George Blanda's Most Memorable Year
The NFL MVP Award is its highest honor which is given annually to a player who has exemplified a level of greatness unmatched in the league. Oftentimes, these players are future member of the Hall of Fame, the greatest to ever walk the earth. Almost always, these are full time starters at a single position. George Blanda did not specifically win that award, but he still did the impossible and showed the world that even past the age of 40, he could still lead his team to victory at an elite level. Four games he came off the bench and five games he led the Raiders to victory. He threw touchdown passes, he kicked field goals and he was great while doing what he did best. This is the story of George Blanda’s great 1970 campaign.
Going into the Pittsburgh game, the Raider’s season was on the brink sitting at 2-2-1. Things became much worse when starting quarterback Daryle Lamonica was knocked out of the game in the first quarter with Oakland leading by seven. The Steelers tied the game early in the second quarter but Blanda took command of the game the rest of the way. In the second quarter alone he threw two touchdowns and kicked a 27-yard field goal. Though the Steelers closed the gap to 24-14 in the second quarter with a scoring pass from rookie quarterback Terry Bradshaw, Blanda finished the Steelers off with a 43-yard bomb to Raymond Chester. The Raiders won 31-14.
After Blanda kicked a field goal to tie the Chiefs, the Raiders looked to get back to their winning ways against the Cleveland Browns. Both Blanda and Lamonica helped stake Oakland to a 13 point lead in the second quarter. However, the Browns would not go down easily and scored the next 20 points while sidelining Lamonica. The fourth quarter was George Blanda’s as he threw a 14-yard touchdown strike to Warren Wells to tie the game at 20. He then kicked a 52-yard field goal to win the game 23-20.
The following week in Denver, Lamonica led the team to a 19-17 deficit before he came out with an injury. Again, Blanda came off the bench and threw the game winning touchdown pass to Fred Biletnikoff. Along with a 32-yard field goal and three extra points, Blanda had accounted for half of the Raider’s 24 points.
The following week against San Diego, George Blanda was not under center in the game but his prowess as a kicker enabled the Raiders to come out with a victory. It was a close contest between the bitter rivals. The Chargers drew first blood when John Hadl connected on a touchdown strike to Gary Garrison in the first quarter. The Raiders scored next on a three yard run by Charlie Smith with an extra point by George Blanda following soon after going into halftime.
In the third quarter, another connection between Hadl and Garrison again put the Raiders in a seven point deficit. But the Raiders would not go away and Smith scored on a one-yard run with Blanda again tying the game. Blanda put Oakland ahead early in the fourth quarter on an 18-yard field goal but the Chargers would not go down quietly, kicking a field goal of their own to tie the game at 17. The Raiders drove down the field one last time and George Blanda kicked the game winning 16-yard field goal. Oakland had won a tough 20-17 contest against their hated rivals.
Two weeks later, the Raiders were in New York to face off against the Jets, who were without Joe Namath due to a nagging knee injury. Even without the future Hall of Fame quarterback, the Jets were still formidable and gave Oakland all that they could handle. In a low scoring affair, the Jets staked a ten point lead in the third quarter. Blanda, filling in for Lamonica who was briefly knocked out of the game, threw a 13-yard touchdown to Warren Wells and kicked the extra point to bring the Raiders within three points. After another New York field goal, Lamonica returned and tied the game with a 33-yard touchdown to Wells. George Blanda kicked the extra point and the Raiders won the game 14-13.
The Raiders would go all the way to the AFC Championship Game that year, where they would lose to the Baltimore Colts. Ironically, George Blanda filled in for Lamonica for the entire second half, throwing two touchdowns and kicking a 48-yard field goal. Despite his heroics, Blanda could not overcome the eventual Super Bowl champions, and the Raiders lost 27-17. He had completed 17 passes out of 32, thrown two touchdowns against three interceptions and kicked a 48-yard field goal as well as two extra points. The 43-year old quarterback could still do it all.
The Maxwell Football Club soon took notice of his unique contributions to the game and gave him the Bert Bell Award. In addition to this honor, he was also named the AFC Player of the Year by the Sporting News. After his retirement following the 1975 season at the age of 48. George Blanda was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, his first year of eligibility. He passed away on September 27, 2010, his memory forever embedded in the hearts of Raider fans everywhere.