Friday, 3 December 2010


My obit of George Blanda, kicker, quarterback, and inspiration for all us old timers who think they can still keep going, is in today's Indy, you can link to it here. Obviously he wasn't a priority, which is why it sat for almost three months before running, but Blanda was a good story. Not just for his longevity, nor for his status as a poster-boy for the rebel AFL, but also for his problems with 'Papa Bear' George Halas. Blanda's career as the most pass-happy of AFL QBs has been well documented, but I particularly like the little pot belly visible in his Oiler football card (right).

When Blanda joined the Bears they had Sid Luckman and Johnny Lujack at quarterback. Luckman remains the best QB the team has ever had, and one of the most underrated of all the greats--he's overshadowed by his contemporaries Sammy Baugh and Otto Graham, but while Graham was playing in the AAFC Sid was the best in the NFL for a few years.

I was reminded of Lujack's story when I broadcast the Notre Dame-Army game from Yankee Stadiuum recently. When the teams met in 1946, both unbeaten, the Irish were coming off two seasons where they'd been drubbed by Army, who were bolstered by the extra recruiting ability the war had brought. The '46 game was the only college game to feature four Heisman Trophy winners on the field: Army's Doc Blanchard, 'Mr Inside', won for the '44 season, Glenn Davis, 'Mr Outside' for the '45 season. Lujack would win the 1947 award (for his play in '46) and end Leon Hart for the '48 season.

The '46 game ended in a 0-0 tie, with Lujack making the game's most crucial tackle when Blanchard broke through the line into the open field. Doc, playing with injured knee ligaments, always claimed he'd likely have scored if he was 100 per cent.

Halas drafted Lujack in 1947, and he joined the team in 1948 along with Bobby Layne. That's Layne (no.22) Luckman (no. 42) and Lujack (no. 32) posed in Bear uniforms, and but for bad luck Lujack would have joined the other two (and Blanda) in the Hall of Fame. In 1948 he barely played QB, but he kicked and played defensive back, intercepting 8 passes. Halas never had an aversion to stockpiling talent, but hated paying it, so he traded Layne to the New York Bulldogs. In 1949 Lujack started seven games, threw for 2,658 yards and 23 touchdowns , and basically took over the job as the Bears (10-2 in '48) went 9-3. They went 9-3 again in 1950, despite Lujack injuring his shoulder playing defensive back. He couldn't throw much, and wound up with only 4 TD passes and 21 interceptions, but he ran the ball more, 11 touchdowns and a 6.3 yards per carry average.

By 1951 Lujack's passing was better than the previous year, but by now he was feuding with Halas just as much as Blanda. While Blanda played linebacker and kicked, Halas replaced Lujack as starter with Steve Romanick, and rather than continue being undervalued by an authoritarian coach, Lujack, still bothered by his shoulder injury and a knee problem, simply retired. He remains one of the great college quarterbacks, but merely an NFL footnote.

Blanda would have been a similar footnote had it not been for the AFL, and as for the Bears, they have laboured under the curse of Lujack, or Luckman, or Blanda, or Halas or whomever, and never found another top quarterback. They won NFL titles with Billy Wade and Jim McMahon, both good players and gamers, but the new Luckman has never appeared.

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