Tuesday, September 28, 2010

We Know He Got It

While I only caught the twilight of his incredibly long professional career I am old enough to remember George Blanda. Yesterday I saw the story on-line that Blanda died - either yesterday or over the weekend (I could not tell from the article) at age 83. He played twenty-six seasons of professional football. The final season he played - 1975 - he was forty-eight years old. He played for so long that he logged more than a decade of service in the NFL prior to becoming part of the Houston Oilers in 1960 in the brand-spankin' new American Football League.

My memory of Blanda is centered upon the fact that he was the field goal kicker for the Oakland Raiders when I was a little boy and that he also served as the team's backup quarterback. I learned after he retired what I was reminded of yesterday reading the story of his death, which was that in 1970 he earned the Associated Press Male Athlete of the Year Award, having been pressed into duty as the Raiders #1 quarterback when their starter Daryl Lamonica got injured. At age 43 he capped off his glorious 1970 season by quarterbacking and kicking the Raiders to the AFC Conference Championship. While they lost to the Colts (whose own kicker - long-haired rookie Jim O'Brien - would win that year's Super Bowl (V for those keeping score at home) against the Cowboys by nailing a game-winning field goal) it was not due to a lack of effort on Blanda's part. In defeat, he threw for two touchdowns, kicked both extra points and for good measure added a field goal. The Colts beat Blanda - sorry, the Raiders - 27 to 17.

Blanda was forty-eight when he retired. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981. At the time he retired he was the NFL's all-time leader in seasons played, games played, extra points made and points scored but over time he has lost his spot atop the food chain in the second and fourth categories. Weep not for him. Almost thirty years after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame and thirty-five seasons after he retired, he remains in the Top 5 in both.

I am a New York Giants fan and thus far this season most of the men of Big Blue are not performing the single job they are paid to perform competently. It is the year of the anti-Blandas in the swamps of Jersey. The Giants to this early point in the campaign (although as the great American philosopher Lawrence Peter Berra once observed it is getting late early around here these days) have a roster full of players auditioning to play the role of Hamlet as opposed to practicing to play the positions that they have been chosen to play.

Blanda's longevity was inextricably linked to his versatility. He made his bones initially as a quarterback but by the end of his remarkable career he was paying his mortgage with his leg and not with his arm. He showed up every day and did his job without complaint, regardless of what it was and regardless of whether he was the starter, the backup or both - depending upon which position. He simply strapped on his chin strap and did what he could do to make himself and those around him better. An outstanding attribute in a professional athlete.

More importantly, an outstanding attribute in a person and one that many of us (Yours truly included) could certainly use in greater supply. Regardless of the strength of our throwing arm or the accuracy of our toe.

-AK

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