For the past 21 seasons, Tom Brady has set the standard for modern quarterback play.
He has won seven Super Bowls with two different teams and been named the NFL’s MVP three times.
Although he is 43, Brady has said many times that he hopes to play until he is 45.
That would be impressive as most pro athletes (if they’re lucky) find their peak in their mid-late 30s’.
As impressive as 21 seasons (and counting) are in the professional football ranks, Brady still has a few more years to go to catch the all-time record for oldest player in the NFL.
That title belongs to former quarterback/kicker George Blanda.
Blanda played 26 years in the NFL and finally retired when he was 48.
The Raiders finally gave up trying to count in 1975 and just officially listed George Blanda’s age as “Old As Hell.” pic.twitter.com/xgX8riN4NU
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) June 17, 2019
Blanda was around long enough to play for legendary college coach Bear Bryant at Kentucky, George Halas with the Bears, and end his career with John Madden and the Raiders.
Along the way, Blanda was named NFL Man of the Year, AP Athlete of the Year, four-time AFL All-Star, and a three-time AFL champion.
This is the story of the career and life of George Blanda.
Growing up in Coal Country and Playing for the Bear
George Frederick Blanda was born on September 17, 1927 in Youngwood, Pennsylvania.
He was one of seven boys and his father was a coal miner.
Blanda whiled away the days of his youth playing quarterback, kicker, and linebacker for Youngwood High School.
He played well enough for Youngwood that he was offered a scholarship to play quarterback and kick at the University of Kentucky.
During his second year at the school, Paul “Bear” Bryant became the new head coach of the Wildcats.
Bryant had led the Maryland Terrapins in 1945 before seeking a change of scenery in 1946.
When Blanda first met his new coach, he had a divine feeling about Bryant.
“I thought this must be what God looks like,” Blanda recalled years later.
Under Bryant, Kentucky pulled out of the depths of a 1-9 record in ‘45.
In the next three years, the Wildcats would only lose three games.
Blanda worked his way up the depth chart and led the team in passing in 1947 and 1948.
He also led Kentucky in total offense in 1948.
During those final two seasons, Blanda threw for 1,400 yards and 12 touchdowns.
“This must be what God looks like.” _ George Blanda when first meeting Bear Bryant. Crimson Tide Roll Call https://t.co/Q8Cc5OPVxn pic.twitter.com/FYPgkTLqm7
— Bama Central (@BamaCentral) November 22, 2019
Blanda’s numbers were okay for the time and he didn’t expect to play in the pros.
However, George Halas and the Chicago Bears had a different opinion of Blanda and selected him with the 119th pick in the 12th round of the 1949 NFL Draft.
After Halas signed him for $6,000 and a $600 signing bonus, Blanda had a hard time getting on the field for the next four years.
In his rookie season, Blanda threw for 197 yards, zero touchdowns, and five interceptions.
He also attempted 15 field goals, made seven, and punted 19 times for 746 yards, and a 39.3 yards per kick average.
Chicago went 9-3, but did not make the playoffs.
In 1950 and 1951, Blanda was mostly tethered to the sideline.
He did not see action as a quarterback during these two years and was used at linebacker on occasion by Halas.
Blanda’s stats during this period were one pick as a linebacker in 1951 and 6 of 17 field goal attempts also during the ‘51 season.
Blanda was back under center in 1952 when, in limited action, he threw for 664 yards, eight touchdown passes, and 11 interceptions.
He also made six of 25 field goal attempts during the year.
Chicago finished 5-7.
Blanda Becomes the Starter in 1953
Once the 1952 season concluded, Blanda had had enough of limited playing time and Halas.
Tired of not receiving any pay raises after four years, Blanda nearly had a deal in place with Hamilton of the Canadian Football League.
However, at the last minute, Halas opened the piggy bank and gave Blanda a small bump in his salary to $11,600.
Blanda finally became the starter for Chicago in 1953.
All he did that year was lead the NFL in passing attempts with 362 and completions with 169.
Blanda also threw 14 touchdowns and 23 picks on his way to a 52.3 quarterback rating.
