Raiders legend Daryle Lamonica, nicknamed 'The Mad Bomber,' dies at 80

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Daryle Lamonica, the star Oakland Raiders quarterback known for his deep passes, died at his Fresno, California home on Thursday. He was 80. His death is considered to be from natural causes.

A Fresno native, Lamonica went to college at Notre Dame, and in 1963 was drafted by two teams: the Green Bay Packers of the NFL, and the Buffalo Bills of the AFL. The AFL and NFL wouldn't merge until 1970, so Lamonica had his pick. He went with the Bills, who had drafted him in the 23rd round.

The Bills weren't a great fit for Lamonica's talents. They primarily used him on the ground, and he rarely got the chance to start as the backup to QB Jack Kemp. Even a bad fit couldn't entirely smother Lamonica's talent, as he rushed for 289 yards and had a league-high six TDs in 1964.

Daryle Lamonica, the deep-passing quarterback for the Raiders from 1967-1974, died on Thursday at age 80. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
Daryle Lamonica, the deep-passing quarterback for the Raiders from 1967-1974, died on Thursday at age 80. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

His career really got started in 1967 when the Bills traded him to the Raiders. They had the perfect offense for Lamonica's powerful arm, and after just four games in Oakland, he earned the nickname "The Mad Bomber." That season he led the Raiders to a 13-1 record, the best of his eight years in Oakland, and his incredible numbers — completing 220 of 425 passes for 3,228 yards with 30 touchdowns — earned him his first MVP award and First-Team All-Pro honors.

Lamonica also led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl appearance in 1967, Super Bowl II. They faced off against the Packers, the team Lamonica passed over for the Bills four years earlier, but lost 33-14. He wouldn't make it back to another Super Bowl, but he helped lead the Raiders to playoff appearances in seven of his eight seasons — five of them under head coach John Madden, a legend in his own right.

He won his second MVP award in 1969 after setting career records and leading the AFL in nearly every notable QB category: completions, attempts, yards, touchdowns, and yards per game. (He also led the league in interceptions with 25, one of the hazards of being a pass-heavy QB.) His 34 touchdowns in 1969 still stands as a single-season Raiders record.

Following his second MVP season, Lamonica began to slide backward. He wasn't bad by most measures, but his talent began eroding. He couldn't quite get a handle on the increasingly popular zone defense, and his accuracy began to slip. His final playoff appearance was in 1972, when he and the Raiders were on the losing end of Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris' Immaculate Reception. Lamonica had been replaced in that game by Ken Stabler, and in 1973 Stabler became the full-time starting QB. Lamonica retired from the NFL in 1974, followed by a brief stint with the soon-to-fold World Football League.

Lamonica will always be known as a Raiders legend, but he'll be part of the history of football for another reason: He was Oakland's quarterback in the famed "Heidi Game" in 1968. He threw four touchdowns in an incredible last-minute comeback over the New York Jets, but millions of viewers in the Eastern and Central time zones didn't get to see it. The game ran incredibly long, and an NBC executive made the choice to cut away and show the movie "Heidi" instead of Oakland completing their comeback in the final minute of the game.

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