up his kicking leg.
  • After the officials and coaches end all the fighting, the refs confer and mark off the penalty against the Raiders to the 14. MLB Dan Connors can't believe it. What about Taylor's infraction? Doesn't that offset the Oakland foul? Dan threatens: If you don't penalize them too, I'll walk off the field the take the rest of the Raiders with me. Just how the hell will that look on national television?
  • After another huddle, the officials change their mind. The two penalties are "continuing action fouls" that offset each other and nullify the play.
  • Then there's further delay while the officials try to determine where the original line of scrimmage was. With instant replay not available, they consult a sideline TV cameraman who asks to his director to look at a replay.
  • The Chiefs don't make the first down on the do-over and punt into the EZ.
Lamonica takes over on the 20 down by 3 with a scant 40 seconds left and no timeouts.
  • He hits Biletnikoff on a slant in to the KC 47.
  • The next snap occurs at the 0:23 mark. Daryle throws a quick out to Chester at the 43, but Ray is downed before he can get out of bounds.
  • As the Raiders hustle to get another play off, the officials stop the clock because S Jim Kearney is injured in the Chiefs secondary.
  • Bill King, the Raiders broadcaster who is one of the best in the busi­ness but labors in obscurity until he rides Blanda's coattails to national fame, tells his listeners: An incredible break. The color man adds: Still, it would take a miracle kind of play at this moment to win or tie.
  • When play resumes, Lamonica tosses to Chester again, and this time he steps out of bounds at the 41. Only a 2y gain but the clock stops.
  • Coach John Madden decides he can't risk another pass to try to move closer. George, you have to kick it. No problem, says the old man. We've got it. It's all over.
  • Lamonica kneels at the 48 to take the snap. Give it hell, George. I'll give you a good hold, I promise.
  • Chiefs coach Hank Stram stations 6'9" TE Morris Stroud under the goal posts to bat the ball down if he can (a practice the NFL later outlaws). 6'7" DT Buck Buchanan lines up over C Jim Otto to try to block the kick the old-fashioned way.
  • Blanda measures two steps backward and waits for the snap, concen­trating on the spot where Lamonica will place the ball.
  • King describes the play: It's snapped. It's down. It's good. It's good. It is good. George Blanda has kicked a 48-yard field goal. Three seconds are left on the clock. ... Holy Toledo! Holy Toledo!
  • The ball clears the crossbar by a yard, too high for the leaping Stroud to get a paw on it. The clock stops at 0:03.
  • Time expires during the kickoff return on an improbable 17-17 tie that keeps the Raiders in first place. (No NFL overtime until 1974.)
Blanda kicks winning FG against KC.
Blanda watches the tying FG against Kansas City.
After King's calls of this exciting ending and those in the weeks to come, were replayed throughout the country, the mayor of Toledo told him, Bill, in our town we usually say "Holy Oakland!" or "Holy George Blanda!"

As you might imagine, Hank Stram was not a happy camper.

  • What was the call? I still don't know. Nobody would explain it. ... Yes, I went over to the officials off the field and tried to find out what happened. No, I didn't find out. Finley chased Stram out of the officials' dressing room, shouting, "Don't call me a crook!" Another official restrained Finley, saying, "He didn't call you that," but the referee shouted at the retreating Stram, "Get out of here!"
  • Then Hank remembered a previous episode with referee Bob Finley. Remember the time we got beat by Boston? There were five people moving on the play and he didn't see it. The same official. He didn't see anybody move on that field goal.
  • Dawson wasn't injured and didn't seem incensed about the late hit. I always anticipate it and try to protect myself.
  • The perpetrator, Big Ben, told the press: Maybe it wasn't a nice thing to do, but I honestly wasn't sure if Dawson was touched down or not. ... No one was on him and he continued to go forward, and I didn't hear the whistle. Nobody ever told me you're just supposed to tag a guy in that situation. It worked out good. I'll help my team any way I can, and, if that's bad for my reputation, that's part of football.
  • Taylor: I was right there beside him, and I saw Davidson hit him with a dirty shot. It's a shame. He was down and gets the helmet right in the middle of the back. It could've been all over for him for the year with just that one lick.
  • Blanda downplayed his role. This was just another kick. It was just like all the rest. The real heroes were Daryle Lamonica and Tom Keating and Jim Otto. Write about them.

Continued below...

Reference: Blanda Alive and Kicking, Wells Twombly (1972)
Stadium Stories: Oakland Raiders, Tom LeMarre (2003)
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Chiefs PK Jan Stenerud
Jan Stenerud

KC QB Len Dawson and Coach Hank Stram
Len Dawson and Hank Stram

Oakland DE Ben Davidson
Ben Davidson

Oakland broadcaster Bill King
Bill King

Raiders WR Fred Biletnikoff
Fred Biletnikoff

Blanda's Incredible String - III


Al Davis


Tom Keating


Dan Conners


Daryle Lamonica


John Madden


George Blanda vs Cleveland


Nemiah Wilson


Don Cockroft


Fred Biletnikoff


Kent McCloughan


Bill Nelson


Hewritt Dixon


Bill King

After 20 seasons in pro football, George Blanda became an overnight sensation after leading the Raiders to a victory and a tie, both in the last seconds in conse­cutive weeks of the 1970 season.
  • Telegrams poured in. The Over-40 Club from Los Angeles wired, On behalf of the senile wrecks of America, we salute you! After watching last two Sundays we have thrown away our Geritol bottles.
  • 38-year-old Harry Howell of Oakland spoke for countless thousands when he told Oakland Tribune reporter Ed Levitt: When I saw George Blanda kick that 48 yard field goal Sunday, I stood in my living room and cheered. I felt as though George was making points for every oldtimer in sports. It sort of made me feel younger. I'm a Blanda rooter. I'd like to meet him. I figure us old codgers should stick together. After all, I keep hearing sports is for the young. I guess George and I just don't believe it.
  • Sports reporter Wells Twombly: When I was 28 and George Blanda was 36, I thought he was an old quarterback. Now I'm a 36-year-old sports writer and I get offended when somebody refers to John Brodie [49ers QB] as an "old quarterback" just because he's 36.
  • Detroit Lions DT Alex Karras: That George Blanda must be crazy as hell, running around a football field at his age. One good whack from a defensive lineman and he could be crippled. To which Blanda replied, You can't hurt a Polack.
  • Reporters came from all over like moths to the flame. One secured an in­terview with His Eminence, Al Davis, owner of the Raiders. He's two years older than I am, and I really look up to him. ... George is with our club be­cause he gets the job done. We're not interested in keeping him because he's some kind of freak. ... I think in some respects George is bitter. I don't blame him. He got a very raw deal in the National Football League. ... With the excep­tion of Johnny Unitas, I think he was as good a quarterback as anyone when he was in his prime. He never got a chance to show it in Chicago. ... At Hous­ton he was a fantastic quarterback. He was practically a one-man offense.