Under Blanda’s direction, the Bears finished 3-8-1 with seven of the losses coming by a touchdown or less.
Injury Leads to Backup Role
The Bears and Blanda got off to a slow start in 1954 when he threw 15 touchdown passes against 17 interceptions.
Blanda was injured in a Week Eight game versus Cleveland and was sidelined for the remainder of the season.
His backup, Zeke Bratkowski, stepped in and won the final four games for Chicago.
The team just missed the playoffs with an 8-4 record.
For the next four years, Blanda was used mostly as a kicker and backup quarterback to Ed Brown.
During that time, he was successful on 48 of 93 field goal attempts.
As a backup QB, Blanda threw for a total of 982 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 14 interceptions between 1955-1958.
Halas was gone by the 1956 season when the Bears lost to the New York Giants in the NFL Championship game.
However, Blanda rarely appeared that season and, by the end of 1958, he was done with Chicago.
Not wanting to continue dealing with the Bears or their management, Blanda retired.
Asked about his 10 years with the team, Blanda did not hold back.
“I didn’t have much fun,” he said at the time.
Blanda was also candid in his recollections of his time with Chicago and playing for Halas.
“Playing on the same team with Sid Luckman and Bulldog Turner and against people like Sammy Baugh, those were nostalgic days for me,” Blanda said years later. “Halas was a great coach, but the only problem I had with him, the problem all the players had with him, was that we didn’t get paid very much.”
Blanda Has Fun with the Oilers
Blanda was retired for only a year when the American Football League was formed and began play in 1960.
The new Houston Oilers contacted Blanda to play as their quarterback and kicker.
He accepted and soon resumed his pro career in Texas.
OTD in 1960, the #Oilers sign former Chicago Bears QB George Blanda to a 2-year contract pic.twitter.com/3EPnpV3eFA
— 𝕃𝕦𝕧 𝕐𝕒 𝔹𝕝𝕦𝕖 (@BudsOilers) February 21, 2021
Blanda quickly found that he was better suited to the AFL and the emphasis the league placed on passing.
During the 1960 season, Blanda completed 46.6 percent of his passes, threw for 2,413 yards, and for the first time in his career, passed for more touchdown passes than interceptions (24/22).
He converted 15 of 32 field goal attempts that year as well.
Thanks to Blanda’s leadership, the Oilers went 10-4 and appeared in the AFL Championship game.
Blanda did his part in the game and tossed the pigskin for 301 yards and three scores to defeat the LA Chargers 24-16.
In 1961, things were even better for Blanda.
That year, he threw for an AFL best 3,330 yards along with 36 touchdowns and 22 picks.
His touchdown mark stood for 23 years before Miami quarterback Dan Marino broke it in 1984.
Blanda also had a personal high in quarterback rating of 91.3%.
In Week 11, Blanda threw for seven touchdown passes against the New York Titans.
He shares this record with four other quarterbacks.
Houston returned to the championship game in ‘61 and defeated the Chargers again 10-3.
During the game, Blanda accounted for all the points. After the season, he was honored as the UPI and AP AFL Player of the Year.
He was also named the league’s MVP, was a First-team All-AFL, and AFL All-Star.
The great George Blanda was born 91 years ago today.
George played 26 seasons of professional football, and retired at the age of 48.
Here in a glorious Houston Oilers classic👌@PhilHecken @HelmetAddict @NFL_Journal pic.twitter.com/pFb4Jgw7Ud
— Goat Jerseys (@GoatJerseys) September 17, 2018
1962 was another banner year for Blanda when he threw for 2,810 yards, 27 touchdowns, and 42 interceptions (a league record for picks) and made 11 field goals.
During the season, he had two 400 yard passing days and Houston finished the year with a franchise best 11 wins against 3 losses.
For the third season in a row, the Oilers returned to the AFL Championship game.
This time, however, they lost to the Dallas Texans 20-17 in two overtimes.
