Vaught's Views: George Blanda still the star of the show

August 06, 2004

LEXINGTON - The event was filled with big-time sports personalities.

There was Buddy Ryan, the former NFL successful head coach who helped the Chicago Bears win the Super Bowl when he was defensive coordinator.

There were former Kentucky quarterbacks Babe Parilli, Derek Ramsey and Billy Ransdell.

There were former Kentucky linemen Dan Neal and Jerry Blanton, who also had successful NFL careers.

Former Louisville greats Doug Buffone and Lenny Lyles, two more successful NFL players, came.

Even former Kentucky football coach Fran Curci and former UK basketball coach Joe Hall were at the third annual Governor's Cup Golf Classic to promote the upcoming Kentucky-Louisville football game Sept. 5.

But it was legendary George Blanda who stole the show. Blanda and Buffone were both honored for their college careers, but Blanda's insights into his collegiate career from 1945-48 were fascinating.


Don't remember Blanda? Shame on you. He threw for 26,920 yards and scored 2,002 points during his professional career that spanned 26 years in the NFL and American Football League.

"I hated George Blanda," Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart said. "I was a Kansas City Chiefs fan and he was always leading the (Oakland) Raiders to wins. He would either throw a last-minute touchdown pass or kick a last-second field goal. He was unbelievable."

He was. That's why he's in the Hall of Fame.

An unlikely star

But he was an unlikely star. He revealed how he was set to stay home and attend the University of Pennsylvania when a coach left him a train ticket to visit Kentucky. He had no intentions of making the long ride to Kentucky, but his father made him. When he got to Lexington, no one was there to meet him.

He found his way to the UK athletics department and no one knew who he was. Imagine if players today who are so accustomed to being wined and dined on recruiting visits were treated that way.

"Those days schools had 100 players at a time come in for tryouts," Blanda said.

Blanda didn't need long to be noticed. When coaches asked him if he could punt, he let one fly.

"I could kick 80 yards before I tore up my knee. I could throw the ball almost 90 yards," Blanda said. "The coaches said they needed me."

Still, he told them he was going to Penn.

"Then they took me to the (Kentucky) Derby and did a few other little things," Blanda said.

Once the laughter stopped from everyone wondering what "other little things" former UK coach Paul "Bear" Bryant did for Blanda, he told why he really decided to come to UK.

"I was in the gym and coach (Adolph) Rupp saw me. He said I could probably play basketball. I would rather have played basketball than football, so I said I would come to Kentucky," Blanda said. "I arrived here with one pair of pants and one sweater. After I got here, they took better care of me."

A blocking back his first two years

His first two years at Kentucky he was a blocking back, not a quarterback. He never got to try a field goal, an obvious mistake since he went on to kick 335 field goals and 943 extra points in his professional career.

He still remembers a game against Tennessee his senior season that ended in a 0-0 tie.

"We were on their 10-yard line right in front of the goal post on fourth down and lined up for a field goal," Blanda said. "Bob Gain, a lineman, had played 59 minutes. He kicked our center right in the a-. He was so tired he could not get the ball airborne. But coach Bryant had a philosophy that you shouldn't punt and placekick. Whatever Bear said, that's what you did."

Blanda left a lasting impression in Oakland. He played from 1950-58 with Chicago before retiring. The next year the AFL started and Blanda spent seven years playing for Houston. Then he came to Oakland for nine more years.

In 1970, at age 43, he had an incredible five-week streak. The first game he had three touchdown passes and a field goal. The next week his last-second 48-yard field goal tied Kansas City 17-17. The next week he had a 14-yard touchdown pass and 52-yard field goal in the final minutes to beat Cleveland. Next it was a touchdown pass with about two minutes to play that beat Denver. Finally his last-second 17-yard field goal beat San Diego.

Not bad for a player who only played college football thanks to a long train ride that led to a chance meeting with Adolph Rupp and started an odyssey that took him all the way to the Hall of Fame.

On The Net:

George Blanda's Hall of Fame page

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