If that’s still a compliment these days, it doesn’t go far enough.
Not just because Blanda reserved his dramatics for the playing field instead of the 24-hour ESPN news cycle and not even because he played far longer than Brett will (especially if reports that Brett already regrets coming back this year have any merit to them).
To be clear, Favre is a first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback, among the best of all time. He is still a fine player at age 40. Blanda was damn good, but even he was adamant that he was not the same caliber as Brett.
Blanda was a star quarterback into his late 30s and a factor as a backup until his mid-40s, all the while serving as a mainstay kicker, which he did until he hung it up a year shy of 50. His 26 seasons of service are an NFL record. Oh, and he’s in the Hall of Fame too.
No, to find an accurate comparison to Blanda among today’s players, one has to look far beyond Favre. But survey the NFL of today and the recent past, and it’s tough to find a player whose versatility and body of work resembles Blanda’s.
There are some who have played for an obscenely long time and others who have tried position switches or pulled limited amounts of double duty. But none have done both.
Those who have played far past the age that most guys can safely play pickup hoops tend to be kickers. Longtime Saints and Falcons kicker Morten Andersen retired at the tender age of 47; last week the Saints re-signed 46-year-old John Carney in hopes of solving their kicking woes. Career backup quarterback Steve DeBerg dressed for his last game at age 45, but he played that final season with the Falcons after a four-year retirement.
Then there are those who are athletic enough to attempt – and sometimes excel at – juggling positions.
Kordell "Slash" Stewart and arguably Hines Ward are the standard-bearers for those who have played quarterback/wide receiver, but before long all of those guys have chosen one position or the other.
Troy Brown (and to a slightly less notable degree, Mike Furrey) was a standout receiver and kick returner for Bill Belichick’s Patriots who played defensive back—and played it well—in a pinch. Champ Bailey and Chris Gamble are corners who have dabbled very minimally at receiver in the NFL after pulling that double duty in college.
Lots of guys have come into the NFL as a tight end or fullback and attempted switches to defensive end or linebacker, and vice versa. In four years with the Redskins, Lorenzo Alexander has exemplified this flexibility by lining up at guard, fullback, tight end, defensive tackle and defensive end; he currently plays outside linebacker.
At the height of his career, then-Ravens linebacker Adalius Thomas lined up at every defensive position save corner and nose tackle. Another versatile tool in Belichick’s toolbox was linebacker Mike Vrabel, whose nine career regular season receptions as a goal line tight end have all been touchdowns (not to mention similar work in the postseason).
Tom Tupa provides perhaps the most direct comparison to Blanda. Tupa spent 18 years serving as a punter and third-string/emergency quarterback. But Tupa never approached the same statistical galaxy as Blanda in terms of passes thrown or points scored and, therefore, isn’t even close to him in terms of sheer relevancy.
But the fact is that there has been no one quite like George Blanda in the modern era of football and there likely never will be. When perusing the NFL’s list of individual record-holders, Blanda’s name appears near the top in all relevant categories for both quarterbacks and kickers. No one in recent history has routinely and successfully played two completely different positions, let alone excelling at each.
If there is a true Favre comparison it is here: Blanda was a gutsy player with a knack for dramatic comebacks, and in the pass-happy AFL, he threw it often and he liked taking risks. If that sounds a little Favre-esque, then it won’t be a surprise that No. 4 passed Blanda in 2007 for the most interceptions thrown in a career.
But ultimately Blanda is in his own category. He wasn’t the most accurate kicker of all time, and he wasn’t the best quarterback ever to play, either. But he sure could sling the ball, and he could kick the hell out of it too (straight-on). And he did both of those things far better than most—past and present—and for far, far longer.
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