During the game, Blanda threw a touchdown pass, converted the extra point, converted a second extra point after a Charlie Tolar touchdown run, and also kicked a 31 yard field goal.
After the season, he was named a Second-team All-AFL and an AFL All-Star.
Beginning with the 1963 season, the Oilers struggled in the win column and failed to reach the postseason for the next four years.
For his part, Blanda continued to play well, even if his team did not.
In 1963, Blanda led the AFL in passing yards for the second time after throwing for 3,003 yards (along with 24 touchdowns and 25 interceptions).
That led to another AFL All-Star nod and a Second-team All-AFL selection.
Between 1963 and 1965, Blanda led the AFL in passing attempts and completions.
He and Dan Marino are the only pros to lead their league in completions for three consecutive seasons.
In 1966, Blanda threw for more interceptions (21) than touchdowns (17), a trend for the fifth consecutive season.
That year, Blanda also threw for his lowest yards total (1,764) since his arrival in Houston.
The Oilers ended the season 3-11.
George Blanda avoids Ron McDole & airs it out vs. Buffalo in mid 60’s AFL action. @BuffaloBills @NFL_Journal @NFL @ProFootballTalk @Super70sSports @ProFootballHOF pic.twitter.com/Y98uxZp8PL
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) October 19, 2019
Perhaps thinking his better days were behind him, Houston released Blanda in March of 1967.
During his time with the club, Blanda ranked in the top ten of the AFL for attempts, completions, yards, and touchdowns.
Reflecting on his time with the Oilers years later, Blanda had nothing but positive memories.
“The Oilers were a great group of guys and a great team with a lot of speed,” said Blanda. “It was exciting to start something new and I was proud of playing in the AFL. I felt, even in the early years, that we had some teams that were as good as a lot of teams in the other league. We had to do some things to get the fans and the television people interested, so we threw the ball. I threw the ball 68 times in one game, 58 in another, 55, 50. It was a fun period of time.”
Not Done Yet…
After being released by the Oilers, Blanda was looking retirement square in the face.
He was turning 40 and the chances of him continuing his career was miniscule.
That’s when Al Davis called.
“One day Al Davis of the Raiders calls me up and tells me I belong to them,” Blanda said in retirement.
Despite Blanda’s advanced age, Davis wanted him to back up quarterback Daryle Lamonica and kick as well.
Davis also asked Blanda to help tutor Kenny Stabler, who joined the team in 1968.
Little did Blanda know that he would be a member of the organization for almost a decade.
Blanda Finds more Success with the Raiders
In his first year as a Raider, Blanda was primarily a kicker and converted 20-30 field goal attempts.
As a backup quarterback, he threw for 285 yards, three touchdowns, and three interceptions.
Due to his performance as a kicker, Blanda was voted to his fourth AFL All-Star team after the season.
Oakland went 13-1 in 1967, faced Blanda’s former team in the AFL Championship game, and smoked the Oilers 40-7.
The team then met the Packers in Super Bowl II.
Unfortunately, the magic died that day and Green Bay pounded Oakland 33-14.
1968 was more of the same for both Blanda and the Raiders.
While the team ended the year 12-2, Blanda converted 21 field goals, and passed for 522 yards, six touchdowns, and two picks.
Oakland played the Chiefs in the Divisional round and dispatched Kansas City easily 41-6.
In the AFL Championship game, the Jets ended the Raiders season 27-23.
Raymond Chester, George Blanda & Jim Otto from the great days of the Raiders. @Raiders @NFL_Journal @NFLAlumni @NFL @ProFootballTalk @ProFootballHOF @Super70sSports @NFLFilms pic.twitter.com/sC0em6zdI7
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) January 8, 2020
The Raiders kept the party going in 1969, finishing 12-1 and, for the second time in three years, Lamonica was named the AFL MVP.
With Lamonica playing so well, Blanda rarely saw the field as a quarterback and threw for only 73 yards, two scores, and an interception.
He also kicked 20 of 37 field goals that year.
In the Divisional round, Oakland again spanked Houston 56-7 before losing to Kansas City 17-7 in the AFC Championship game.
