Blanda, who looks like a combination of an old Don Meredith and a young John Wayne, is finally enjoying the acclaim that has come to him so late in his career. At 43, he is the oldest active quarterback in pro football history. When he played in his first game for the Chicago Bears back in 1949 Sid Luck-man was still on the club and Norman Van Brocklin, now the coach of the Atlanta Falcons, was a rookie quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, chafing on the sidelines while Bob Waterfield led the team. Lamonica was in the third grade.
As a Bear rookie, Blanda played linebacker, kicked field goals and was third-string quarterback behind Luckman and Johnny Lujack. He stayed with Chicago for 10 years—once kicking 156 extra points in a row and winning and losing the starting quarterback's job a couple of times—before joining Houston in 1960, the AFL's inaugural year. During his seven seasons with the Oilers he established 19 career, season and game records, including a season record of 36 touchdown passes (1961) and most passes attempted and completed in a game (68 and 37 in 1964).
Despite his age, Blanda feels no more aches and pains on the Monday after a tough game than he did when he was with the Bears. However, he makes a few small concessions to his years. Every Monday morning, for example, he goes to the Executive House in Oakland for a steam bath and a rubdown. Although he claims he isn't superstitious, this is the first act in an unvarying week-long ritual that Blanda has followed all season. "It's not superstition as much as that I just like to have a set routine and do everything the same way, the way I like to," he says. "And there's no use changing the routine if it's working, is there?"
Last Monday, after his steam bath, Blanda drove to Sacramento, where he talked at a. booster club dinner, stayed overnight, then returned to Oakland in time for Tuesday morning practice. The Raiders watched movies of the Cleveland game and a film of the Denver-San Diego game on Nov. 8. The workout was an easy one, but Lamonica, who had suffered a severe shoulder bruise against the Browns, couldn't throw. For the last three weeks Blanda had split time almost evenly with Lamonica in practice; now he shared it with Kenny Stabler, the third quarterback. "If we're behind and Daryle gets hurt, I usually go in," he said. "If we're well ahead, Kenny does." When George Blanda began playing pro football, Kenny Stabler was three years old.
On Wednesday the Raiders had a long workout, concentrating on defense; Thursday's workout was mostly offense. On Wednesday, as part of his ritual, Blanda had another steam bath and rub-down at the Executive House. That night he ate alone at Francesco's in Oakland, yet another part of his pregame routine, then went to a quarterback meeting to get the game plan for Denver.
Thursday night he ate at The Grotto, a Fish restaurant in Jack London Square, which is Oakland's answer to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf. He was with his wife and a friend and he sat at the same table by a window overlooking the water, in the same seat that he sits in every Thursday and Friday night.
He ordered turbot and a salad ("I've got to watch what I eat," he said. "Seems like if I even look hard at food I gain weight") and he was interrupted half a dozen times by friends and autograph-seekers, but Blanda is a friendly man and he signed menus uncomplainingly. At the next table a large party from San Francisco had finished dinner and was lingering. A young man in the party, emboldened by after-dinner drinks, leaned over and tapped Blanda on the shoulder.
"I'm from San Francisco," he said, "and I think John Brodie and the 49ers can take you."
Blanda looked at him and laughed. "John who?" he said.
Later, as Blanda was having coffee, two Raider linemen, Harry Schuh and Tom Keating, joined him. Blanda had been talking about the vicissitudes of life under the blitz and he said, "I don't believe in getting mad if a guy misses a block and I get hit. I don't yell at the players. Everybody gets beat sometime."