Meanwhile, Ron Fell was hard at work in the studios of radio station KNEW.

  • The producer of Oakland Raider broadcasts, Ron put together snippets of tape from the last two Raider games along with musical interludes to pro­duce a promo.
  • The promo started with the opening music from 2001: A Space Odyssey. Then a bass voice said, "Welcome to The Perils of George BlanDAH." Next came Raiders play-by-play man Bill King describing the madness at Kan­sas City. Then the previous voice returned. Can George do it again? Tune in, same time, same station, for another episode in The Perils of George Blanda. See if George can do it again.
  • The Raiders players heard the promo - you couldn't help it as it was aired incessantly all week. Most thought it was funny. DT Tom Keating provided an excellent imitation of it. But, like many of the younger players, Tom looked up to Blanda. George is the damndest person I've ever met. He's so mature on one level, but on another he's as enthusiastic as a kid. God, in training camp, he's like a rookie. Most of the veterans privately think camp is a drag. But George and the rookies are bouncing around. I really think Blanda thinks it's fun. ... Physically and mentally, he's like a 25-year-old. He firmly believes he could take a good team and quarterback it all the way to the Super Bowl, even at his age. ... In the huddle the guy can be fierce. There are times when I'm glad I'm a defensive lineman. If you miss a block, you hear about it. ... The rookies call him Mr. Blanda. Some of them are afraid to talk to him, I think. ... He's going to have to be told to retire. He won't quit on his own. ... He'll play until he's 55. I hope he doesn't quit before I do.

The next opponent was the 4-3 Cleveland Browns, against whom Blanda held a longstanding grudge.

  • George was with the Bears in 1950 when the Browns and two other teams joined the NFL from the defunct All-America Football Conference, which disbanded in large measure because Cleveland won the champion­ship all four years.
  • Blanda recalled: Our great coach, George Halas, didn't believe the Browns were that good. The first time we played them [1951], he spent the whole week before getting us psyched down by telling us how bad they were. "Champions of a Mickey Mouse League," he'd say. Hell, we wouldn't have been surprised if they had come out wearing skirts. Well, they just rip our guts out. They beat us 42-21 and, as they say, the score didn't indicate how bad we played. We get them on our schedule three years later and here's Halas say­ing the same thing. Damned if they don't whip us 39-10 this time.
  • George also suffered his only serious injury in 21 seasons at the hands of the Browns. Here comes that Lou Rymkus ... he was my first coach in Houston, but as a player he was a sneaky son of a bitch who was always looking to blindside you ... I catch him coming up out of the corner of my eye and I figure, it's just him versus me ... Polack against Polack ... I figured I'd get him in his bad knee ... I hit him as hard as I ever hit anyone and I knocked him ass-over shoulder. Now Cleveland's so damn mad at me they send two guys down field the next time I kick off and their only assignment is take old George apart. They came pretty close, too. It was one hell of a fist fight. I never did like those damn Browns. You got to respect them as a football team, but I could never get very fond of them.

Oakland entered the game with a 15-game winning streak at home.

  • The Raiders didn't plan to fall behind and have to snatch victory in the last minute. LB Dan Conners: We always start slowly, and we don't get going until the pressure is on us.
  • Oakland hoped to welcome RB Hewritt Dixon bacl from the injured list, especially since Charles Smith was hampered by a abdominal muscle pull. Also questionable was speedy receiver Warren Wells.

The Raiders started strong on a field made soggy by earlier rains.

  • Daryle Lamonica led three scoring drives to forge a 13-0 lead, with Blan­da supplying seven of the points with FGs of 43 and 9y and an EP. It didn't look like Miracle III would be needed today.
  • But Cleveland fought back and scored the next 17 points heading into Q4. It was almost as if the Raiders got bored and allowed the Browns to fight back to set up another heart-stopping finish. Blanda later said, Our club plays best under pressure, so we kind of like to let the pressure build.
  • To make matters worse, Lamonica was hit from the blind side as he threw a second down incompletion in Q4. Pain shot through his left shoulder. He trotted off the field straight to the team physician, who will soon diagnose the problem as a separated shoulder. The stadium clock showed 10:05 left in the final period with Cleveland leading 17-10.

Oakland coach John Madden knew exactly what to do.

  • George! he yells. He tells Blanda, who was throwing TD passes at Ken­tucky when Madden was in 7th grade in California, to go in. George rushes in and throws an errant pass before returning to the sidelines to warm up.
  • After the Raiders punt, Cleveland drives down the field until CB Nemiah Wilson steals a pass in the EZ with 8:17 left.
  • Out comes Blanda again as the crowd goes wild. He starts smartly, bang, bang, bang! Three completions in a row. Then the old bugaboo rears its ugly head - an interception.
  • The muttering increases when the Browns drive close enough for Don Cockroft to kick a 32y FG to make it 20-13.
  • On the sideline, Lamonica is blaming himself for the turn of events, as if he could have avoided the blindside hit.

The Raiders need a TD just to tie.

  • The doctor continues talking to Daryle as Blanda trots out with 4:11 on the clock. If an interception bothered him, the old man would have packed up his tent years ago.
  • He flips a pass down the middle to Wells for 31y to the Cleveland 38. Then he hits Smith for 7. But on the next play, Blanda is sacked for a 10y loss.
  • So the Ancient One calls his favorite pass play: 99-in-Y-in. The ball is supposed to go to TE Raymond Chester but the Browns are all over him. So George dumps the ball to Fred Biletnikoff just before going down under several LBs. He didn't see the usually reliable receiver drop the pigskin.
  • 4th and 16 at the Cleveland 21 with 1:55 remaining. Perhaps the last Oakland offensive play of the game. The 43-year-old hates to scramble, but he has no choice as the Browns rush flushes him out of the pocket. At the last moment, he spots Biletnikoff in the middle of the field to the 14. I hate to use the word, but I was scrambling, said Blanda afterward. I read him perfectly as he broke to his right to catch the ball. It was a big play.
  • Given new life, George takes the snap, watches Wells run up the field 10y, then cut in to beat Walt Sumner to a low throw at the goal line for the TD. I was prepared to call that play four times in a row. I have that much confidence in Wells. The play was made all the bigger by the fact that War­ren had been in and out of the lineup all afternoon because of a deep shoulder bruise suffered the week before against KC. Blanda's PAT makes it 20-20 with 1:34 left. It was his 228th TD pass.