Blanda Shines in 1970
As he was turning 43, Blanda showed no signs of slowing down.
Although he did not play quarterback often, Blanda enjoyed working with Stabler.
“We had a natural bond for a couple of reasons,” Stabler said after his playing career. “We both played for Coach Bryant in college, and we were both quarterbacks with the same philosophy about the game. He (Blanda) definitely grabbed me and gave me the advice I needed when I came to the Raiders. George talked to me and was always there for me. Daryle was the starter, so George and I spent a lot of time on the sidelines during games and behind the huddle during practice. He did most of the talking and I did most of the listening. They were good lessons learned.”
Now this is a Mt. Rushmore of QBs from one team. Jim Plunkett, Daryle LaMonica, Kenny Stabler and George Blanda. #RaiderNation pic.twitter.com/wA04y615RX
— Darrell Bird (@DarrellBird) July 14, 2020
By the end of Week 5 in 1970, the Raiders were struggling to a 2-2-1 record.
During their Week 6 contest against Pittsburgh, Lamonica went down with an injury.
Instead of calling on Stabler, Coach John Madden went to his veteran QB.
“There was no question,” Stabler said later. “George was the next man up. It was the right move.”
The move paid off handsomely as Blanda calmly threw for two touchdowns and kicked a field goal in relief.
The team cruised to a 31-14 victory.
The next week, Oakland was losing to Kansas City until Blanda kicked a 48 yard field goal to tie the game at the end of regulation 17-17.
George Blanda and Ben Davidson watch from a muddy Raiders sideline. pic.twitter.com/LWq0eC7jRc
— 𝙃𝙚𝙡𝙢𝙚𝙩 𝘼𝙙𝙙𝙞𝙘𝙩 (@HelmetAddict) March 17, 2019
Blanda’s heroics continued in Week 8 when he passed for a touchdown and made a field goal to beat the Browns 23-20.
Before the touchdown pass to tie the game, Madden and Blanda had a conversation on the sideline about what to call.
Using his years of game experience, Blanda strongly advocated for his play call idea.
“Let me run three post patterns to Warren Wells and I guarantee you will have a touchdown,” Blanda said to Madden.
“If you guarantee it, then do it,” replied the coach.
The first pass to Wells fell incomplete.
However, the second pass was caught by Wells in the end zone for the tying points.
After Blanda kicked the winning points a few minutes later, Oakland radio announcer Bill King could barely contain his glee.
“George Blanda has just been elected King of the World!” King said over the airwaves.
50 Years Ago OTD (1970)
43-yr-old George Blanda comes off the bench to stage a miracle late-game comeback for the #Raiders:
• Throws TD pass (1:34 left)
• Kicks 52-yd FG as time expires
Oakland nips Cleveland, 23-20. Raider Radio’s Bill King elects Blanda “King of the World” pic.twitter.com/h7qp4GpOfC
— Kevin Gallagher (@KevG163) November 8, 2020
In the final minutes of their Week 9 game against Denver, Blanda again produced some late game heroics.
The Raiders left Denver as victors after Blanda connected with receiver Fred Biletnikoff for 20 yards and a touchdown.
One week later, Blanda kicked a 16 yard field goal with only seconds left to defeat the Chargers 20-17.
“It got to the point where when he’d come in [the game], the whole team would go, ‘Here comes George. We’re going to do it now,’ ” Madden said. “Then pretty soon all the fans started believing, and they’d all go nuts. And then the topper is when the opponents knew it. It was like, ‘Oh no, here he comes.’ ”
George Blanda was 9 years older than his head coach, who wound up being more successful in his second career, and then really successful in his third career. pic.twitter.com/izc1rkO2Yb
— Football Perspective (@fbgchase) January 10, 2021
In the midst of this incredible run, teammates marveled at Blanda’s ability to pull victories out of the jaws of defeat.
“Some quarterbacks you can anticipate,” Raiders safety Dave Grayson said. “They throw the ball about the same way every time. But not George. You can’t read him. One time he’ll drill it, the next time he’ll loft it a little, then he’ll float it.”
