- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Will George sing The Star-Spangled Banner? Will George be on key? Will George master the Banner? Will George pull out Old Glory? Find out today at 12:40, when the San Diego Chargers and the Raiders knock heads on KNEW, the station that lets George do it every Sunday."
Well, my luck held for the fifth straight week. With the score tied, I take you now to the KNEW broadcast booth and the voice of Bill King:
The clock stops at seven seconds, and here comes George Blanda onto the field. Could anyone in the whole world set the stage any more dramatically to put any more heat on the shoulders of one guy than did the whole Raider organization right there? They've put it where they wanted it, and they knew—everybody here knew—exactly what they were waiting for.... The 16-yard line. Lamonica will spot it. He waits. It's snapped. It's spotted. It's kicked. It's good! GOOD! George Blanda has kicked the Oakland Raiders into a three-point lead! Four seconds remain to go, and this may tie the San Francisco Bay area up into a knot from which it may never extricate itself again!
As we were trotting off the field a strange thing happened. A woman hollered down at John Madden, "Look what you're doing, you jerk. You're making Blanda a hero. You're making the other guys look like bums. Why'd you kick a field goal? Why didn't you go for the touchdown?" It takes all kinds.
After five successive lightning bolts, I began to think I was living in a goldfish bowl. My telephone rang incessantly, and I had to tell the motel switchboard to screen the calls. Newspapers were running headlines like HO HUM, BLANDA AGAIN, and one guy wrote that the Raider team seemed "determined to set an AFL record for cardiac arrests." The producers of Mission: Impossible sent a telegram complaining that we had "pirated and plagiarized" their show. The Football Hall of Fame at Canton, Ohio sent for one of my old game shirts and displayed it in the rotunda, sweat stains and all. TIME called me "roly-poly," which brought a heavyweight response from Ed Pope of the Miami Herald. "The TIME writer had not seen Blanda in the flesh," Pope wrote. " Blanda's body is as firm as a stiletto, about as creaky as a shock absorber on a Rolls-Royce." Imagine!
My long lucky string went on the line on Thanksgiving Day against Detroit, one of the finest teams in pro football. We made a terrific mistake early in that game: we got off to a two-touchdown lead and started laughing it up on the sidelines. You don't do that to a team as proud as the Detroit Lions. After the Lions came back to score three touchdowns on us, Madden sent me in to change the tempo once again, and slowly but surely we began to roll. We worked the ball down to their 40, and then good old Ray Chester slipped past the safetyman and caught a pass on the three-yard line. Man, I was excited. We were going to do it again—for the sixth straight week. Then I looked over to the sideline and saw a yellow flag. I knew if it was on the sideline it had to be against us—and it was. Ray had left the line of scrimmage just a hair too soon. The magic was gone. I just knew it. As we walked off the field a few minutes later, Detroit Linebacker Wayne Walker patted me on the tail and said, "Not this time, oldtimer." Imagine that oldtimer calling me an oldtimer!
After the Detroit game we squeaked by the Jets 14-13 and beat Kansas City at home to lock up the AFC West. Then we beat Miami in the first playoff game, and all that stood between us and the Super Bowl was a league championship battle against the Baltimore Colts, a team we respected but not a team that frightened us in the least. I always had a soft spot in my heart for Baltimore; at one time years ago I thought I might be playing for the Colts, and I would have, with pleasure. I felt I had something in common with those people who fill Memorial Stadium Sunday after Sunday, year after year. They're good, solid, hardworking people; they want the Colts to win, and they don't want any excuses. Sometimes they even help out the team by screaming so loud that visiting clubs can't hear their own signals. They mean business. I wasn't the least bit surprised when they started pelting us with ice-balls from the minute we ran on the field for the big game. "Welcome to Baltimore," I told Tom Keating. "We're playing 56,000 people."
Well, the Colts got off to a 10-0 lead, and then Bubba Smith knocked Daryle out of the game with a crunching tackle. All of a sudden I'm out there playing. We picked up a field goal, but then I threw an interception. I was drifting over to cover, the way I always do, to try and make the tackle if necessary, and I became aware of this powerful force bearing down on me. It was Billy Ray Smith, 35 years old, out of the University of Arkansas, pounding my way. It flashed through my mind how one year in an exhibition game Billy had tackled me and then pointed to me on the ground and told all his teammates, "Why, lookee here. There's a football player older than I am." Now I watched him running at me like a little kid, and something about it struck me funny: Billy Ray Smith, 35, and George Blanda, 43, the resistible force and the movable object, about to collide. He saw me grinning and he pulled up short of me and stopped, and we both just stood there laughing. Somebody else made the tackle, and Billy Ray limped off to his side and I limped off to mine. Later on he told me he'd deliberately selected me as the man to hit. "I figured I'd better get somebody in my own age group," Billy Ray said.
In the second half I passed to Fred Biletnikoff for a touchdown to tie the game. Baltimore's young linebacker Ted Hendricks had been dogging on the play, and he really racked me up. Somebody missed an assignment and Hendricks just blew in. "I'm sorry, Mr. Blanda," he said, "but I couldn't help hitting so hard. Nobody even slowed me down."
I said, "That's O.K., kid, don't worry about it." That's what's called respect for your elders.