The Raiders defense takes over to preserve the tie in that era before overtime.

  • But with Cleveland striving to get in FG range, CB Kent McCloughan steps in front of a Bill Nelson pass and returns it 5y to the Cleveland 49 with 34 ticks left.
  • Blanda has been sucking air from an oxygen inhalator on the bench. Now he leads the offense back out.
  • Knowing that Blanda would pass, the Browns mount an awesome rush that keeps him contained. After an incompletion, Ben Gregory buries George in the soggy Coliseum turf with 0:12 remaining and no more timeouts. George takes a swing at the 250 lb DT.
  • But just as events got twisted in Kansas City the week before, a weird decision gives Blanda a chance at another miracle. Illegal procedure was called on the sack. For some reason, Browns coach Blanton Colli er takes the penalty.
  • So instead of 4th and 20 at the Cleveland 49 and the clock restarted, the Raiders had 3rd and 25 at the Oakland 46 with the clock stopped. Blan­da: They weren't gonig to let us throw to get out of bounds, but Hewritt kept saying, "Give it to me. I can get out."
  • So Blanda sends Smith and Wells deep to clear out the sideline and throws to Dixon who gains 9y and gets out of bounds as the clock reaches 0:07.
  • Time to try a 52y FG - the Old Man's 251st if successful. It wasn't on the temporary sod, thank God. I had a good spot. I knew I was going to kick it. I'm thinking, just do it like you always do. When I go out onto the field, I don't hear the crowd. I don't hear other players shouting at me. I'm in a bubble. I'm going over the fundamentals of place kicking in my mind. Hell, I know I've got this field goal. I know I've finally got the Cleveland Browns right where I want them.
  • In the radio booth, Bill King judges Blanda's chances of making the FG as "76 million to one-half."
  • With Lamonica hurt, rookie QB Ken Stabler takes the perfect snap from C Jim Otto and gets the ball down, laces forward. Blanda gives it a rip. The minute I hit the ball with my toe I knew it was good. I didn't worry about the distance. I knew it was good.
  • King is apoplectic. Waiting for the snap ... fourth down ... here it is ... snap! spotted down! It's kicked. That's got a chance! That is - good! It's good! Holy Toledo! Holy Toledo! This place has gone wild. Wheeee-U! I don't believe it! I do not believe it! There are three seconds left in the game. If you can hear me, this place has gone wild ... the Oakland (gasp!) Raiders, 23! ... the Cleve­land Browns (gasp!) 20. George Blanda has just been elected king of the world! I don't believei it! Holy Toledo! It went 53 ... no... 52 yards! George Blanda has just been elected king of the world!
  • The bedlam in the stands matches King's hysteria. Fans are hugging and kissing strangers, throwing things, and making animal sounds.
  • The object of all the adulation trots to the sideline and plops down on the bench. Someone hands him a piece of ice. Instead of sucking on it, George rubs it on the back of his neck. When Madden comes over to congratulate him, Blanda says, You know, John, that wasn't my longest FG. I got a 55- yarder once in Houston.
  • When the gun sounds, Blanda hurries to the locker room. Near the door, he spots a San Francisco newspaperman who has covered Blanda's teams for years, first in Houston and now in CA. George stops and says, Thank you for a wonderful column. I really appreciated what you said about me. Wonderful!

Postgame

  • Madden: There is one thing you can say about this team if you can't say anything else. They never give up, no matter what the situation. We always believe we can score, that we can come back.
  • Blanda stayed in the shower longer than anyone, hoping the press would disappear. When he finally appeared, he said, Oh, you guys want to see me? He echoed what Madden said. We knew that the Raiders would find a way to win and did. ... I don't get nervous about anything in football anymore. I've done everything. I've kicked field goals. I've missed field goals. I've thrown touchdown passes that won games. I've had passes intercepted that lost games. What is there left to get excited over? That's why I'm so calm. On the winning kick: Everything was perfect. I might have put a little more rear end into it than usual to give it more distance. The kick had a lot to spare.
    The hero even liked the field conditions. I've always liked to play on a soggy field. It gives the offensive player an advantage, especially for the passing game. You know where you're going, and he doesn't.

Ron Fell was already preparing his promo for the next game.

Continued below ...

Reference: Blanda Alive and Kicking, Wells Twombly (1972)
Stadium Stories: Oakland Raiders, Tom LeMarre (2003)
Top of Page
Blanda's Incredible String - IV
Ron Fell, producer of the Raiders' broadcasts for radio station KNEW, was reap­ing a bonanza from the nationwide furor over George Blanda.
  • Ancient George (age 43, ancient by football standards) had, over the last three weeks:
    • Came off the bench to replace injured QB Darryl Lamonica and lead Oakland to a 31-14 victory over Pittsburgh.
    • Kicked the 48y FG that tied the Chiefs with 0:03 on the clock.
    • Took over again when Lamonica went down against Cleveland and engineered the drives for the tying TD and the winning 52y FG, which he kicked with three seconds left again.
  • Fell's new promo for the upcoming game starts with Handel's Hallelujah Chorus, then cuts to play-by-play announcer Bill King describing "The Miracle at Kansas City." After more from Handel, the narrator says, "That was Sunday before last." With the music blaring, King shouts, "It's good! It's good!" as he did at the end of the Cleveland game. Back to the narra­tor: "That was last Sunday before the final three seconds." Then a new voice: "This is George Blanda. I'll be here, and I hope you will, too" Nar­rator: "We're sure George will be here, but tune in Sunday to see if Bill King is. Can Bill come back after the past two Sundays or will he do this Sunday's game in Braille? Be here on KNEW when the Raiders and Bron­cos tangle direct from Denver." Hallelujah! "Tune in to find out if George Blanda can kick one over the Rockies and through the goal posts."

Meanwhile, the Raiders front office is besieged by phone calls.

  • The Publicity Director and his assistant can't handle all the requests for interviews. Those from Detroit, Chicago, Miami, and other faraway places want to talk to Blanda by phone. Time and Newsweek want in. Even the editor of Slovak v Amerike calls to determine if Blanda is really Polish, as George sometimes says in his whimsical moments. (Actually, Blanda is a Slovak name, and his mother was born in Prague.)
  • Sports Illustrated put its main NFL writer, Tex Maule, on a plane to San Francisco to write an article for the next issue and to get George to agree to an exclusive three-part series for which they will pay top dollar. It will be published in July 1971.
  • Amidst all the hubbub, George recalls: Do you know that in 21 years I have had only two national stories written on me, both in the Sporting News, that weekly newspaper out of St. Louis. No magazine has ever done a piece on me. Isn't that something?
  • Now Blanda can be picky. He tells the writer from Sport magazine: Where were you twenty years ago when I needed you? I don't need you now. I've got this deal for a three-part story for another magazine. I can't talk to you.

