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(this was written by me, Ohio Vol, although for some reason it's not actually listing me as the author.)
Joe Montana is universally recognized as being the best pro quarterback to have come from Notre Dame. Who is the second best? The answer is Daryle Lamonica.
Lamonica was an excellent quarterback at Notre Dame; in fact, he was so good that he never was the full-time starter, and was so good that he was drafted in the 12th round by Green Bay in 1963. He instead went to Buffalo in the AFL, who had made him a 24th round selection. He ended up backing up Jack Kemp for most of four seasons, although in 1964 the split in passes was about 2:1 from Kemp to Lamonica. Buffalo won AFL titles in 1964 and 1965; I give Lamonica credit for the first one on account of playing time, but not the second (for lack of playing time). During this time he became known as “Fireman”, which is a far cry from “Gas Can” or “The Arsonist”. The nickname was based on his ability to move the Bills quickly, normally after falling behind. His deft touch on the deep ball was vital to Buffalo’s success. After the 1966 season, young Daryle was traded to Oakland.
Lamonica erupted in Oakland, finishing 1967 with a rare “perfect season” (most productive, most efficient, title win). He threw for 800 fewer yards than Joe Namath but still was more productive. He was most productive in 1968 and second-most efficient, but Oakland lost to Namath’s Jets in the AFL title game. He repeated that trick in 1969, although Oakland lost to Kansas City for the AFL title. He also traded his Fireman nickname for “The Mad Bomber”, also thanks to his more-frequent chucks downfield.
After the merger in 1970, Daryle and Oakland were both starting to show a bit of decline. He still was good enough to be the NFL’s fifth-most efficient in 1970, 1971, and 1972, but he was fifth-most productive in 1970 only. The Raiders also won just one playoff game during those three years, and Daryle yielded more and more playing time to young Ken Stabler. After the 1974 season, he jumped to California of the World Football League, and although I’m sure he signed for a tidy amount, I’m just as sure he collected nowhere near what he signed for.
In terms of career balance, Lamonica is very similar to Sid Luckman (who was 31/36/33); he shows a balance of 32/32/36 over his career. He scored 82 total points, and what makes it more remarkable is that he did it in just eight full seasons. He is one of just nine quarterbacks ever to average over 10 points per season; seven are in Canton, but Daryle is not (neither is Cecil Isbell, who played just five years). What’s keeping him out?
Perhaps it’s the playoff performances. Certainly his regular season performance was good enough over his career, although it was admittedly shorter than usual. It must be the postseason. Of course, I did the research on that….Daryle is no lower than 4th all-time in playoff efficiency, adjusted for something I call “guys who played an appreciable number of games adjusted for their generation”. He is behind Tobin Rote, Starr, and Luckman; immediately ahead of Lamonica are Jeff Hostetler and Tony Eason, both of whom played in the 1980s and had just five playoff games.
Lamonica played in eight playoff games, plus the exhibition that was Super Bowl II. He played poorly in two of them, those being the 1972 divisional playoff and the 1969 AFL title game (against a Chiefs defense stacked with Canton inductees). On the other hand, he was outstanding in three other playoff games, which includes the best single game playoff performance in the history of football.
That day was December 21, 1969. The AFL had instituted a two-round playoff system that featured the division champion against the runner-up of the other division. The 20th saw 11-3 Kansas City take on 10-4 New York, while the 21st saw 12-1-1 Oakland play 6-6 Houston. Oakland had the AFL’s best offense, and Houston had the 6th-best defense out of 12 teams. The slaughter would soon commence.
Oakland scored nothing on their first possession. On their second, Lamonica found Fred Biletnikoff for a 13-yard scoring strike. Houston quarterback Pete Beathard then saw his first pass of the ensuing possession intercepted and returned for a touchdown, making it 14-0. Oakland then recovered a fumble on Houston’s next play, and Lamonica hit Rod Sherman from 21 yards out to make it 21-0. Beathard fumbled on the Oilers’ next drive, and Lamonica got Biletnikoff another touchdown, this one from 31 yards. It was 28-0 after one quarter. The final was 56-7, and Oakland would play (and lose to) the Chiefs the next week.
But the amazing part of that game was Lamonica. He finished 13/17 for 276 yards (16.24 yards/attempt), SIX touchdowns, and one interception. His single-game efficiency of 1.722 points/offensive opportunity is far and away the highest in playoff history; after him is Luckman’s 1.51 (on seven offensive opportunities) in the 1940 title game. The runner-up to Lamonica that featured, um, 12 or more offensive opportunities was a 1.176 that Peyton Manning turned in in 2004. Lamonica was only 46% better than that.
So, Lamonica was a top-level quarterback during his career in the regular season and was exceptional in the postseason. His total score is ahead of no less than 14 Hall of Famers. Should Canton’s doors be opened to the Mad Bomber? I don’t believe that the Hall is damaged by him not being there, but I also don’t believe it would damage the Hall to put him in. They certainly could do a lot worse.
Like Aikman and Namath, for example.