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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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"You don't want that. You're set here in Chicago, you have a good job with a trucking company in the off season, you have a nice home here. George, you don't want us to trade you." The heck I didn't, but I knew it was impossible. So we settled on $6,000 to buy up my contract, and I went home to face the prospect of retirement. I didn't like it one bit. I was 31 years old and I felt strong as a bull. I brooded around the house. I drove my wife and kids crazy. I went to the YMCA in La Grange Park, Ill., where I lived, and worked out every day. While the Bears were in training camp, I was working three times as hard at the Y. I went to a La Grange high school field and practiced my kicking till it was too dark to see the ball. Kids stood around watching the crazy old man with the heavy foot. I would kick the ball, chase it 70 or 80 yards, then kick it back and chase it again. The kids used to ask each other: "Who's the oldie kicking a football?" Nobody asked for my autograph. I was just the graying old crock that used to kick for the Bears and now was all washed up.

The Bears opened their exhibition season, and I went to the games. I was there solely to watch their new kicker, John Aveni, not to hope that he broke his leg, but only that he sprained an ankle or something. To tell you the truth, he played terribly. Aveni was a very nervous and talented kid from the University of Indiana, but the pressure on him was something awful; anybody would have folded under it. Some of the Bears told me that Halas had Aveni out there every day kicking and kicking for hours at a time, and all the coaches took a whack at helping him.

As Aveni continued to miss extra points and short field goals, I began to feel better. They'd have to call me back. No team could play in the NFL without a 50% field-goal kicker and a 98% extra-point kicker. A few days before the season opened I telephoned a friend of mine on the Bears' coaching staff. "What's going on?" I said. "When is Halas gonna call me back?"

"George," my friend said, "take my word for it. You're not ever gonna be called back."

I said, "Why?"

He said, "George, let's not go into it. I attend the meetings; I've heard what they have had to say, and you're not gonna be called back."

That conversation was like taking a Rocky Marciano punch to the jaw. I knew this coaching friend of mine was a straight shooter, and I knew he had to be telling me the truth. But I also knew that I couldn't quit playing football. I began contacting other teams, trying to get a job, but the long arm of George Halas kept reaching out and keeping me in retirement. I thought I had a job with the Colts, but Halas queered that. A couple of league games went by, and Baltimore Owner Carroll Rosenbloom called me and said, "George, why don't we just forget it for this year?"

So that was it. I was out. I went to all the Bears' games for the rest of the year, and I rooted for them to lose. Not that I didn't have a lot of good friends on the team, but I was so hurt and so angered at being prematurely retired that my hatred spilled over to the whole organization. I still think, it was a reasonable, justified anger. I still steam at the name of George Halas, because he took away my best years. For him and the Chicago Bears, I had passed for 5,936 yards, kicked 88 field goals, 247 out of 250 extra points, played 115 games, passed for 48 touchdowns, run for five more and kicked 511 points in conversions and field goals, the Bears' record.

And now, at 31, I was out on the streets, washed up, a has-been. I sat out the year, but I never for a second thought that I had played my last game of football. It turned out that I was right—by about 150 games.

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