Camera crews greet the Raiders as they arrive at the Denver airport. They make a beeline for just one player.

  • What's the script for this week, George? ... Are we going to see yet another miracle out there on Sunday at Mile High Stadium?
  • George brushes off the questions in a fake Kentucky accent. We just come here to try 'n' win this ball game. And ah'm sure that's what we're gonna do.

The Broncos limp into the clash on a three-game losing streak after winning four of their first five.

  • With no QB completing half his passes, Coach Lou Saban built his offense around RB Floyd Little, who would end the season with 901y.
  • Denver lost to Oakland 35-23 October 11. Blanda's only contribution to the victory was five PATs.

Raiders announcer Bill King asked his sidekick Scott Stirling, rhetorically, A Blanda miracle can't possibly happen again, can it? And well into the second half, it looked like no miracle would be needed.

  • In 28° snowy weather with a 12 mph wind for a wind chill of 18, Daryle Lamonica starts under C for the Raiders, as usual, and throws a 36y scoring pass to WR Warren Wells in Q1.
  • The teams trade three-pointers in Q2, Blanda booting a 32-yarder.
  • Another Bobby Howfield FG brings Denver within four before Lamonica connects with Hewritt Dixon from the 46 to make it 17-6 heading into the final period.

But the Raiders had blown leads of 14-7 and 13-0 the last two games and would do so again in Mile High.

  • Pete Liske throws a 10y pass to Jim Whalen to make it 17-12 after the conversion failed.
  • Then Alvin Wyatt fumbled a punt after Denver's Bill Masters smashed him, the Broncos recovering at the 34. Soon after, helped by two penal­ties against the defense, Liske runs in from the 1 with 4:01 to play to take a 19-17 lead.
  • In the radio booth, King tells Stirling and the audience, Well, Scotty, we've gone to the wire in two straight ball games. And now, with 4:01 to go there is enough time. But how many times can you expect a team to come back so late in the game?
    That's right, Bill. Not to sound pessimistic, but I think it's asking an awful lot to ask Oakland to come back. The Broncos are all fired up after that big break.
  • Sitting in the press box, Tex Maule tells a San Francisco sportswriter next to him, It looks like I arrived just in time for the miracles to run out.
    It's your
    Sports Illustrated jinx, Mr. Maule, that's what it is, replied the writer. You show up and everything falls apart. Who sent for you anyway?

On the sideline, Raiders coach John Madden wasn't thinking that way.

  • Lamonica, having trouble with his bruised left shoulder, hadn't been as effective the second half.
  • But, as John explained afterwards, I thought George might have the hot hand. It wasn't that Daryle wasn't doing well, it's just that I thought George might give us a lift.
  • The coach actually planned to send Blanda in one series earlier, but Wyatt's fumble postponed implementation of that plan.
  • George has his headgear on, anticipating the call to the bullpen. When he runs on the field, the Denver crowd buzzes.
  • King announces, And George Blan-DAH comes on at quarterback. He's trying to keep it low key after getting criticism for emotionalism.

But Blanda's stint doesn't start promisingly.

  • Starting from the 20, he pitches a swing pass to his FB, Dixon. But a LB is right there and almost knocks the ball away. Dixon hangs on for a 2y loss.
  • Exuding confidence every time he breaks the huddle, Blanda sends Wells on a fly pattern but fails to connect.
  • Madden sends in "possession receiver" Rod Sherman to replace Wells. George calls his favorite pattern for Rod, Y-in-99-in.
  • Facing 3rd and 12 at the 18, the Ancient One takes the snap as the Denver rushers tee off. The QB retreats 7y but has to step forward to avoid the rush. He keeps his eye on FS Paul Martha, who does not move over to cover Sherman, who has driven CB Cornell Gordon up the field before cutting over the middle. George somehow fires the ball between the onrushing linemen to Sherman who continues for a 27y gain. Sher­man and Wells switch places again.
  • On the next play, Blanda steps on Dixon's foot while fading back as Hewritt is driven back by a rusher and throws a deep pass off balance to Wells. Seeing the ball falling short, Warren comes back on Gordon, catches the pigskin and scrambles for a 34y completion.
  • Stirling: I don't know how Blanda could possibly have completed that pass. The ball was thrown to a spot. George couldn't have even seen his receiver. Wells was a little bit surprised to see the ball coming. It was just an ama­zing play. Blanda never saw the completion; he was surrounded by Broncos. Things are really getting mean in there now.
  • The ball rests on the Denver 27 with 2:38 to go. How many in the crowd of 50,969 are thinking, It's not going to happen again, is it?
  • Blanda wants to throw to Fred Biletnikoff on the next play, but he's cov­ered. So the veteran fires the ball out of bounds. Denver declines the penalty for offside on the Raiders.
  • Regrouping his troops, George decides to come back with the same play. He back-pedals the usual 7y and lofts the ball on a high arc.
  • King: Touchdown! Raiders! Biletnikoff took it on the 1y line ahead of George Garrett and stepped into the end zone. Blanda has driven them 80 yards for the touchdown, completing four of five passes ... no, no ... four of six. The kick is good. The stunned Denver crowd is motionless. They can't believe they've seen 43-year-old George Blanda come off the bench with 4:01 and put his team back in front, 24-19, in less than two minutes against a defense that has contained Oakland well all afternoon.

Of course, all the Old Man's heroics are in vain if the Raider defense doesn't hold on.

  • On the first play after the kickoff, Liske tries to get the ball to Billy Van Husen on the right side. Instead, 31-year-old DB Jimmy Warren gets in the way for his second INT of the day with 1:56 left. Warren is playing only because starting CB Kent McCloughan went out with an injury on the second play of the game. Jimmy did an excellent job of shutting out Denver's main receiver Bill Van Heusen. As a result, he receives a game ball in the locker room.
    Five weeks previously Jimmy Warren was working for a department store in Miami, seemingly out of football forever. He had played for the Chargers (1964-65) and the Dolphins (1966-69). A fine one-on-one corner, he had been cut after the '69 season because Miami wanted to go with more zone defense and the youthful DBs they had developed.
  • The INT enables Oakland to run out the clock and preserve Miracle IV. They also maintain their lead in the AFC West.

