Tom Watson, who came oh so close to winning the British Open at age 59, is not the only senior citizen to achieve success in sports. Remember George Blanda?
As an Oakland Raider, he played in his last game at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium on January 4, 1976, in the AFC Championship Game. That day Blanda kicked a 41-yard field goal and made one extra point as the Raiders lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers,16-10.
In September of 1970, George Blanda, turned 43, his career seemingly over, was cut by the Raiders in pre-season training camp. But Blanda bounced back to establish his 21st professional season as one of the more dramatic comebacks in sports history. Beginning with the Raiders October 25 game at Pittsburgh, Blanda put together five straight clutch performances.
Against the Steelers that day, Blanda threw for two touchdowns in relief of an injured Daryle Lamonica. One week later, his 48-yard field goal with three seconds remaining salvaged a 17-17 tie with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Repeating the thrilling finish on November 8, Blanda once again came off the bench to throw for a pass to tie the Cleveland Browns with 1:34 remaining, then kicked a 53-yard field goal as time expired for the 23-20 win. In the team’s next game, Blanda replaced Lamonica in the fourth quarter and connected with Fred Biletnikoff on a touchdown pass with 2:28 left in the game to defeat the Denver Broncos, 24-19.
Blanda’s incredible streak concluded one week later when his 16-yard field goal in the closing seconds defeated the San Diego Chargers, 20-17.
In the AFC title game against the Baltimore Colts, Blanda again relieved an injured Lamonica and had a superb performance, completing 17 of 32 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns while also kicking a 48-yard field goal and two extra points. He kept the Raiders in the game until the final quarter, when he was intercepted twice. Aged 43, he became the oldest quarterback ever to play in a championship game.
Bert Bell Award Winner
Blanda’s eye-opening achievements that year resulted in his winning the Bert Bell Award as pro football player of the year. Although he never again played a major role at quarterback, Blanda would serve as the Raiders’ kicker for five more seasons.
Amazingly, Blanda’s career spanned four decades. He came up with the Bears in 1949 after playing collegiate ball at the University of Kentucky, a 12th-round pick and number 119 overall that year.
Blanda was primarily a backup quarterback and kicker with Chicago throughout the 1950s, then went to the Houston Oilers for the inaugural 1960 AFL season.
There, at the age of 33, Blanda revitalized his career, leading the Oilers to the first two AFL championships and being named AFL Player of the Year by both the AP and UPI in 1961.
His career seemingly on the decline once again in the mid 60s, Blanda was released by the Oilers in 1967, but caught on with Oakland. That year, he led the AFL in scoring with 116 points as the Raiders advanced to Super Bowl II, only to lose to the Green Bay Packers.
Blanda finished his 26 NFL seasons having completed 1,911 of 4,007 pass attempts for 26,920 yards and 236 touchdowns. Blanda also held the NFL record for most interceptions thrown with 277, until Brett Favre broke it in 2007.
He rushed for 344 yards and nine touchdowns and kicked 335 of 641 field goals and 943 of 959 extra points, giving him 2,002 total points. He also had an interception, two kickoff returns for 19 yards, 22 punts for 809 yards, and 23 fumble recoveries.
Blanda’s Greatest Hits
Blanda holds the following NFL records:
- Passing TDs in a game: 7 (Tied with 4 others) 11/19/61 vs. New York Titans
- Most seasons played: 26 (1949-58, 1960-75)
- Most seasons scoring a point: 26
- Only player to play in four different decades; (40s, 50s, 60s, 70s)
- Most PATs made (943) and attempted (959)
- Most interceptions thrown, single season: 42 (1962)
- Held record of most pass attempts in a single game: 68 (37 completions, vs. New York Titans on 11/1/1961) until 1994, when Drew Bledsoe had 70
- Oldest person to play in an NFL game: 48 years, 109 days
- First player ever to score over 2,000 points
- Oldest quarterback to start a title game
- Most total points accounted for (including TD passes) in a career: 3,418
Blanda is the placekicker on the All-Time All-AFL Team, and was one of only 20 players to play all 10 years of the AFL, as well as one of only three who were in every AFL game their teams played. Blanda was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, his first year of eligibility, and also was inducted into the University of Kentucky Hall of Fame.
He held the record for most professional football games played with 340 until September 26, 2004, when it was broken by another placekicker, Morten Andersen. Blanda is currently third in career points scored with 2002, ranking behind the aforementioned Andersen and fellow placekicker Gary Anderson.
It should be noted that this category doesn’t count the many passing touchdowns that Blanda threw, only his kicks and his nine rushing touchdowns. Also, both of the aforementioned players to surpass Blanda’s total were born outside the United States, thus Blanda continues to hold the record for most career points scored by an American-born player.
In 1999, he was ranked number 98 on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players.