Time has bestowed on Blechen its inevitable rewards. Now he is not only slow but also old. In compensation, Blechen possesses considerable savvy and immeasurable enthusiasm. Though Allen wasn't wowed by Blechen's physical gifts, he did proclaim Blechen the smartest player he ever coached. Blechen demonstrated his intelligence throughout his working life (which he spent as an administrator with several high-tech firms) by saying nothing to his employers about his extracurricular interest. "Why let them know I was crazy?" he says.
A semipro team typically plays eight to 10 games a season, but Blechen often plays as many as 20. He might play flag football on Sunday morning and a tackle game that afternoon. He has been known to finish a season in one semipro league, then promptly hop to another team in another league.
Except for two knee surgeries and some lower-back pain, Blechen remains remarkably unscathed after 44 years in the trenches. In fact his body seems to operate outside the normal physiological constraints. A year ago family members took a tape measure to him and found that he had grown almost an inch. "The next time I had my driver's license renewed," Blechen says, grinning, "I had my height changed from 6'4" to 6'5".
He has outlasted players. He has outlasted teams. Perhaps fearing that he might outlast the game itself, in 1990 the American Football Association ignored league policy and made Blechen its first active Hall of Famer.
Blechen says that he is not concerned about winning honors. He just wants to play. And at no time does he move faster than when his playing time is threatened. At the end of last season a shortage of players forced the Cardinals to go belly-up, and in mid-October Blechen found himself without a team. In less than two weeks he had signed on with the Falcons.
His new coach, Nolan (Hawk) Warren, was happy to have him onboard. "I liked him immediately because of his attitude," says Warren, who is 60. "Plus, now I have an older man I can talk to."
Blechen wasn't worried when the Cardinals folded. "If I hadn't been able to finish out last season, it would have been O.K.," he says. "I knew I was going to come back to play this year."