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Raiders great Daryle Lamonica dies

Updated April 21, 2022 - 3:19 pm

Former Raiders great Daryle Lamonica died Thursday at his home in Fresno, California. The former Raiders quarterback was 80 years old.

Nicknamed the “Mad Bomber” because of his strong arm and ability to stretch the field vertically, Lamonica led the Raiders to four straight Western Division titles and one AFL championship. He was a two-time AFL MVP.

In a late-afternoon statement, the Raiders said:

“The Raiders Family is deeply saddened to learn of Daryle Lamonica’s passing earlier today. The Raider Nation will forever miss his easygoing nature and warm smile. Our deepest condolences are with his wife Mary, son Brandon, the rest of the Lamonica family, teammates and friends.”

A four-sport star at Fresno’s Clovis High School and a starting quarterback at Notre Dame, Lamonica’s pro football career began as the backup to Jack Kemp with the American Football League’s Buffalo Bills during his first four professional seasons.

The Bills won AFL championships in 1964 and 1965 and were runners-up in 1966, with Lamonica’s playing time limited to mop-up duty or as a replacement for Kemp when he struggled.

Known as the “The Fireman” for his relief duties, his best season with Buffalo came in 1964 when he completed 55 of 128 passes for 1,137 yards.

In doing so, he captured the attention of the Raiders’ Al Davis, especially with his ability to complete the deep pass. Davis was known to tell more than a few Raiders colleagues “if only we had that big guy from Buffalo.”

Davis made that happen by trading for Lamonica in 1967. Lamonica repaid Davis by putting together three straight seasons of more than 3,000 yards passing and leading the Raiders to a cumulative record of 37-4-1 and the 1967 AFL championship.

It was the start of one of the great runs in Oakland Raiders history. They reached the Super Bowl, played in three straight AFL championship games and advanced to the AFC championship game after the NFL and AFL merger in 1970. All with Lamonica leading the way.

Lamonica’s calling card was his ability to stretch the field, and he wasn’t afraid to let it rip at any point in the game or on the field.

His ability and willingness to do so earned him the nickname “The Mad Bomber” by none other than Howard Cosell, the voice of Monday Night Football.

Lamonica’s first reaction was “What a dumb name,” he recalled. But when word started circulating around pro football, the effect it had on opponents was immediately apparent.

Lamonica began using it to his advantage to trick opposing cornerbacks into changing their position. In fact, he remembered the first time he could tell an opponent felt pressured by his long-ball possibilities.

“I got under center and I looked out at the left corner,” Lamonica remembered. “We made eye contact and he backed up two steps. I thought, ‘Ooh. I like that. Maybe that is not such a bad nickname.’ It stuck and that is what I ended up with.”

By 1973 the Raiders replaced Lamonica with Kenny Stabler as their starting quarterback, favoring Stabler’s accuracy over Lamonica’s strong arm. The advent of the zone defense, designed to eliminate the long ball, played a big role in the switch.

Lamonica, though, clearly made his mark while earning AFL Most Valuable Player honors in 1967 and 1969, playing in five Pro Bowls and leading the AFL in passing yards in 1969 and passing touchdowns in 1967 and 1969.

Contact Vincent Bonsignore at vbonsignore@reviewjournal.com. Follow @VinnyBonsignore on Twitter.