Prolific Raiders passer Lamonica dies at age 80

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    Paul GutierrezESPN Staff Writer

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    • Covered Oakland Raiders for CSNBayArea.com and Sacramento Bee for eight years
    • Member of Pro Football Writers Association
    • Previously worked at Los Angeles Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal and Sports Illustrated

Daryle Lamonica, the aptly nicknamed “Mad Bomber” thanks to his affinity for the deep pass, and who led the Raiders to their first Super Bowl when he won the 1967 AFL MVP award, has died at the age of 80. The Fresno County Sheriff’s Office reported that Lamonica died in his Fresno, California home on Thursday morning. His death is attributed to natural causes.

” The Raiders Family is deeply sorry to hear of Daryle Lamonica’s passing earlier today,” the Raiders stated in a statement. “The Raider Nation will always miss Daryle Lamonica’s easy-going nature, warm smile, and easy-going spirit. We send our deepest condolences to his wife Mary, son Brandon and all of the Lamonicas, their teammates, friends, and family. “

Lamonica, who played quarterback for the Raiders between a pair of Hall of Famers in Tom Flores and Ken Stabler, was initially drafted into the AFL by the Buffalo Bills out of Notre Dame in 1963. After starting four games as Jack Kemp’s backup, Lamonica was traded to the Raiders along with receiver Glenn Bass and draft picks.

Lamonica was an instant fit in owner Al Davis’ vertical threat offense as he led the AFL with 30 touchdown passes in 1967 while passing for 3,228 yards with targets such as Warren Wells and future Hall of Famer Fred Biletnikoff, leading the Raiders to a 13-1 record. He threw two TD passes in the Raiders’ 40-7 AFL title-game win over the Houston Oilers and had two more TD passes in the 33-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II.

“Each game I’m getting more confidence,” Lamonica told Sports Illustrated in the Nov. 13, 1967 issue. “I feel like I’m becoming an expert. Because they were counting on my improvement, I had to get better in a hurry. The game plan has become second nature to me as I play regularly. I’m getting to the stage where I can see situations on a field and use plays in special instances that aren’t in our game plan. Some day I want to finish a game with 100% completions. Your statistics are not what the fans care about. They only care about whether you win or not. “

Lamonica led professional football with 145 touchdown passes between 1967 and 1972, 24 more TD passes than Hall of Famer Fran Tarkenton in that time frame, and Lamonica’s 16,006 passing yards were the third most in that span.

Davis said that at the time, the Raiders were willing to wait for Lamonica’s development and integration into their system.

” We knew we could play defense, and we knew that we could run the ball. But it was up to Daryle’s job to get our passing game moving,” Davis stated. “He seems to be doing this sooner than we expected. We have to be careful not to get too fatheaded. “

Two years later, in 1969, Lamonica was UPI’s AFL MVP and again a first-team All-Pro after leading the AFL in passing yards (3,302) and TD passes (34) as the Raiders went 12-1-1 but were upset 17-7 at home in the AFL title game by the eventual Super Bowl IV champion Kansas City Chiefs.

Lamonica’s 34 TD passes in 1969 still stand as the Raiders’ single-season franchise record, 53 years later, and he had a starring role in one of the most famous games in pro football history — the Heidi Game, in which he threw four TD passes, including the game winner to Charlie Smith. But East Coast viewers did not see the comeback finish to the Raiders’ 43-32 win over the New York Jets on Nov. 17, 1968 — Oakland scored two touchdowns in the final minute — as NBC cut away from the game late to show the children’s movie.

The playoffs were when Lamonica shined brightest, throwing five TD passes against the Chiefs in 1968 and a still-record six TDs against Houston in 1969. Only Hall of Famer Steve Young and Tom Brady have matched Lamonica’s six TD passes in a postseason game, and only Hall of Famer Kurt Warner and Patrick Mahomes have had multiple playoff games with at least five TD passes.

Stabler replaced Lamonica as Raiders starter in 1973, and in 1975 Lamonica played for the World Football League’s Southern California Sun.

Lamonica was 62-16-6 with the Raiders, the best winning percentage of any starting quarterback in the Super Bowl era with at least 75 starts, and 16,655 of his 19,154 career passing yards came with the Raiders, as did 148 of his 164 passing TDs.

Born and raised in Fresno — he prepped at Clovis High School — Lamonica was drafted by the Packers in the 12th round of the NFL draft in 1963 and the 23rd round of the AFL draft by the Bills.

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