Blanda’s remarkable five game performance helped the Raiders to a 4-0-1 record during that span.
The team ended the year 8-4-2 and Blanda made 16 total field goals, passed for 461 yards, six touchdowns, and five interceptions.
Oakland won in the Divisional round of the playoffs against the Dolphins 21-14, then lost to the Colts 27-17 in the AFC Championship game.
Subbing for an injured Lamonica during the game, Blanda threw two touchdowns, kicked two extra points, and kicked a 48 yard field goal.
His play that afternoon made Blanda the oldest quarterback to ever play in a championship game (until Brady broke it in 2021).
George Blanda 1970 AFC 🏆
Raiders vs Colts pic.twitter.com/kHkdzesOBE
— LockDog Jones (@gretschjones) January 10, 2021
Despite not being the Oakland starter that season, Blanda’s relief appearances were enough to get him named the AFC Player of the Year and collect the Bert Bell Award.
Blanda appreciated the honor yet also let the world know how he felt about quarterbacks being asked to leave the pro game before their time.
“Personally, I think it’s a shame, all the star football players who retired in the prime of life,” said Blanda in a Sports Illustrated article that year. “Lou Groza, washed up at 43. Ben Agajanian, prematurely retired at 45. Y. A. Tittle, gone when he was 38 and Bob Waterfield at 33. Norm Van Brocklin hung them up at 35 as did Otto Graham, the finest quarterback I’ve ever seen. Why, that’s a tragedy. Does anybody really think Otto Graham couldn’t have played six or eight more seasons? Of course he could. Even now, at 49, Otto handles himself better than most of the young bucks right out of college. But like all the others, he fell victim to one of pro football’s many unreasoning prejudices: that you’re no longer capable of playing when you reach 30 or 35. Baloney!”
For the next five years, Blanda was primarily used as a kicker for Oakland.
Each season, he threw for less and less yardage.
During that time period, Blanda passed for a total of six touchdowns and seven interceptions.
He also kicked a total of 79 field goals during that five year stretch. As a kicker, Blanda was nearly automatic on extra point attempts.
Between 1967-1971, he kicked 201 consecutive extra points.
George Blanda was money in big games. @Raiders @NFL_Journal @NFLAlumni @NFL @Ol_TimeFootball @Super70sSports @ProFootballHOF pic.twitter.com/OsHptsz0jb
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) April 16, 2020
Blanda played his last game as a pro on January 4, 1976 in the AFC Championship game against the Steelers.
The Raiders lost the game 16-10 but Blanda contributed a 41 yard field goal and an extra point.
He was at training camp the following season, but was released before the 1976 season began.
Blanda chose that moment to retire from the game at the age of 48.
Unfortunately for Blanda, Oakland would go on to win Super Bowl XI against the Vikings after the ‘76 season.
Even though he missed out on the sport’s biggest game, he continued to cheer on his former team.
As a Raider, Blanda scored a franchise high 863 points.
He also scored more than 500 points for three different teams, the first player to do so.
In his 26-year career, Blanda threw for 26,920 yards on 1,911 of 4,007 attempts, 236 touchdown passes, and 277 interceptions.
George Blanda finished his NFL career in 1975 by connecting on 61.9% of his field goal attempts which, coincidentally, is the exact same percentage of his friends who died at Valley Forge in 1778. pic.twitter.com/nlbtHJhkqs
— Super 70s Sports (@Super70sSports) May 6, 2020
Blanda was the NFL’s Man of the Year in 1975, an AFC Player of the Year, three-time AFL champion, four-time AFL All-Star, AFL Most Valuable Player, two-time AFL passing yards leader, and AFL passing touchdowns leader.
In retirement, he was named one of the 100 greatest Chicago Bears of all time and is in the Houston Oilers/Tennessee Titans Ring of Honor.
Life After Football, Legacy, and Accolades
Blanda’s career and longevity in the NFL was forever immortalized when he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981, his first year of eligibility.