Postgame

  • Madden on his decision to send in Blanda: Don't ask me why or how it happened. I look up at the stadium clock. There's 4:01 left to play. I just got this feeling that George ought to finish up the game. Daryle has been hav­ing trouble with that sore shoulder he got in the Cleveland game, and he couldn't pivot properly without experiencing pain. I was going to send either George or Ken (Stabler) in before Wyatt lost the punt. ... George was great. But don't overlook what Jimmy Warren and Duane Benson did. They both came in and intercepted passes, Jimmy getting two and Duane one.
  • Blanda: Winning is nice, but we're gong to have to start winning these things by more points. You know, I'm old. I can't take this kind of pressure for long. George entertained the mass of media standing next to Stabler. It's just part of our act, explained Kenny.
    Blanda talked about the crucial pass to Wells. I knew the blitz was on and they would have to cover Warren man on man. There was no other way. They did rush hard and I just had to throw it in Warren's direction. But there are things that could happen. Warren could catch it behind him, there could be an interference call or Warren could come back for it. I figured the odds were pretty good. Someone asked George about stumbling over Dixon on the play. I honestly don't remember. I haven't got time to worry about those things. I set up shorter than Daryle and maybe that's what caused the confusion. I really don't care if it wasn't a good looking play. It was a big play. And that's all that counts.
  • Wells: I knew George wasn't going to be able to set up in the cup. I thought he'd be off balance and the ball would be short. My man didn't see that I was able to come back for the pass.
  • Saban: We've been in nine games and haven't been out of any of them. We had this one, with 3:54 left, when Oakland started from the 20, trailing 19-17. That third down pass to Rod Sherman was the big play. Third and 12 on their own 18, and Blanda pulls it off. You've got to give the man credit.

1,000 people jammed the concourse at the Oakland airport that night. One banner read, "Blanda for President," while another said, "George Did It Again."

Ed Levitt wrote this poem for his column in the Oakland Tribune the next day:

They tell of a fella named Blanda.
His toe is worth one hundred grand-a.
He also does some harm.
With his mighty right arm.
What a salary he should command-a.

Continued below ...

Reference: Blanda Alive and Kicking, Wells Twombly (1972)
Top of Page


Lou Saban


Floyd Little


Warren Wells


Pete Liske


Hewritt Dixon


George Blanda


Rod Sherman


Paul Martha


Jimmy Warren


Kent McCloughan

Blanda's Incredible String - V


John Madden and George Blanda

 

 


Charlie Waller


John Hadl


Gary Garrison



Fred Biletnikoff


Bob Howard


Hewritt Dixon


Lamonica after Chargers game

"He's just 'the old man' to us," said George Atkinson, Raiders DB, about 43-year­old George Blanda in an AP article the week leading up to the game against the San Diego Chargers.
  • When asked why he was still playing at such an advanced age (second old­est in NFL history at that point), George replied: I've thought about that, whe­ther it makes any sense for me to still be in this game. I think I'm just the kind of person who's got to be able to compete. If it wasn't in football, it would be in business or on the golf course. Maybe it's because I've been competing all my life. I'm from a family of 11 children. We competed for everything, even for food at the table.
  • My wife has been warning me to quit for some time, and I've been retiring since 1949. But I love the game. It's been my life. I stay in it because I love to play.
  • Wife Betty, who met George at the University of Kentucky and married him in 1949, added, George hasn't changed much in 21 years. He's always felt the same about football. ... George works out some way every day of the year. In the winter, back in Illinois, he usually plays handball. As soon as the sunshine comes, he plays golf.
  • With her husband the toast of pro football, Betty expected to go through a 22nd season with him in 1971.

Two others who knew Blanda shared their thoughts as well.

  • Babe Parilli, 40-year-old former pro QB in his first year of retirement: All this doesn't surprise me at all. I've known George since college. He was a senior at Kentucky when I was a freshman. We've been friends ever since. George is one of the most unusual people I've ever met and perhaps the greatest competi­tor. ... George will never quit. If he's down, he'll bounce right back. Physically, to do what he's doing at his age, he has to have a different chemical makeup for most people.
  • Raider Coach John Madden, nine years Blanda's junior: George Blanda is a rare individual. He never comes to me and asks for any favors. 43 years old or not, when we do wind sprints after practice, he does them all just like everyone else on the squad. ... If George says something to the others, they believe it. They don't question. They know he's been through it all in 22 years of pro foot­ball. He's seen everything possible in this game. The amazing thing is that he's throwing and kicking better than he did four years ago. We both came to this team the same year, and I know he's stronger now than he was then. Don't ask me why. He doesn't have any secret formula that I know about.

Meanwhile, over at KNEW radio, GM Ron Fell started creating his next promotional spot on the plane ride home from Denver the previous Sunday.

  • The background music is "America, the Beautiful."
  • Announcer: Welcome to the continuing saga of George BlanDAH!
  • Voice of play-by-play broadcaster Bill King: Back goes George. He's throwing for Biletnikoff. ... TOUCHDOWN, Raiders!
  • Announcer: What does George do this week? George has done everything. What does he do for an encore? ...Will George sing "The Star-Spangled Banner"? Will George be on key? Will George master the banner? Will George pull out Old Glory? ... Find out this weekend when the Raiders play the San Diego Chargers ... Listen on KNEW, the station that let George do it.

Meanwhile, the Blanda mania sweeping the country continued unabated.

  • The switchboard operator at the Blandas' apartment complex screened all incoming calls, keeping her busier than ever before.
  • The cast and crew from the TV show "Mission Impossible" sent a telegram to George complaining that he was stealing their story lines.
  • Multiple companies coveted him as be their spokesperson.
  • A recording firm in Hollywood wanted him to sing while a movie studio sought him as an actor.
  • Amid all this, Blanda h ad no agent and didn't want one. When a call man­aged to get through, he treated each offer as a gag. I never heard of your product. How the hell can I tell people I like it when I've never heard of it? For crying out loud, you must be joking. No, I don't need the money. I get paid well by the Raiders. ... Goodbye.
  • Through it all, the hero insisted that this was by no means his best season. I honestly played the best football of my life in Houston. Ask Al Davis. He thinks so too. Just evaluate what's been happening these past four games. The team just keeps getting into situations ... and I happen to be in on the end of things ... none of this stuff is any more outstanding than scoring those 38 points in 1965 against Kansas City. Writers laugh when I say that was a big­ger deal. Hey, one year with the Oilers, I had 36 touchdown passes, and we won the league championship. Wouldn't you call that a better season than this one? You know how many offers I had that year? None! In all the years I was with Houston, I had one speaking engagement down there. One! Now my wife and I get a week in Hawaii if I speak. How do you figure that?
Meanwhlie, his team faced an important game.
  • The 4-3-2 Chargers could tie Oakland for first place in the AFC West if they won the November 22, 1970 game in Oakland.
  • The AFC's #1 passer, Daryle Lamonica, would start for John Madden's club as usual since his bruised right shoulder was in its best shape in five weeks.
  • That meant the Raiders probably wouldn't need any heroics from Blanda, who had been instrumental in three victories and a tie the last four weeks.
  • San Diego coach Charlie Waller, whose squad had tied the Raiders 27-27 at home Week 2, wasn't worried by Blanda's weekly heroics at all. I hope he plays the whole game.
  • However, Waller's GM, former coach Sid Gillman, regarded George with awe. When the AFL was being formed in the winter of 1959, Gillman placed Blanda's name of the Chargers' negotiation list. However, Commissioner Joe Foss, for reasons never explained, awarded the QB's rights to Houston, whom Blanda immediately led to the AFL's first championship.
  • George had scored in 65 straight games and kicked 181 consecutive extra points.

