If you played quarterback for Al Davis and the Oakland Raiders, it was always a good idea to A) just win, baby, B) beat Kansas City, C) collect championships and D) thrive in the vertical passing attack.
Daryle Lamonica did all four.
Of course, when you’re known as “The Mad Bomber,” you have no choice but to follow the bread crumbs. And Lamonica was magnificent in his pursuit.
I first noticed him when I was a kid, and he was the quarterback at Notre Dame. So I wrote him, and he wrote back. And from that moment on I treasured the guy, watching him launch missiles over secondaries en route to multiple division titles and three AFL championships.
By that measure alone, he deserves an audience with Pro Football Hall-of-Fame voters. We measure most quarterbacks as we do head coaches – by championship rings – and tell me another who has three in the modern era and isn’t in Canton.
Nevertheless, Lamonica is never mentioned as Hall-of-Fame worthy, and I get it. He starred in the “other league,” and his numbers won’t get the attention of voters – especially today’s selectors who are inured to 4,000-yard seasons and quarterback ratings that expand to three digits.
So that excludes Daryle Lamonica. He didn’t have either of those things. He wasn’t particularly accurate, either. But so what? When you’re “The Mad Bomber,” you’re not throwing bubble screens or making underhanded tosses to receivers crossing the backfield on jet sweeps.
You’re throwing deep. Again. Again. And again.
And so he threw for 3,200 yards in his first season with Oakland. That would be 1967, after he was traded there by Buffalo and led the Raiders to a 13-1 finish, to their first AFL championship and to Super Bowl II. It was also the season he was named the AFL Most Valuable Player.
The following year he would throw for over 3,200 yards again, with the Raiders finishing 12-2 and losing the AFL championship game to the New York Jets – a game, incidentally, where Lamonica threw for 401 yards.
The Jets would go on to win Super Bowl III.
Then it was on to 1969 where he threw for a career-best 3,302 yards, 34 touchdowns and 235.1 yards per game. And, oh, yeah, when he was named the league MVP again. But there’s more: In an Oct. 19th start vs. Buffalo, he threw for an NFL-record six touchdown passes in one half – a mark that’s been equaled only by Aaron Rodgers.
The Raiders were 12-1-1 and won the Western Division for the third straight season, with Lamonica throwing six TD passes in their Divisional Playoff rout of Houston. But the run ended there, with Kansas City stuffing Lamonica and the Raiders in the AFL championship game before going on to Super Bowl IV and stuffing heavily-favored Minnesota.
Bottom line: The guy knew how to win.
With Lamonica, the Raiders won four straight division championships (three with the AFL and one with the AFC) and one AFL title. He won two other championships with the Buffalo Bills, was a three-time AFL All-Star and twice in his career was chosen the AFL MVP.
But here’s what I like most: He was 66-16-6 in his pro career, including 62-16-6 with the Raiders. Just win, baby? Lamonica did. And for that reason, the Pro Football Researchers Association elected him to its Hall of Very Good in 2013.
But what about the Pro Football Hall of Fame? We love guys who can win, and Lamonica’s winning percentage speaks for itself. We love guys who are league MVPs, and Lamonica was one twice. We love guys who lead the league in touchdowns, and Lamonica checked that box, too. Twice. And we love guys who win championships. He won three of them.
So what is Daryle Lamonica missing? Stats, that’s what. He completed less than 50 percent of his passes (49.5) and threw almost as many interceptions (138) as touchdown passes (164). But, as I said: So what? His shelf life as a starter was short, too. It was six years. But you can’t position short careers as deterrents – not after Terrell Davis you can’t.
A smart man once said, “Stats are for losers.” Daryle Lamonica was not about losing with big numbers. He was all about winning, and when it comes down to it, isn’t that all that matters?
Tell that to the Hall-of-Fame’s seniors committee.