SI Vault
 
I KEEP GETTING MY KICKS
George Blanda
July 19, 1971
The world's oldest quarterback was the dramatic hero of the 1970 pro season and the idol of the aging. In this first of a three-part series he tells of his competitive youth, his rise to oblivion (i.e., quarterbacking the Chicago Bears) and his premature retirement 13 years ago—a mistake he will never willingly repeat
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 19, 1971

I Keep Getting My Kicks

The world's oldest quarterback was the dramatic hero of the 1970 pro season and the idol of the aging. In this first of a three-part series he tells of his competitive youth, his rise to oblivion (i.e., quarterbacking the Chicago Bears) and his premature retirement 13 years ago—a mistake he will never willingly repeat

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2 3 4 5 6

Anyway, I perked up when I heard this news. Then Halas began a long speech about the traditions of the Bears, how much they needed me, what it meant to be a Bear and all that jazz. He even reminded me that he and I had something in common: our ancestors came from Eastern Europe. He said, "George, you'll really enjoy being a Bear, we're gonna win year after year, and you'll pick up all that extra playoff money and we can do a lot for you in the business world around Chicago, too."

I asked about dollars and cents. He threw out a figure: $6,000. My head went ding-a-ling like a cash register. I'd studied phys ed at Kentucky, and I'd planned to graduate and go into teaching and coaching, which would have paid about $3,000 a year, so already I was ahead of the game. But I still had the Los Angeles Dons to think about. Maybe they'd pay more. "I'd hate to sign anything today, Mr. Halas," I said. "I've got another offer."

He became very emphatic. "We've got to get this squared away right now," he said.

"Well," I said, "suppose the Dons offer me a lot more money?"

"Now, George, you don't want to go to that junior high school league, do you? Why, they'll be broke in a year. You want to play with the established National Football League, with a team that's got tradition."

"Yeah," I said, "but $6,000 doesn't sound like much money."

"Well, I'll tell you what I'm gonna do," Halas said. "I'll give you a $600 bonus, and that'll make it $6,600. I'll write you out a check for the $600 right now." He whips out a checkbook and starts writing.

What could I do? It was one thing to talk about some intangible $6,000-a-year salary, but a $600 check right now was something else again, a terrible temptation for a 21-year-old kid who'd never had anything in his life. So I said O.K., and I signed the contract and another piece of paper. When I got outside, I looked at the back of the $600 check where it said, "Advance on 1949 contract," and I looked at the other piece of paper and discovered it was an IOU for $600. If I didn't make the team I'd have to repay the $600 with interest. It wasn't a bonus at all; it was an advance against salary.

At the time I was more interested in getting out on the field and playing football. But there was an obstacle: the Bears" playbook. Or I should say, the Bears' playbooks. There were volumes of them! When I went to Chicago three weeks early to begin studying plays, they handed me three big ledger books, 200 or 300 pages each, full of plays. I dug into them and asked all the questions I could, but I never claimed to be Albert Einstein, and the sheer amount of memory work involved frustrated me completely. Johnny Lujack tried to help me, and so did Luckman, in his own way. Under the Halas system every player has to copy every play into his own fresh notebooks at the beginning of the season. Every player! Every play! So Luckman helped me by letting me copy his notebooks for him. Of course, I did my own, too. And still I didn't know all those plays, and I'll bet Luckman didn't either. There must have been at least 1,000 pass plays and 800 runs.

I took it all so seriously. What did I know about the pros? I'm older now, and I look back on that poor, dumb, 21-year-old George Blanda with sympathy and sadness. Now I know that other pro football teams don't have nearly that many plays, and very few coaches subscribe to the mastermind theory of football that Halas uses, where everything is X's and O's and secret plays and double options off the Statue of Liberty on a hidden-ball variation. Now I know that football is blocking and tackling, throwing and passing and kicking, and hitting, and that execution is the thing, and that you can have all the playbooks in the world and you still won't win if you don't hit and execute.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6