In their early years, the Oakland Raiders lacked an identity and lost many games. When Al Davis arrived in 1963 he started changing their culture. He implemented a powerful running game and an attacking defense. However, one piece of the puzzle was missing and that was a quarterback with a cannon for an arm and a gunslinger’s mentality. Daryle Lamonica fit the bill and became the first truly great quarterback of the Raiders.
Born on July 17, 1941, Lamonica grew up on a ranch in Fresno, California. He was an exceptional athlete and lettered in four sports at Clovis High School. He was good enough in baseball to attract interest from the Chicago Cubs but turned down their $50,000 contract offer to play at Notre Dame. He played abysmally in South Bend, Indiana completing 46.9% of his passes and throwing eight touchdowns to 16 interceptions in three years as a starter.
He was better as a runner, scoring 10 touchdowns while in South Bend. He played well enough to be noticed by the East-West Shrine Game where he won the game’s MVP after completing 20 out of 28 passes for 349 yards. After that game, it became obvious that Notre Dame’s offense never fit his skill set. He was drafted by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers in the 12th round and by the AFL’s Buffalo Bills in the 24th round. He chose the Bills because the Packers already had an established quarterback in Bart Starr.
By signing with the Bills, Lamonica made a gamble. They were playing in a start-up league, played in a small market and already had an established quarterback in Jack Kemp, the future congressman. He spent four years in Buffalo and he backed up Kemp in all of those years. He saw Kemp’s leadership abilities as he led Buffalo to back to back AFL championships in 1964 and 1965.
Lamonica earned the nickname “the Fireman” due to him coming into games when Kemp was hurt or not playing well and coming up with the win. In the end, he was a commodity and was traded to the Raiders with Glenn Bass for Art Powell and Tom Flores. His time in Buffalo was brief but it was impactful as he took advantage of the minimal playing time he was given and learned under Kemp. He was ready to lead a team to the championship.
When Daryle Lamonica arrived in Oakland, Cotton Davidson was playing out the twilight of his career. Lamonica was immediately thrown into the starting lineup and he did not disappoint. With playmakers such as Pete Banaszak, Fred Biletnikoff and Clem Daniels at his disposal he threw for 3,228 yards and 30 touchdowns while leading the Raiders to a 13-1 record and an appearance in Super Bowl II. The Raiders lost to the Packers 33-14 which turned out to be Vince Lombardi’s final game with Green Bay.
During Lamonica’s career in Oakland, he led the Raiders to five playoff appearances and four appearances in the AFL/AFC Championship Game. It was also during this time when he led the Raiders through one of the most unique games in American sports, the Heidi Game. In 1968, the Raiders were losing to the Jets by three when NBC decided to switch over to the children’s movie “Heidi” during the last few minutes of the game. Millions of fans were left wondering what had happened with the broadcast and the game itself as Lamonica threw a long touchdown pass and the Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff which the Raiders turned into a touchdown to win the game by 11. By the time the game had ended, NBC's switchboards were lighting up like a Christmas tree and from that moment on NBC has never played a previously scheduled program while another program has yet to conclude.
His best year was 1969 when he was named an All Pro after throwing for 3,3302 yards and 34 touchdowns. He was also known for throwing a lot of interceptions. During his 1969 campaign, while he dominated throughout the season, he was also picked off an astounding 25 times.
The teams he led were capable of winning a championship but unfortunately they faced some of the greatest teams of all time in the playoffs. In addition to the Packers they also lost to in succession the Jets, the Chiefs, the Colts and the Steelers. It was in the middle of that Pittsburgh game when the coaches saw the potential Lamonica’s understudy. The starting job was handed over to Hall of Famer Ken Stabler following the 1972 season. Stabler spent four more year under center before finally leading the Raiders to that elusive Super Bowl championship in 1976, two years after Lamonica retired. By the end of Daryle Lamonica’s career he had been invited to five Pro Bowls and named First Team All Pro twice while recording 19,154 passing yards, 164 touchdowns and 138 interceptions.
Life After Football
Following his retirement in 1975, Daryle Lamonica focused on his trucking business. He had gotten into the business as a player but after retirement briefly moved that business to Alaska before permanently relocating back to California. He has also hosted a fishing show for Fox Sports Net called “Outdoors with the Pros”. As a tribute to his success with the Raiders, Clovis High School named their football stadium after him. He passed away on April 21, 2022 at the age of 80.