George Blanda is considered to be a football legend, and with good reason.
With a career spilling into four decades, Blanda played 26 years in the NFL and AFL, seven of which were with the Houston Oilers.
Though perhaps he comes to mind as a quarterback, Blanda also played linebacker, kicker, and punter, and he holds a myriad of records that would fill a four-inch, three-ring industrial binder.
These awards include:
- NFL Man of the Year (1974)
- Bert Bell Award (1970)
- Associated Press Athlete of the Year (1970)
- 3-time AFL champion (1960, 1961, 1967)
- 4-time AFL All-Star (1961–1963, 1967)
- First-team All-AFL (1961)
- 2-time Second-team All-AFL (1962, 1963)
- AFL Most Valuable Player (1961)
- 2-time AFL passing yards leader (1961, 1963)
- AFL passing touchdowns leader (1961)
- AFL All-Time Team
- 100 greatest Chicago Bears of All-Time
- Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans Ring of Honor
Putting that into perspective, notice that Blanda was named to the AFL’s All-Time Team and the Oilers Ring of Honor.
Despite those accolades, some detractors might argue that he didn’t have much strong AFL competition from which to distinguish himself.
However, note also that Blanda was tabbed as one of the greatest-ever Chicago Bears, meaning he was granted lofty status as a marquee player for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises, which can’t easily be decried.
As many awards and honors as are listed above, they say nothing of the performance records he holds, some of which will be highlighted below.
Before Blanda arrived in Houston, he starred for George Halas’ Bears from 1949-1958 (as his aforementioned Bears franchise honor clearly indicates).
However, in 1959, Halas made a huge blunder.
Believing that Blanda was too old to play quarterback, Halas wanted 39 year-old Blanda to focus primarily on kicking.
Blanda felt Halas’ decision was more about money, saying, “[Halas] was too cheap to buy me a kicking shoe.”
Feeling slighted, Blanda retired and sat out the 1959 season before signing with the Oilers for their inaugural 1960 season.
For Blanda, the AFL’s allure proved strong, because it featured a more explosive, more exciting style of play than the NFL with a much higher passing rate.
AFL owners did not want to see 3-0 games; they wanted 40-30 games in which quarterbacks threw 60 times.
Blanda was a perfect cog in the wheel of the offense constructed by Oilers head coach Lou Rymkus.
Blanda’s arm strength and Rymkus’s fondness for calling fly routes made Houston a constant threat to move quickly down the field.
A fly route, or a “go” route, is designed to take the top off of the defense, forcing the safety to either play deep or take the underneath crossing route executed by the split end. Additionally, each running back could either be utilized as an extra blocker in pass protection or run a swing or flat route into nearby uncovered territory, forcing an additional defender to either play deep or cover the back.
This style of play allowed the NFL-rejected Blanda to flourish as the league’s newest star as he threw for 2,413 yards, 24 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, and a 46.6% completion percentage during the 1960 season.
Had Blanda put up these numbers in the NFL, he would have ranked third in passing yards and second for touchdowns tossed for the 1960 season.
His favorite target for the 1960 season was Bill Groman, who put gaudy receiving stats that year, even by today’s standards.
That season, Blanda and Groman connected on 72 receptions for 1,472 yards and 12 touchdowns, thus starting the tradition of phenomenally exciting Oiler offenses.
With the shackles of the NFL behind him, his 1960 AFL campaign was merely the next chapter of the football legend that George Blanda became, and more would follow, including six more in Oiler blue.
In fact, Blanda’s football playing career extended through the 1975 season, after which he hung up his cleats at age 48 with 26 pro seasons under his belt.
No other NFL player before or since has appeared on an active roster at that age or older.
Dillon Holloway is a native Mississippian currently residing in central Oklahoma. He is a rabid football fan and a historian of the sport. He is a husband, a military officer, volunteer teacher and football coach, and emerging guest speaker. He graduated from the University of Mississippi with a bachelor’s in English and a minor in aerospace studies. He played football from pee-wee through high school, winning the 2A Midsouth Association of Independent Schools (MAIS) state championship and was named first-team all-district guard in 2011. Since his first football practice, he has always made the sport a part of his life in some fashion, and writing for Miss Ya Blue! allows him to continue to do so.
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