No, Charlie Batch never played with George Blanda. You might be hard pressed, though, to find an NFL Hall of Famer who hasn’t.
George Blanda was just before my time. My NFL education had begun after Terry Bradshaw already had three Super Bowl rings. By then, Blanda was just a face on an old Topps card, a player I could show my grandpa and ask, “Was he a good player?” Grandpa would have said yes, but I doubt even he could have described Blanda in a way that did him justice.
Blanda was a throwback in what most of us consider a throwback era. He was a big, stocky kid from western Pennsylvania who looked comfortable in a leather helmet. He could pass. He could kick. He could run. He played linebacker, punted and returned kicks briefly for the Chicago Bears, too, and he probably could have played any other position if asked, but he wanted to be a quarterback.
He got his chance to be a quarterback in the upstart American Football League, and he led the Houston Oilers to two titles in 1960 and 1961. His kicking ability, however, was the key to his longevity. After seven years as a starter in Houston, Blanda accepted a backup role in Oakland and took over their kicking duties.
Blanda was also a teacher of sorts, even though he rarely, if ever, worked as a coach. His prize pupil might have been Ken Stabler, who played for Paul “Bear” Bryant at Alabama. Blanda played for Bryant at Kentucky in the 1940s. Stabler, who led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl title one year after Blanda retired at the age of 48, recalled that Blanda always gave him this advice:
“You don’t get many opportunities in this game. When you get your opportunity, be ready to play.”
As true in life as in football, that. Blanda was always ready. His NFL record for most points scored (2,002) has since been eclipsed by specialist kickers who lasted almost as long as he did, but his legacy will run far deeper, because he wasn’t a specialist. George Blanda was a football player. It’ll be a while before we see his kind in the NFL again.
Also, be sure to check out Shutdown Corner’s post remembering George Blanda.