His HoF bio reads, “I never say ‘This is my biggest thrill.’ It’s what you can do tomorrow that’s important.”
Hall of Fame QB and placekicker George Blanda was born OTD in 1927. Hall of Fame Enshrinement Class of 1981. Blanda played for a record 26 seasons with the @ChicagoBears, Baltimore Colts, Houston Oilers and @raiders. One of only 2 players to play in 4 different decades. pic.twitter.com/3wFf3XL7wn
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) September 17, 2019
During his record 26 seasons, Blanda set a number of ‘firsts’ or near firsts.
These included: Most seasons scoring a point (26); one of two players to play in 4 different decades (he played in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s); most PATs made (943) and attempted (959); held the record of most pass attempts in a single game with 68 (broken by Drew Bledsoe in 1994); oldest player to play in an NFL game (48 years, 109 days); first player ever to score over 2,000 points; most total points accounted for (including touchdown passes) in a career with 3,418 (not an official stat) and since broken by Drew Brees and Brady; broke Lou Groza’s career scoring record in 1971, a record he held until 2000 when it was broken by Gary Anderson; record for the most NFL games played with 340 (until it was broken by Morten Anderson in 2004), and most interceptions thrown in a single season with 42.
Thankfully, Blanda’s interception mark was broken in 2007 by another gray haired quarterback.
“The one record I was happy to get rid of was the one for the most interceptions, when Brett Favre got that one,” Blanda remarked at the time.
In retirement, Blanda would often praise the AFL, often commenting that the league helped spur the popularity of the modern NFL.
“That first year, the Houston Oilers or Los Angeles Chargers (24–16 losers to the Oilers in the title game) could have beaten the NFL Champion (Philadelphia) in a Super Bowl.” Blanda said. “I think the AFL was capable of beating the NFL in a Super Bowl game as far back as 1960 or ’61. I just regret we didn’t get the chance to prove it.”
Blanda’s approach and preparation for the rigors of pro football were much different than Brady’s.
Where Brady has his patented “TB12” training and eating routine, Blanda’s regimen was just a tad different.
“After last year people came up to me and said, ‘George, how do you do it? What’s your secret?'” Blanda wrote for Sports Illustrated in 1970. “Word got out that I had a special diet, that I didn’t drink or smoke. One ‘insider’ said that I was taking hormones, and that was why I was able to play so many games at my ripe old age. Well, there is no secret. My special diet consists of the same things I’ve been eating ever since I grew up: steak and potatoes and green vegetables. I smoke and I drink. The worst five years of my 21 (at the time) as a pro were the five when I didn’t smoke at all. Now I’ve gone back to cigarettes, a pack or two a day, although I don’t inhale them. As for alcohol, I enjoy bourbon — it’s part of my University of Kentucky background — but I don’t guzzle it down like water. I sip it, and I limit myself to two or three drinks. You may see old George Blanda acting stupid, but you won’t see him acting drunk! “There’s no use changing the routine, if it’s working, is there?” he said.
All I know looking at this Tom Brady & George Blanda graphic is that one eats Avocado Ice Cream while the other’s topping of choice is cigarette ash. pic.twitter.com/sByiUZL1Tt
— Jorge’s Modern Life (@fghtffyrdmns87) January 10, 2021
Blanda passed away on September 27, 2010 after a short illness. He was 83.
Though he is gone, Blanda’s legacy will remain part of the NFL for eternity.
Awesome. Well written story about a legend that was along the lines of Paul Bunyan when I was a kid.
Ben Donahue says
Thank you for the comment, Blanda was a heck of an athlete 🙂
George was one of a kind. I remember that stretch in 1970. We lived in the East Bay at the time, and were huge Raiders fans. George was indeed King of the World. Fantastic article, thanks!
Ben Donahue says
Thank you for reading! Blanda had quite a career!
Greg smith says
When I was growing up , 50’s, sixties , till he retired, when his team was on TV his name was mentioned every minute. Al people talked about. He was swiss Army knife of sorts.way ahead of his time. Here it is 2022 and George Blanca is still in the discussion, relevant.