Auction of George Blanda memorabilia highlights footballer's career
George Yakubisin got a kick, so to speak, whenever he passed a George Blanda Boulevard sign along Route 119 through Youngwood honoring his late uncle, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“It (was) great to see them, but a lot of those have been stolen over the years. I also miss that big sign they had erected years ago that welcomed people to Youngwood, ‘Home of George Blanda,' ” the 70-year-old Yakubisin said Thursday. “I don't know whatever happened to that.”
Blanda's admirers now can browse or bid on 50 pieces of sports memorabilia owned by the football legend — he played for the Oakland Raiders, University of Kentucky and Youngwood High School — that his family put up for auction.
SCP Auctions this week opened public bidding on the collection as part of its 2017 Winter Premier online auction, which also features items from Babe Ruth, Vince Lombardi and Joe DiMaggio.
“I didn't even know about the auction. But I will definitely take a look at it,” Yakubisin said.
Among the Blanda items being auctioned separately are three AFL Championship rings from 1960, '61 and '67; dozens of prestigious honors, including 1970 and '74 NFL Man of the Year awards; several milestone game balls dating to Blanda's college days at Kentucky; and his personalized golf bag, clubs included.
Blanda, a quarterback and placekicker, played professional football longer than anyone — 26 seasons — and retired having scored more points — 2,002 — than anyone. Blanda started his pro career with the Chicago Bears in 1949 and finished with the Raiders, playing for them from 1967 until he retired before the 1976 season at age 48.
He was 83 when he died of cancer in 2010.
“Anytime to have a collection offered from a Hall of Famer's collection, it's a feather in your cap. But to have George Blanda's personal collection is a real thrill,” said Terry Melia, public relations manager at SCP Auctions. “He played practically forever and was an icon to so many fans. I mostly remember him as a prolific kicker. But when you look back at his career as a quarterback, he was exceptional there, as well.”
Melia predicts the championship rings will draw the most interest.
The company estimates the '67 Raiders championship ring at $40,000, the '60 Oilers ring at $30,000 and the '61 Oilers ring at $25,000.
“But with these auctions, you never know,” Melia said. “The accolades and trophies that are part of the lot will receive interest, too, but it's my experience that the player's own championship rings always drive the bus.”
Yakubisin, whose late mother, Margaret, was Blanda's sister, said he was a great uncle.
“Whenever he was playing the Steelers, Cleveland, Baltimore or Buffalo, he'd get us tickets. And he'd come home every Easter to visit,” Yakubisin said.
Blanda never lost touch with Youngwood, where he grew up in a family of seven boys and four girls. Every year, Blanda and his wife, Betty, would visit the borough when he traveled east to attend the Pro Football Hall of Fame inductions in Canton, Ohio, his nephew said. Blanda was elected to the hall in 1981 — his first year of eligibility.
“He'd take our whole family out to dinner at Rizzo's in Crabtree. ... You're talking 50 to 60 people, and he'd pick up the tab,” Yakubisin said. “I remember when we'd go to the football games, we'd get special treatment ... meeting people and have team transportation. ... He really took good care of us.”
Blanda's lone surviving sibling, John Blanda, 82, of Columbus, Ohio, was a sports star himself in basketball, first at Youngwood High School and in the late 1950s with the nationally ranked University of Steubenville Barons.
John Blanda said he “had heard the items” would be auctioned.
“I haven't talked to his wife, Betty, in a while, but I heard some of it was being sold. You have so much of that stuff. I believe they keep the things they want and just auction the rest,” he said. “What are you going to do with it all?”
John Blanda said he might look at the auction “just to see what's there” but likely won't bid on anything.
“Why not sell it to people who'd like to have it?” he said.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2860 or firstname.lastname@example.org.