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Original Issue

At 44, champagne may go flat, but from George Blanda you can still get a kick

At a time when anyone with a dozen clippings and a little ink from the wire services can get his life story between hard covers, the "exclusive, authorized" biography of George Blanda, Blanda Alive and Kicking (Nash, Los Angeles, $6.95), is a Renoir among Keanes. If anyone in football deserves to have his life story told, it has to be this 44-year-old quarterback and kicking wonder. With 22 years of professional competition behind him, George is nobody's flash in the pan.

And who better to write it than the only sportswriter who kept the faith back in the dark days at Houston, when Oiler Blanda was taking his lumps from fans, press and opposition alike? Now a San Francisco Examiner columnist, Author Wells Twombly knows as much about the quarterback's career as anyone outside Blanda's wife Betty. He even describes the ads in the program for Blanda's first pro game (in 1949). He has more anecdotes than George Halas has plays.

Speaking of whom, take that game in '52; with the Bears down 23-18 to Detroit and nine seconds left, Blanda consults Papa Bear. "You're the quarterback," he is told. "You call the play." A play is cooked up in the huddle that wins the game. Halas later brags to the press it was one of his, then warns Blanda never to improvise again.

Twombly succeeds, above all, in painting a vivid and presumably accurate picture of the man who became a living spoonful for sport's Geritol generation. He shows Blanda lighting in the coal mines of Youngwood, Pa. as well as in the symbolic mines of Halas' Chicago and Bud Adams' Houston. "If it isn't the Allegheny Bituminous Coal Company..." Blanda is quoted as saying, "then it is the University of Kentucky...or the Chicago Bears or the Houston Oilers or the Oakland Raiders. It's inescapable."

The book's only real flaw is Twombly's tendency to hot-dog. "Is there no hope? Is this almost the end of our story?" writes Twombly on page 143, when we can see it isn't. He likens Oakland Owner Al Davis' voice to "honey being poured over velvet," then later criticizes sportswriters who "rack their intellects...for new and more impressive adjectives."

The book is frankly a paean to Blanda, and the villains are easy to pick out—Halas, Adams, the Houston press corps minus one. In other words, anyone who ever dinged George Blanda. The good guys-are obvious too. Although he avoids the first person singular throughout, Twombly is always there before us. as "one writer" or just plain "someone." We know it is Twombly, because "someone" is Blanda's favorite journalist.