The two Raider QBs presented a stark contrast.

  • Introspective and inner-directed, Lamonica lay awake at night, thinking of ways to improve.
  • Blanda slept well, confident that, when situations arose, he'd be able to handle them. He had swagger and independence.
  • Daryle prepared meticulously for each game. George considered a game plan merely a list of suggestions that he might or might not follow in the heat of the action.

The record crowd (54,594) that turned out on a chilly, damp day (56°, 75% humidi­ty) almost saw a game in which Blanda played no important role. In fact, he almost ended up the goat. Almost.

  • Lamonica took every snap on the tense game that was tied at halftime and at the end of Q3.
  • The Chargers struck first with a 57y, five-play drive that led to John Hadl's 5y pass to Gary Garrison with 6:36 remaining in Q1. It was San Diego's first opening period TD of the season.
  • Blanda missed 42 and 43y FGs in the first half. Perhaps the Chargers were his nemesis since he had missed an easy FG in the first game against them. The Raiders were also stymied by RB Charlie Smith's fumble on the 4.
  • The Oakland offense finally broke through with just 2:42 on the clock before halftime. Smith ran in from the 3 to end a four-play march that stretched only 39y after a short punt following a defensive snuff at the SD 5.
  • The visitors retook the lead on their first possession of the second half on another Hadl-Garrison connection, this time from the 15 to climax a seven­play, 57y advance.

Back-to-back pass plays in Q3 provoked the rage of the Chargers players and coaches.

  • The first, a 3rd-and-4 at the Oakland 41, saw a low toss by Lamonica that Biletnikoff scooped in for an 11y gain. The Chargers insisted Fred trapped the ball. The TV announcers agreed. Assistant coach Jackie Simpson, an ex­Raider LB, came onto the field after the first call to lambast back judge Ralph Vandenberg. You stole it. You stole it. That's the worst call I've seen in my life. I hope you don't sleep tonight.
  • The next play was a Lamonica bomb that Freddie and DB Bob Howard went for together at the 5. They fell at the out of bounds line, and Howard came up with the ball. However, the officials ruled a simultaneous catch and gave Oakland possession.
  • The next play led to another puzzling ruling, this one in favor of San Diego. Biletnikoff snared another pass in the EZ and took at least three steps with it before dropping it. Yet the play was ruled an incompletion. However, inter­ference against the defense placed the ball on the 1.
  • From there, Smith drove over to tie the score at 14.

The Raiders took the lead early in Q4.

  • Blanda kicked an 18y FG on the first play of the period to make it 17-14.
  • Midway through the period, Hadl moved his white-shirted warriors from his 40 to 1st-and-goal at the 4. But the Oakland D drew the line there and per­mitted no more yardage. So former Raider Mike Mercer booted an 11y FG to tie the game at 17 with 4:47 left.

Oakland had faced tougher challenges than traveling 73y with 4:27 on the clock.

  • Bill King told his audience, Well, it's cliffhanger time once again.
  • Lamonica passed 11y to Biletnikoff, then went to the ground attack to eat up yards and time. Smith broke loose for 15. Hewritt Dixon added 5.
  • After a 1y gain, Lamonica faced 3rd and 4 at the SD 41. Finding no one open, he scrambled for 13y to keep the drive alive.
    Lamonica: I wanted to throw to Hewritt over the middle, but he got clothes­lined by their strongside LB. The other receivers, Fred and Ray Chester, were covered, and I felt it would be touch and go to throw it. I saw a good hole and knew if I could get in it, I had a chance.
  • Now the Raiders were in Blanda territory. Madden sent in word to his QB to keep the ball on the ground.
  • Smith ran for 12, 6, and 1. That brought Oakland to the 9 at the 0:47 mark. For some reason, the Chargers didn't use any of their three timeouts.
  • Lamonica sauntered up to referee Pat Haggerty and appeared to be dis­cussing the weather. When the clock reached eight seconds, Daryl hollered in the ref's ear TIME OUT! to make sure he heard over the noise of the throng.
  • Madden: I told him to call time out with between ten and eight seconds left. We didn't want San Diego to get another chance.
    Lamonica: From there, it's like an extra point for George. Yet, in some re­spects, this one was a little more taxing on the 43-year-old nerves. There was a little extra pressure, said Blanda afterwards, since we took time out, and I had a lot of time to think about kicking it.
  • King: The clock stops at seven seconds. Could anyone in the whole world set the stage any more dramatically, to put any more heat on the shoulders of one guy than did the whole Raider Organization right there? They've put the ball where they wanted it, and they knew - everybody here knew - exactly what they were waiting for. George Blanda comes onto the field. Surely he must know what everyone expects. And that is - a miracle. This seems like a miracle he can de­liver, as usual. ... Blanda is calm. He knows pressure. He wants a good snap, a good hold, he'll get the field goal. The 16-yard line. Lamonica will spot it. He waits ... the ball is snapped ... it's spotted ... it's kicked ... it's good ... good! George Blanda - oh, my God - George Blanda has kicked the Oakland Rai­ders into a three-point lead! Four seconds remain and this latest miracle may tie the San Francisco Bay Area into a knot from which it may never extricate itself again!
  • After the kick, Blanda jumped into the air about a foot ("leaped" would be a stretch), turned, and, with Lamonica, jogged toward the bench, teammates coming off the sideline to greet him.
  • The piece-of-cake 16y FG wouldn't have attracted so much attention except that it was Blanda's third game-saving FG in the last four contests.

The victory put the Raiders in the driver's seat of the AFC West.

  • They led Kansas City, tied by St. Louis, by a full game.
  • San Diego and Denver both trailed by two games with just four to go.
    Commissioner Pete Rozelle never fined Charlie Waller for his intemperate remarks about the officiating. However, the Chargers would finish the sea­son 5-6-3 to bring an end to Waller's two-year reign as head coach.
 
