Pro football Hall of Fame readies its walls for four more portraits

Whan a group of American art lovers brought the Mona Lisa to the United States a few years ago, those waiting in line for what they knew would be only a brief glimpse of Leonardo da Vinci's famous painting stretched for several city blocks.

Well, for the price of a ticket to Canton, Ohio, on Aug. 1, you can see George Blanda, Willie Davis, Jim Ringo, and Red Badgro formally inducted into pro football's Hall of Fame.

Maybe their bronze plaques won't be as eye-compelling as da vinci's work, but as everybody knows, Mona had trouble going to her left and these guys never did.

Blanda is a modern legend, a quarterback who played 26 seasons of pro football with the Chicago Bears, Houston Oilers, and Oakland Raiders. George was 48 when he quit, and by that time had scored more points, kicked more field goals, and booted more extra points than anyone else in the history of the game.

It would be interesting now to be able to go back and look at the scouting reports that were turned in on Blanda while he was playing for Bear Bryant at the University of Kentucky.They couldn't have been all that impressive if George was still available to the Chicago Bears in the 12th round of the 1949 college player draft.

Anyway, Blanda played 10 years with Chicago before he retired, mostly because he and Bears' owner George Halas never did agree on much of anything. But in 1960, after sitting out one season and buying up his old contract, George was back in football, this time with the Houston Oilers of the freshly minted American Football League, where in 1961 he tied a record by throwing for 36 touchdowns.

Overall in his career, Blanda scored more than 2,000 points, while completing 1,911 passes for 26,920 yards and 236 touchdowns. Even though he was always famous for pulling games out of the fire as a backup quarterback late in his career, he had a five-game stretch in 1970 with the Oakland Raiders that was incredible.

During that period George saved Oakland from what looked like certain defeat in five games by either throwing for a touchdown or kicking a field goal while time was running out on the clock. The Raiders won four of those games and escaped with a tie in the fifth.

Defensive end Willie Davis was a ton of man at 6 ft., 3 in. and 245 pounds, who played his first two seasons with the Cleveland Browns and his final 10 with the Green Bay Packers.

Opponents who tried to keep Davis out of their backfield by double-teaming him generally only made him angrier and more effective. He had a flair for knowing where the play was going, and if he couldn't get his shoulder into the ball carrier he would often reach over blockers and knock the runner off balance with one hand.

Although Davis had been a standout at Grambling College, where he captained the football team for two years, his NFL career was delayed while he spent two years in the US Army. But once he did join the Packers, he played in six NFL title games, two Super Bowls, and five Pro Bowl encounters.

Center Jim Ringo, who was a starter for three years at Syracuse University, was another player who didn't get the rating he deserved from NFL scouts. Green Bay got him in the seventh round of the 1953 college draft, then couldn't believe their good fortune when he came to camp and played like a veteran.

It has been said that Ringo, who became one of the finest downfield blockers in the league, never blew an assignment. At one point in his career he played in 189 consecutive games -- great under any circumstances but almost unbelievable for a center who operates in heavy traffic on every play.

Red Badgro, at 78 the oldest player ever elected to pro football's Hall of Fame, was a star during that era when a man played both ways -- meaning on offense and defense -- and didn't think it was anything special.

Badgro, who probably had his best years with the New York Giants, was a rugged defender and blocker, who also made the record books as a fine pass receiver. In fact, in 1934 Red tied for the NFL passing title with 16 catches. And while that might not have the impact today that it did then, remember that defenses were able to play a lot tighter then because they didn't have to worry about the bomb.

Badgro, who went to Southern California on a basketball sholarship, won letters in three varsity sports and later played two years of professional baseball with the old St. Louis Browns.

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