George, it sounds good to me," he said. "Now go in and do it."
So I called old
"99 in Y in" again, only to Wells' side instead of Biletnikoff's. The
idea was that our "Y" end, Ray Chester, would go down the middle and
the strong safety would climb all over him. That would leave Wells one-on-one
with the outside guy for the touchdown. "Just remember, Warren," I said
in the huddle, "we don't want an interception, so as soon as the outside
guy turns, I'm gonna fire it low and hard. Be ready."
worry," Warren said. Nobody ever had to tell that football player to be
ready. He caught the pass for a 14-yard touchdown and the game was all tied up
In any normal
football season that would have been the end of it; we would have had our third
tie of the year. But this was 1970, the wild year, so there was more to come.
Cleveland got the ball and threw a pass and Kent McCloughan intercepted it at
midfield with 34 seconds left. We fiddled around and I threw a few incomplete
passes and Cleveland's Jack Gregory blindsided me and I took a poke at him, and
pretty soon there are three seconds left and we're lining up for a 52-yard
field goal, the longest one I'd ever tried for Oakland. I was tired, plenty
tired, but there was no doubt in my mind I'd make that kick good. We had blown
the game and then come back to tie it. All the momentum was ours. That kick had
to be good. My Slovak optimism was showing again.
This time Kenny
Stabler was the holder, since Daryle was injured, but The Snake and I had
practiced together often and I knew he'd do his job. The only thing I did
differently—because of the distance—was to lengthen my first step a little and
put a tiny bit more backside into the kick. I hit it good, ankle locked, swing
nice and even, and all the time I'm thinking about those years with the Bears
when the Browns had kicked us all over the field. I really was. Here was my
revenge, my payoff for all those aches and bruises. Later somebody played me a
tape of the Oakland broadcast of the game:
Waiting for the
snap. Fourth down. Here it is. Snap, spot it, it's kicked. That's got a chance!
That is—GOOD! It's good! Holy Toledo! The place has gone wild. Whee-e-e! I
don't believe it! I don't believe it! There are three seconds left in the game.
Well, if you can hear me, this place has gone wild. The Oakland Raiders 23, the
Cleveland Browns 20. George Blanda has just been elected KING OF THE WORLD!
After the game
there was the usual commotion, but I avoided most of it by staying in the
showers for 20 minutes. Ben Davidson told one of the reporters, "We got to
quit relying on the old man. It's not right." One Cleveland paper headlined
THE OLD MAN DOES IT AGAIN, and Hal Lebovitz wrote in the
real villain was the incredible George Blanda. Personally I'm disposed to
applaud. Once again he struck a blow for us old folks." NBC reported record
numbers of viewers, and one of their program coordinators said, "The
attraction has been George Blanda basically. These are games people don't walk
away from. They can't leave for fear George will do it again."
The next weeks
were tough on me. I guess everybody enjoys love and affection but I hadn't been
accustomed to much of either during my two decades in pro football and now
everybody was swarming me under. Walter Cronkite sent a news team to interview
me and his people kept asking me if I was nervous during the games. I felt like
saying, "No, but I'm plenty nervous right now!" "Blanda for
Mayor" buttons began popping up, and the editor of The Catholic Voice wrote
that church attendance was rising "because so many Oakland fans were saying
if he makes this one I'll go back to church." I was featured in the Slovak
v Amerike, and the
had an editorial about me ("All Hail Old
Man Blanda, a man for all ages, we say, creaking over our typewriter. Age will
be served!"). I was getting about 20 letters a day, one from as far away as
Japan, and I just had to stack all of them up to read later. We still had
football games to play.
In the middle of
the week between the Cleveland and Denver games, I turned on the radio and
heard sepulchral music and then an announcer with an inner-sanctum voice
saying, "Tune in next Sunday to find out if George Blanda can kick one over
the Rockies and through the goalposts." The next day I went into a
restaurant and the waitress said, "You can do it, you can do it."
what?" I said.