George Blanda was Brett Favre without the waffling.
Blanda, the quintessential old-school NFL player, played until he was a month shy of his 49th birthday as a kicker. He played quarterback well into his 40s. He won games quarterbacking and kicking on the same day and had a wonderful run in the 1970s for the Raiders.
Blanda, who played a staggering 26 years of professional football, died Monday at age 83. One of the all-time ironmen in the history of sports, he was a close friend of Oakland owner Al Davis, who is two years younger than Blanda.
There will never be a player like Blanda in the NFL again. We’re watching Favre hold on at age 40 now. Add eight more years and that was Blanda.
Blanda, who started playing in the NFL in 1949, joined the Raiders at the age of 38 and was an effective backup quarterback (who came in and saved the Raiders more than once) and kicker.
On ESPN’s SportsCenter on Monday, Mike Ditka remembered his old friend as an all-time competitor who hated losing, even if it was “pitching pennies.”
My one experience with Blanda certainly backs up that reputation.
In 2000, while I was covering the Minnesota Vikings, I contacted Blanda, who was 73 at the time. Vikings kicker Gary Anderson was just about to pass Blanda as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer. When the record fell, the old record holder is often sought out to bring perspective. Usually, the old record holder is supportive of his record being broken.
Not old George. He wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, he was pretty salty about it. As Ditka said Monday, Blanda was ultra-competitive even well after his retirement. He hated to lose.