The only player to have played 26 seasons of professional football in the history of American football, George Blanda was rightfully called ‘The Grand Old Man’. Professional football is no doubt one of the most competitive sports in America, and it takes a very special sportsman to continue playing even ten seasons, leave alone 26! He began his football career as a quarterback and kicker at the University of Kentucky where he had the good fortune of having the legendary Bear Bryant as his coach. After college he signed a contract with the Chicago Bears where he was used mostly as a kicker. Tired of being a kicker he changed his team after the contract ended. Once he joined the Houstan Oilers, he got the chance to play as both a quarterback and a kicker—an opportunity that helped bring out the best in him and he went on to be adjudged the AFL Player of the Year. He was a highly talented player, blessed with an uncanny sense of football techniques and a high energy level. Over the course of his long career he set numerous records, many of which might never be broken.
Childhood & Early Life
George Blanda was born as one of the several children of Michael and Mary Blanda. His father worked as a coal miner and often found himself out of work when coal mines were closed. Growing up in a large family as a coal miner’s son, George was no stranger to poverty.
Tall and athletic, young George sought solace in football and excelled as a quarterback, kicker and blocker even as a teen. He went to Youngwood High School where he played not only football but also basketball and participated in track and field.
He enrolled at the University of Kentucky where he was coached by the legendary Bear Bryant. He played as a quarterback and kicker and thrived under the coaching of Bryant.
He ended his collegiate career at Kentucky with 120 completions in 242 passes with 12 touchdowns.
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After college he signed a contract with the Chicago Bears for $600 in 1949. There he primarily played as a quarterback and place kicker; he also sometimes played as a linebacker.
Playing for the Bears, he was mostly used in a kicking capacity. He was an athletically built young man and could blast long field goals.
In 1960 he signed with the Houston Oilers where he got the chance to play both as a quarterback and kicker. Playing as a quarterback was his passion and this move helped him tap into his hitherto hidden talents.
In 1961 he won AFL Player of the Year honors. He had scored 36 touchdown passes which were the most ever thrown by a quarterback at that time. The next year also was a great one for him as he threw 42 interceptions.
Over the next few seasons from 1963 to 1965, he led the AFL in passing attempts and completions. In 1964 he scored 68 passes against the Buffalo Bills in just one day! He also proved to be among the best in attempts, completions, and touchdowns.
The Houston Oilers released him in 1967. By now he had played for 18 years—a very long time for a football professional. It was expected that this would signal his retirement. Little did the football fans know that he was yet to give his best ever performance!
The Oakland Raiders recognized that this player still had the potential and signed him in 1967. Blanda was already 40 by this time!
He led the AFL with 116 points in two instances during 1967. He helped his team secure 19-7 victory against his former team, Houston Oilers. The Raiders qualified to compete in the Super Bowl II but lost the final matches.
He gave his best ever performance in the 1971 season when he was 43 years old. He kicked a 48-yard field goal against Kansas City Chief. He bettered his performance with a 53-yard field goal against the Cleveland Browns.
He played his last game in 1976 when he was 48 and finished off his glorious career with a 41 yard field goal. Over his career spanning 26 seasons, he had scored 236 touchdowns, 277 interceptions, and earned a total of 2002 points.
Awards & Achievements
He was named American Football League Most Valuable Player in 1961 for scoring 187 of 362 passes for 3,330 yards and 36 touchdowns, for 216 points.
He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981 and was also elected to the University of Kentucky Hall of Fame.
George Blanda was an awesome player who created many records, but the performance that makes him immortal is his 1970-71 season with the Oakland Raiders during which he played amazingly well and even kicked a 53-yard field goal—this at the age of 43!
Personal Life & Legacy
He fell in love with Betty Harris and married her in 1949. The couple would be happily married for 60 years till his death. This relationship produced two children.
He died in 2010 after a short illness. He was 83 years old.
At 48 years and 109 days, this famous footballer became the oldest person to play in an NFL game.