The death of George Blanda Monday brings back another one of those sports memories that I’ve always cherished.
Perhaps the old AFL’s greatest rivalry (a rivalry which remained heated long after the upstart league merged with the older NFL in 1970) was that between the Kansas City Chiefs and Blanda’s Oakland Raiders.
And likely their most hard-fought meeting ever was a contest which occurred during that first season after the merger in the fall of 1970.
Late in the game, Kansas City had a 17-14 lead and the ball somewhere near the middle of the field. It was third down, and all they needed was one more first down to run out the clock and seal the victory.
Chief Quarterback Len Dawson dropped back to pass and finding everyone covered scrambled for an apparent first down. After he was brought down, Raider defensive lineman Ben Davidson (probably best remembered for his handlebar mustache) piled on Dawson with a late hit.
That meant a fifteen yard penalty against Oakland, but the Chiefs took umbrage at Davidson’s cheap shot, a big brawl ensued, and Kansas City was called for unsportsmanlike conduct. That was also fifteen yards, the penalties therefore off-set, and the down had to be played over again.
This time the Raiders stopped them, and they got the ball back with just enough time for a couple of plays to get close enough to try a long distance field goal to tie it.
With 3 seconds left, on the field comes Oakland’s 43 year-old George Blanda (the oldest man in the NFL, the Raider’s field goal kicker and also back-up quarterback for starter Daryle Lamonica).
Back then the goal posts were at the front of the end zone, i.e., right at the goal line. The Raiders had made it to the Chief’s forty-one yard line. Add seven yards to that for the distance between center and placement and that gives you a 48-yard attempt.
Knowing this was a pretty long attempt for old Blanda, and probably at the extremity of his range, Chief Coach Hank Stram had a big, lanky 6-foot-9-inch receiver standing right at the goal line should an opportunity present itself to swat the ball away.
Blanda’s kick wasn’t particularly pretty but was nonetheless true and just barely cleared that tall Chief’s outstretched hand as he leapt high in the air to try and knock the ball down. The game ended in a 17-17 tie — no overtimes back then.
And that was the second game of what NBC Sports called Monday
an insane five-week run where he [Blanda] either replaced Raiders quarterback Daryle Lamonica to lead the Raiders to a comeback victory or kicked a winning or tying field goal. Every single week.
The book America’s Game describes how Blanda’s story in 1970 broke normal boundaries. He was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, Time, and Newsweek. He was joked about by Johnny Carson. He symbolized a new kind of life after 40.
I was only eleven then, but as you can see it’s all still very vivid in my memory. George Blanda’s streak in 1970 was truly one for the ages.
And if you’d like to revisit some of your football memories or just read more about this great American sport, try a subject keyword search in our catalog for “football.” You’ll find literally hundreds of titles on football at Greensboro Public Library.