Blanda kicks the winning FG vs San Diego
Postgame
  • Madden: These games are all tough. ... We got some big plays when we needed them. What did he tell Blanda when he sent him out for the winning kick: I just patted him on the ass and said, "Go kick it."
  • Reporters, some wearing "Blanda for Mayor" buttons, asked the Ancient One if he thought about missing the kick. I never really think about missing. I'm always optimistic that I'm going to make whatever I kick. But you missed a couple in the first half. You had to bring that up. If I made everything I kicked, they couldn't pay me enough money to keep me around here.
  • Lamonica, the real hero of this win despite not throwing a TD pass for the first time in 26 outings, asked for a "Blanda for Mayor" button and pinned it on his short sleeve turtleneck sweater. Hey, I think this is super. If I can still get out of bed at 43, I'll be happy. Asked about the missed FGs, Daryle answered, Those two we missed were a matter of inches from the 43 and the 41. One of them hit the upright, and I thought the second might have been good. It was close, real close.
  • Meanwhile, Waller was angry and didn't mince words. The damn officials are killing us. They're inept, incompetent, and insolent. Week after week, I see the same thing. When men work as hard as we do and come into an important game like this one, then lose because of their decisions, it's time to speak up. I've had too much of it.
    On the disputed catch on the 5: How can they rule a ball to them when our guy has it? That was like giving them a touchdown. One official said my man took away the ball after Biletnikoff was down. I told him I wanted to protest the game, and he said I couldn't do it. Waller added that it was the same official, Vandenberg, who ruled that previous play a catch even though it hit the ground. He wouldn't give me an explanation on the first play. Every Sunday is the same. I've been cursed by officials and so have my players. I probably should cool off before I say this, but it's hard to keep quiet ten weeks in a row. I have no recourse. I've sent in films to back up my complaints, and I haven't even received the decency of answers.
  • Howard insisted the intercepted the pass on the 5. I had position on him. I don't think Biletni­koff even touched it. The instant replay seemed to back up Howard's contention.
  • Naturally, Biletnikoff disagreed with the Chargers' opinion on both plays. On the low pass: Hell, I caught it. It wasn't close. Either I miss 'em or I catch 'em clean. There is no close. On the second play: We both caught the ball. All I need to get is a little piece of it. I don't need all of it.

Oakland Tribune columnist Ed Levitt imagined what might have happened prior to Oakland's magical 1970 season.

"Make me a special kind of season," said Al Davis to his genie one day at training camp.
"Give me capacity crowds for every Raider game. Put a lot of drama into each battle.
"Turn George Blanda into a young athlete again who never misses when he's needed in the final seconds.
Try to give us at least four straight games when we drive our customers to their feet with tense, fighting-the-clock, come-from-behind miracles.
And, of course, let ol' George keep delivering the knockoff punch to wring the last ounce of emotion from the crowd.
Make of us the most exciting club in the NFL. Inject strength and speed and stamina into our team so that we can get better and stronger as the season progresses.
But, more than anything else, provide us with the necessary power and polish and precision to take hold of first place and never let go." ...
We love you, dear genie. We love you.

The Raiders now faced a quick turnaround to prepare for the Thanksgiving clash in Detroit.

Continued below ...

Reference: Blanda Alive and Kicking, Wells Twombly (1972)
Top of Page
Blanda's Incredible String - VI



Joe Schmidt


Alex Karras


Wayne Walker


Marv Hubbard


Daryle Lamonica passes vs Lions


Fred Biletnikoff


Lem Barney


Dan Conners


Mel Farr


Dave Grayson


Mike Eischied


Charlie Sanders


Tom Vaughn


Tony Cline


Blanda at his Hall of Fame Induction

Leading the AFC West by a game over the Kansas City Chiefs, the 1970 Oakland Raiders traveled to Detroit for the annual Thanksgiving Day game.
  • George Blanda hated the short week. His weekly routine was smashed to pieces.
  • It would be bad enough if the game were at home. But having to spend most of Wednesday flying to Detroit made matters worse.

When the Raiders arrived in the Motor City, the Publicity Director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton OH showed up looking for Blanda.

  • Don Smith had come on a mission - to pick up the jersey George had used in his last five games, four victories and a tie in which the Old Man played a crucial role each time both as K and QB.
  • Smith told Wells Twombly of the San Francisco Examiner: We saw something you wrote. You said that it was inevitable that George would make the hall because he figures to retire with so many records. We felt he deserved some recognition right now. His jersey will go on display in the rotunda at the hall.
    George is going to be football's all-time scorer. It suddenly struck us that here is a guy who compares to baseball's Babe Ruth and his 714 lifetime home runs. What we want to do is show George what we think of him rightnow. He'll be voted into the hall someday, no question. But we want to honor him right now. That's why we have come after his jersey.
  • The request, which he couldn't turn down, irritated George even more. It was bad enough having to condense his six-day preparation and regimen into three. Now he had to part with the shirt he wore for Miracles I, II, III, IV, and V.
  • Blanda wasn't superstitious. He just liked a safe, snug routine. Why couldn't they wait until the season ends to take his jersey?

The Raiders were the first former AFL team to play in the nationally televised Turkey Day classic that had begun in 1934.

  • The contest also marked Oakland's first regular season venture onto the soil of an old NFL team.
  • The 6-4 Lions, coached by Detroit's legendary LB Joe Schmidt, came off a 28-7 victory over the other Bay Area team, the 49ers.
  • Detroit had been shut out in each of the last two Turkey Day games.
  • Schmidt planned to start third-year QB Greg Landry, who threw three TD passes against Frisco in his second start after wresting the job away from Bill Munson.
  • Detroit's counterpart to ageless George Blanda, K Errol Mann, had booted 15 of 21 FGs. He had tallied 75 points, four more than Blanda.
  • The Raiders' starting QB, Daryle Lamonica, was asked when he arrived in Detroit about George's incredible string of five miracle games. Hey, this is super. If I can still get out of bed at 43, I'll be happy.
  • The oldest Lions both played on defense - DT Alex Karras, 35, and LB Wayne Walker, 34.
  • The Lions still played in what Twombly called "rust-ruined old Tiger Stadium," home of Detroit's American League team.

The Raiders started strong.

