Bend it like Blanda
By David Rudick aka Rudickulous
If Brett Favre was considered too old to play in the NFL, somebody should have carted George Blanda off to the nearest retirement home eight years before he even considered it. Truly a force to be reckoned with, the Canton Football Hall of Famer was known as one of the most unbelievable players in all of football. Playing in four different decades (40s-70s), “The Grand-Old Man” made four AFL all star games, five All-AFL selections, two All- Pro selections, the UPI, AP, TSN AFL MVP in 1963, League champion in 1960, 61, and 67, and a member of the AFL all team selection. Blanda is known for being the oldest quarterback to start in a Championship game (sorry Favre), and for participating in more seasons than any other player in the game of football (26). Yet in his 26 seasons of football, Blanda only was a quarterback for 21 seasons. How is that possible you may ask? That is because Blanda was one of a kind player. Many players back in 40s or 50s played more than one position. However, instead of playing on both sides of the ball like legends such as Chuck Bednarik had, Blanda performed at a much more interesting position
Many argue that what George Blanda could be remembered for the most are his accomplishments at the kicking position. While not remaining as a quarterback after his final start in the 1943 Championship game, he went on to play five more seasons for the Raiders as their primary kicker before retiring just shy of his 49th birthday. Kicking throughout the duration of his twenty six year career, Blanda would go on to set the record not only for the most PATs attempted, but the most converted as well. This feat is so incredible that many experts wonder if anybody will ever come close to breaking the record. To give an example of how ridiculous this record is, the 2nd name on the PAT’s converted list, Morton Anderson, was still ninety four points away from even tying. What is more jaw dropping is that the closest active player to this record, Jason Hanson, is three hundred and sixteen points away. That means that Hanson needs to make over three times the amount of PAT’s Morton Anderson had to make to even tie with Blanda.
We as sports fans sometimes take the kickers for granted in the NFL. Not only is this position one of importance, but it comes packaged with massive amounts of stress and pressure. With the numerous amount of kickers coming out every year from college, it is not uncommon seeing kickers getting dumped to the side for a younger, fresher model. In fact, this year fans saw that very incident happen in Baltimore to Billy Cundiff. Being dumped in favor of rookie kicker Justin Tucker, Cundiff was joining the free agency pool due to one small mistake. Unfortunately, that small mistake took place on one of the largest stages. The Pro-Bowl kicker had recently been known as the kicker who missed the potential game-tying field goal that cost the Ravens a trip to the Super Bowl. While Cundiff had bounced back from this error and had a decent preseason, Baltimore decided to go a different route.  Maybe not everything ended poorly for Cundiff, as he did end up finding a new team in the Washington Redskins. With this addition, however, came more tragedy as both Graham Gano & Neil Rackers became unemployed as the job they were competing for suddenly became filled. In the blink of an eye, their preseason competition meant absolutely nothing.
Nothing; similar to the thought process that many fans have towards kickers in the NFL. Heck let’s face it, in today’s society the kicker is an afterthought. In fantasy football, nobody drafts a kicker with their first round pick. If somebody did, they would be laughed out of the room and called many names not appropriate for this article. Yet in reality, a good percentage of kickers probably outscored your starting WRs, RBs, and other positions during week one. Heck, if you had started Brandon Weeden, nearly every kicker outscored your starting quarterback. People are like the fans described in Adam Sandler’s song, The Lonesome Kicker; they just forget and neglect the kicking position until something goes wrong. Then the kicker will be assigned to a new position: Scapegoat.
The sports community should be more embracing of kickers, as there were many big stories across the NFL this week, all concerning the forgotten position. One story that has attracted many people’s attention is the one of San Francisco 49ers’ kicker David Akers, connecting a 63 yard field goal attempt, tying the record for the longest field goal in NFL history. This is quite the accomplishment, but not the only story. For instance, what people may not realize is that rookie kicker, Blair Walsh of the Minnesota Vikings, not only started off his career with a solid performance, but actually made the game winning field goal to help lead his team to victory. Imagine the amount of pressure the kid must have felt knowing that his first career game and its outcome all depended on him. Needless to say, it was impressive how clutch Walsh was with the game winning kick.
Another incredible story came out of Cleveland where the Browns played against the Philadelphia Eagles. This day was special as it marked the 200th game for kicker Phil Dawson. Think about this one fans, all 200 games were played with the Cleveland Browns. Seriously people, in the NFL a kicker’s average career is about 4-5 years. This is not even factoring in the likelihood a placekicker is cut or dropped after having a bad game. Dawson has now played 200 regular season games with the same team for his entire career (Although he was on both Oakland & New England, he never played in a regular season game for either team).  What makes it more shocking is that they all were for the Browns. The man deserves a medal for being in Cleveland for so long. The team has had 15+ different starting quarterbacks and 6 different head coaches in their 12 (going on 13) years since returning to NFL back in 1999. With all these people coming and going, it is incredibly hard to believe that the only player remaining from the franchise…is kicker, Phil Dawson.
If Blanda was still alive, he would be proud of these kickers and encourage them to keep a stiff upper lip. Perhaps the kicker will never be as big as a linebacker, or as popular as a quarterback, but they should never be overlooked. It may be a while before we see another kicker like Sebastian Janikowski being selected in the first round of the NFL draft. Also, who knows when the next kicker will be inducted into the Football Hall of Fame; but that does not mean people have permission to neglect the position. So mock the funny facemasks that in all reality do not protect the kickers whatsoever, or how funny it looks when kickers try to tackle people during kick returns. Mock them all you want, for the truth is that these gifted-legged athletes are a vital and important part to any team, whether NFL or Fantasy Football. That’s right kickers, stand up and take a bow…except for you Bill Gramatica.
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