Timeless Blanda knows about Favre's long haul
Brett Favre was not on hand when the Minnesota Vikings began training camp this afternoon in Mankato.
The veteran quarterback remains at home in Mississippi and has yet to announce whether he will return for what would be his 20th NFL season.
But after seeing the way the 40-year-old performed in 2009, the man who set the standard for longevity in pro football believes Favre will be back for another go-around this fall.
George Blanda — who played a total of 26 seasons as a quarterback and kicker in the NFL and AFL — does not believe Favre is yet ready to ride off into the sunset of retirement.
''I think he'll be back," said Blanda, now 82, who began his pro career with the Chicago Bears in 1949 and ended it at age 48 with the Oakland Raiders in 1975. "He can still get the job done.
''(The Vikings) came within a play of going to the Super Bowl last season and he's a competitive guy. I'm sure he thinks they have the talent to get to the Super Bowl this season and win it."
Favre certainly didn't show signs of aging in his first season with the Vikings a year ago.
In fact, he put together one of the best seasons of his career, throwing for 4,202 yards and 33 touchdowns with just seven interceptions.
Favre helped lead his team to a matchup against the eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints in the NFC Championship Game where only a too-many-men-in-the-huddle penalty and an interception late in the fourth quarter ended what looked like a potential game-winning drive.
All this during a year that saw Favre turn 40, an age when many of his peers have long since moved into their post-football careers. The success he achieved has many assuming he will be back, despite an ankle injury that required offseason surgery.
''I wasn't surprised at all," said Blanda of Favre's 2009 performance. "He's a great player and he always has been. He keeps himself in good shape and he hasn't had many injuries until recently.
''As long as he hasn't lost his enthusiasm for the game, he can keep going. And he certainly looks like he still has it. He still looks like a kid in a candy store out there."
In recent offseasons, Favre has weighed retirement only to eventually return. A year ago, he announced in late July he would not be back, only to change his mind and sign with the Vikings in August.
Blanda never went through such public indecision. He always knew he would return as long as the teams he was playing for would have him. After leaving the Bears and the sport following the 1958 season, he returned to football with the Houston Oilers in the then-new American Football League in 1960. He quarterbacked Houston to the first two AFL titles and was named league player of the year in 1961.
He was released by the Oilers after the 1966 season, but was picked up by Oakland as a backup quarterback and kicker in 1967 and remained with the Raiders for nine more years. His final NFL game was the AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 4, 1976 in which he kicked a 41-yard field goal.
''I was never in the same position that (Favre) is in," Blanda said. "When the Raiders picked me up in 1967, I was already a 40-year-old backup quarterback and kicker. I knew if I did my job well, they might invite me back. But I was never the starting quarterback there where my position was more secure. It was always one year at a time."
But despite primarily being a kicker in Oakland, Blanda did log some significant time at quarterback, notably during the 1970 season when he came on in relief of starter Daryle Lamonica on several occasions, including in an AFC Championship Game loss to the Baltimore Colts.
He finished the 1970 season with 55 passing attempts for 461 yards and five touchdowns, coming off the bench to help the Raiders to a win or tie in a stretch of five straight games, all at age 43.
In 1971, he attempted 58 passes for 378 yards and six touchdowns. And while in his final season in 1975, he attempted just three passes for 11 yards, he was still 44 for 48 on extra-point attempts and 13-for-31 on field goals, including a season-long 37-yarder.
''I still felt like I could play, but at that age, it becomes harder and harder to kick those 40- to 49-yard field goals," said Blanda, who finished his career with a then-record 2,002 points. "When you're younger, you have a stronger leg. And there were younger guys around. So it probably was time for me to go at that point."
Blanda said age can be an asset for a pro quarterback, even one 40 or older.
''Playing quarterback at 40 was just like playing quarterback when I was 21 except that I had more experience," Blanda said. "When I was 40, I knew how to get rid of the ball quicker, how to read defenses better and I had a better sense of when my receivers we're going to get open. I'd seen a lot more by that point."
Those were traits Blanda noticed while watching Favre play last season as well.
''There were a lot of things he didn't do last year that he's done in the past," Blanda said. "When he was younger, he was a gunslinger and he threw the ball all over the place. If it went to the wrong person every now and then, he didn't worry about it too much. But today, he seems more concerned with turning the ball over and he makes better decisions. He's more willing to go to the shorter routes if he gets into trouble."
Blanda said he sees no reason why Favre, who will turn 41 in October, should step away from the game.
''If he asked me, I'd tell him to do what his heart tells him to," Blanda said. "If his family wants him to play, and he's still excited about it, he should.
''Once you quit, you're finished. That's it. You can't go back. You can be a doctor and retire for awhile, then step back into your job. But you can't be a football player and do that. So as long as you can keep playing, and they want you to, you should do it."