  • Oakland kicked off, and Marv Hubbard recovered a Bobby Williams fumble at the 23. On the first play. Lamonica threw to WR Fred Biletnikoff in the EZ. Freddie faked a move towards the post, then spun out toward the flag. All-pro CB Lem Barney was nowhere near the receiver. Blanda booted the point. Raiders 7 Lions 0
  • Five minutes later, Lamonica again zeroed in on Biletnikoff for 21y to end a 75y 10-play drive. Raiders 14 Lions 0
  • Then the Raiders made a big mistake. They forget the adages, "Don't count your chickens before they hatch" and "let sleeping dogs lie." They taunted the opposition, violating one of Blanda's maxims, "Never rile the other side."
    Walker explained after the game: They thought the fact that we gave away two quick touchdowns was funny. Well, it sure as hell wasn't. It was like some stran­ger came into my home and shot my mother and tried to assault my wife. I couldn't take it. I pointed it out to several other Detroit players. They were just as made as I was.

The Lions started their comeback from their own 8 at the beginning of Q2.

  • Landry scrambled for 24 to get out of the hole and start a 92y march.
  • Along the way, a pass interference call on LB Dan Conners rescued Detroit from a 3rd-and-36 situation.
  • On the 14th play of the nine minute drive, Greg threw a 12y pass to Altie Taylor in the EZ just ahead of S Dave Grayson, who appeared to be picked on the play.

Ben Davidson (83) rushes Greg Landry.

With two minutes to play in the half, it appeared the visitors would go to the dressing room with a seven-point lead. But fate intervened.

  • Punter Mike Eischied whiffed on the ball and wound up with a punt of 0y to give Detroit possession at the Oakland 28.
  • Quick RB Mel Farr swept end for 18. Then Landry threw a beautiful pass on a post pattern to TE Charlie Sanders and, just like that, the game was tied. Raiders 14 Lions 14

LB Mike Lucci stalks Raiders RB Charlie Smith.

Neither offense clicked in Q3, keeping the score tied heading into the final 15 minutes.

  • Starting their first possession of the period on their 42, the Lions got a 58y pass and mostly run from Landry to Farr down the right side. Conners missed the tackle near the line of scrimmage.
  • Sanders again did the honors with a diving catch in the EZ. Lions 21 Raiders 14 (11:31 remaining)

C Jim Otto (00) blocks Lucci.

His team needing a spark, Raiders coach John Madden turned to - who else - George Blanda.

  • Starting from the 24 and throwing on almost every play, Blanda zipped the Raiders to the Lion 40 with eight minutes left.
  • TE Raymond Chester, the Raiders' first round draft choice that year, streaked downfield, beating SS Tom Vaughn, and gathered in Blanda's pass at the 5 and dragged forward to the 3. But the officials called Chester offsides on the play.
    I purposely was trying to get off quick, but I thought I went with the count, said a dejected Chester afterwards. I was surprised when I saw the penalty was on me.
  • After an incompletion, Oakland faced 4th-and-14 at the Detroit 45. Heading into the wind, Madden decided against a FG and instead ordered a punt. Eischied kicked to the 6.

Blanda in huddle vs Lions

The Lions again worked their way out of trouble. Facing 3rd-and-6 at the 10, Landry took off out of the pocket again and ran down the left sideline for 10y to keep pos­session.

  • After four runs gained 14, Landry threw a bomb to Chuck Hughes, who snagged the ball just inches out of the reach of CB Kent McCloughan for a 42y gain.
  • Taylor gained 9 through RT, then Landry sneaked for the first down on the 11 with 1:51 to go. The Lions had eaten up six minutes.
  • Needing only a FG to ice the game, Detroit got more than that when Farr swept RE, eluded DE Tony Cline and Grayson in the backfield, and sped into the EZ. Lions 28 Raiders 14

No Miracle VI and no headlines the next day shouting BLANDA DID IT AGAIN!

  • Blanda: The worst we can be after this weekend is tied for first. We've just got to forget it and come back.
  • DT Al Dotson gaive Detroit no credit. We whipped ourselves. I don't think they whipped us. The Lions are not the best team we've faced.
  • OT Gene Upshaw: I don't think they have a super team. Good? Yes, they'd have to be to beat us.

The flight home seemed much longer than the one the previous day.

  • No roaring throng greeted the team. No camera crews.
  • Blanda's wife Betty asked him, What happened? He answered, Lost the damn game, gritting his teeth and walking straight ahead.

The following week, the Raiders traveled again, all the way to New York to meet the Jets.

  • George threw a TD pass in Q3 to Warren Wells to pull the Raiders within 10-7. After an NY FG made it 13-7, it was Lamonica who provided the last minute heroics, hitting Wells with seconds left to tie the game. All George had to do was boot the EP, which he did. The New York Daily News, perhaps sarcastically, proclaimed "George Does It Again!" the next day.
  • The Raiders finished the regular season 8-4-2 to claim the top spot in the AFC West by a game over Kansas City .

Oakland hosted Miami in the first round of the playoffs.

  • The Dolphins fell 21-14, Blanda's contribution limited to three PATs.
  • The Raiders traveled coast-to-coast again to face the Baltimore Colts in the AFC Championship Game but lost 27-17. Blanda booted a 48y FG and threw a 15y TD pass to Wells. But the loss killed any chance of Blanda adding another chapter to his book of miracles.
    Some afternoon! George proclaimed. Ted Hendricks, that big gawky kid LB of theirs knocks hell out of me and then has the gall to say, "Sorry, Mr. Blanda." And Billy Ray Smith, their tackle, who is 35 or 36, is so happy to see somebody on a football field older than he, that he takes shot after shot at me. Each time the bastard says, "Sorry, old timer." Old-timer, my Aunt Fanny.

Video highlights of Oakland's 1970 season

Blanda capitalized on his magical 1970 campaign.

  • In late January 1971, he cut a record in Hollywood. His voice turned out to be not bad.
  • George agreed to endorse two products he believed in and does a sales pro­motion film called "Think Win!
  • In less than a year, he became the first athlete ever to apply for his pension while still playing. He received $450 a month.

Blanda played five more seasons with the Raiders before retiring at age 48.

  • In 1971, he threw 58 passes, completing 32 for 378y and 4 TDs.
  • But the final four years, he tossed only seven aerials and completed just two.
  • George ended his incredible 27-year pro career with 2002 points, a record at the time but good for only seventh place today behind six men who did nothing but kick
  • Blanda entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
  • He died in 2010 at age 83.
Reference: Blanda Alive and Kicking, Wells Twombly (1972)
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CONTENTS

Redskins Cheap Scouting

"I Come to You with Clean Hands"

Blanda's Incredible String - I

Blanda's Incredible String - II

Blanda's Incredible String - III

Blanda's Incredible String - IV

Blanda's Incredible String - V

Blanda's Incredible String - VI

 

Football Stories – I
Football Stories – II
Football Stories – III
Football Stories – IV

Football Stories – V
Football Stories – VI
Football Stories - VII
Football Stories - VIII
Football Stories - IX
Football Stories - X

Football Magazine
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