As I sat in the Denver airport, last Monday night, awaiting my connecting flight home from Chicago, I sat in a little cafe, eyeing the televisions in the bar across the way.
I had really planned the trip poorly, as noted in an earlier post here. As a Bears fan, I had no clue they would play on a Monday night, thinking I would watch them on Sunday with my Midway Mates. Well, we did spend over six hours at Buffalo Wild Wings on Sunday, but my connecting flight home boarded at 6:25, Rocky Mountain Time, about five minutes before kick off.
But, as I sipped my green tea and glanced at the tube, the story that former Bears, Oilers, and Raiders quarterback George Blanda had passed away popped onto the screen.
Now, as a die hard Raiders fan from 1961 till the mid-80's, when all sanity and reason fell from their front office, this struck me.
Now, Mr. Blanda, a grand old man, was the dignity and even keel for the Raiders during those exciting and tumultuous years, and if you remember the Jets and Raiders Sunday afternoon game in November of 1968, Blanda and his leg had a lot to do with Oakland's crazy come-from-behind wind, when with 65 seconds to go in the game, and New York ahead 32-29, Oakland scored two TDs and won the game, which at 4:00 PM, PT, was pre-empted so a national broadcast of the movie "Heidi" could be shown.
I remember sitting in the tub at home that Sunday afternoon, listening on the radio to Bill King describing the craziness, so, I was spared the truncation of the game. Although, the fallout from football fans struck hard, and is still felt today.
Now, Blanda was pretty well established as the Oakland kicker by then, but in in 1970, when Blanda, who was 43 at the time, stepped in to facilitate the following:
- Against the Steelers, Blanda threw for three touchdowns in relief of an injured Daryle Lamonica.
- One week later, his 48-yard field goal with three seconds remaining salvaged a 17–17 tie with the Kansas City Chiefs.
- On November 8, Blanda once again came off the bench to throw for a touchdown pass to tie the Cleveland Browns with 1:34 remaining, then kicked a 53-yard field goal with 0:03 left for the 23–20 win.
- In the team's next game, Blanda replaced Lamonica in the fourth quarter and connected with Fred Biletnikoff on a touchdown pass with 2:28 left in the game to defeat the Denver Broncos, 24–19.
- The streak concluded one week later when Blanda's 16-yard field goal in the closing seconds defeated the San Diego Chargers, 20–17.
That is pretty much a career over five weeks, and it was a time when the Raiders were indeed the most successful--win/loss wise--sports franchise of the time, plenty to make me proud of my scrappy roots.
Ideally the spirit of Blanda, who began his career with the Bears in 1949, and was their starting QB in 1953--a year after I was born--was floating over Soldier Field last Monday when the re-energized guys took the favored Packers to the mat.
I actually arrived home in time to catch most of the final quarter as I awaited my luggage, then the very end when my friend Mark Berenberg drove me home and I forced him to listen on the radio.
We will miss you George, though the memories are solid. And, well, maybe you are haunting the Bears locker room in a good way.
Earlier yesterday, when White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel announced he was leaving his position to run for mayor of Chicago, he noted that indeed times are strange at home. He paused, and then started with, "The Bears are 3-0."
Truer, and more unexpected words were never spoken.