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"Hey," said Keating, a defensive tackle, "I remember you hollering."
"When was that?" Blanda said.
"When you were playing for the Oilers," Keating said with relish. "I got to you once and sacked you, and you got up and I thought you were going to hit me with the ball until I saw Bob Talamini ducking."
"Yeah," said Blanda. "Now I remember. But I wasn't mad at him for missing the block on you. I had a receiver open, and if I'd had another second we'd have had six."
The next day, driving to Bay Meadows—a Friday afternoon ritual—Blanda said, "I guess some people wouldn't go to the track on Friday the 13th, but I'm not superstitious about things like that. I've gone every Friday this season, and I've been pretty fortunate. I haven't had a losing day yet."
Blanda grew interested in horse racing when he was a quarterback for Bear Bryant at the University of Kentucky, and he is a serious bettor, studying the Daily Racing Form carefully before making a bet. But on this Friday the 13th George Blanda ran out of luck. He won only one race and the horse he bet on was named Rosie George, whom Blanda insisted he picked solely by superior handicapping. At any rate, Rosie George loped home 2¼ lengths ahead of a rather scruffy field: he paid only $4.80, probably having been bet down by Raider fans.
On the way back to Oakland, Blanda was philosophical about his losses. "All the long shots came in today," he said. "When that happens I'm dead. This was the day for the little old ladies who stick a pin in their program." He lit a super-king-size cigarette, keeping his eyes on the road. "Not that I like to lose," he went on. "Anything I do, I want to win. I had six brothers and four sisters and I competed with my brothers every day when I was a kid. If you lost in my family, they kidded the pants off you until you won again."
Blanda is a competitor in whatever he does. He is a daring poker player, with a knack for successful bluffing. "When I run a bluff on a guy and chase him," he says, "I make a point of showing him my cards so he'll know it. Doesn't hurt to get him a little mad and coming after you, and the next time I may not be bluffing." He also plays golf to a six handicap, handles a pool cue with skill and is a formidable gin rummy and cribbage player, one of his favorite partners being Leslie, his 14-year-old daughter. "After dinner on Thursdays, I usually play cribbage with her," he says. "She beats me a lot, too."
Friday night he took his wife and Leslie back to The Grotto to observe still another one of his rituals. They sat at their table by the water and Leslie had a hamburger steak because that is what she ordered the first time they ate there. Fortunately, Leslie likes hamburger steaks.
The Raiders flew to Denver early Saturday afternoon and arrived to find a powdering of snow on the ground, which didn't surprise them. Oakland has never played in Denver without there being snow on the ground, even in September. The team ate together at the Continental Denver, a motel near Mile High Stadium. Then Blanda retired to his room, where he played cribbage with Mike Eischeid, the Oakland punter, who is his roomie. When the Raiders are in Oakland, they still spend the night before games at a motel and Blanda and Eischeid play cribbage, then get up at 8 a.m. and play until the stroke of 9, when they go to breakfast.