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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
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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

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In my first scrimmages I was awful. Under the Chicago system the quarterback not only calls the plays, he calls the blocking assignments as well. No wonder Chicago has become known as a burial ground for quarterbacks. Everything was color-coded; Halas had a passion for secrecy, and I'd go into the huddle with my head all full of chartreuses and yellows and burnt ochers, and then I had to remember the letter designations, A, U, M, B or Z, and whether we would use a Jack or Jill formation and so on. From what I hear, it's still the same at Chicago. You can tell by their standing in the league year after year.

My only satisfaction in those Bear years came from hobnobbing with the likes of Luckman and Lujack and Bulldog Turner and Ed Sprinkle. Luckman used to have a summer home about 100 miles north of the Bears' training camp in Rensselaer, Ind., and when we'd get a day off he'd ask me to chauffeur his big Chrysler convertible while he stretched out in the back with his shirt off. "Drive at an even 50 miles an hour so I can get a nice tan," he'd say, and off we'd go. My nose would get so burned I'd lose 10 layers of skin, and I'd be thankful for the privilege. It was like hauling Franklin Roosevelt around.

As things worked out, Sid was slow to recover from a thyroid operation and Lujack had a bad leg, so I played in most of the scrimmages in the training season. After a while I began to look far better than I was. I still hadn't been able to digest all those plays, and good old Bulldog Turner, unbeknown to the coaching staff, was feeding me the plays in the huddle. I'd come back to the huddle and I'd say, "O.K., Bull, whattya got?" and he'd outline some terrific play and I'd look good calling it and executing it. The Bull would go to the sidelines and say to the coaches, "Say, that Blanda's really a pip, isn't he? He must really be studying that playbook."

I thought I was a lock to start, but when the opening exhibition game rolled around, against Pittsburgh at Cincinnati, right in my old backyard, Halas started Lujack. My first game as a Bear, all my old friends there to watch, and I'm shot down. I kicked off and I must have hit that ball a good 80 yards in the air, I was so sore.

Well, the score was 0-0 with a few minutes to go in the third quarter, and Halas comes over to me and says, "O.K., kid, go in and get 'em!" As I ran out on the field, I noticed George McAfee standing over by the sidelines, just in bounds, and he gave me a little hand motion to throw him a pass. Pittsburgh didn't have the slightest idea that George hadn't left the field, "and I threw him a 40-yard touchdown. How's that for an introduction to pro football?

The Bears really came on after that gift touchdown. I completed seven out of seven passes, threw for three touchdowns, kicked four extra points and kicked off into the end zone every time. We won the game 34-0 with five touchdowns in the last 18 minutes of play. After the game the press huddled around me, and I tried to answer them as modestly and correctly as I could. They also interviewed Halas, and the next day I read his comments in the paper. He said that I was a good prospect, but that my footwork was faulty and I held my hands wrong.

Later on I figured it like this. Halas was extremely concerned with his own image as the great mastermind of the Bears. Now he couldn't have a third-string quarterback looking too good while his two other high-priced quarterbacks were sitting around, could he? So he had to find flaws in me.

Well, through all those miserable years with the Bears I won the first-string quarterback job many times and lost it just as many until football ceased to be any fun at all. I engaged in a conspiracy with the other members of the Bears simply to get through the days. I'd needle Halas to try to loosen him up, to try to make him come down off that high perch of his, but it never worked. I used to put imitation parking tickets on his car to see him blow his top, but he'd never take it as the joke that it was. He'd get mad and stay mad for days.

Out on the field, life wasn't much more rewarding than it was while needling Halas. I played quarterback, linebacker, cornerback, safetyman, anything that would give Halas his $6,600 a year value (my salary didn't change for the first four years, and it never changed much). The high point of my early years with the Bears was when Harry S. Truman came to one of our games and observed later that I must be one whale of a place-kicker. "Why, did you see what he did," Truman told one of our coaches. "He hit the upright from 48 yards out! He must be a very accurate kicker to be able to hit exactly what he aimed at from such a long distance."

Sometimes it seemed that the only thing that genuinely inspired our Bear coaching staff was magic tricks and potions, all the sophomoric stunts you used to see in the 1930 movies about football—hidden-ball plays, gimmicks like McAfee lingering on the sidelines, maneuvers like sneaking into the other team's practices with a long-lens movie camera. They absolutely went ape over things like this. Halas especially detested Paul Brown and the Cleveland Browns, not only because the Browns had come out of what Halas called a junior high school league, but because they routinely clobbered the Bears on every occasion. There was no length to which Halas and his staff would not go to try to get an edge on the Browns, and I include spying on their practices. Once we were scheduled to play the Browns in an exhibition game, and Halas made us go out to practice at six in the morning to confuse the Browns' spies. There probably weren't any Brown spies—certainly not at that hour—but Halas figured if he was spying on the Browns, then they must be spying on him. He always suspected that the Browns' spies watched us from a cornfield across the road from our practice field at Rensselaer, and to circumvent this he would station a few of our men in the cornfield to stalk up and down the rows and catch the enemy spies.

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