Daryle Lamonica, the quarterback known as the Mad Bomber for his mighty arm who led the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl II berth, died Thursday at his home in Fresno, Calif. He was 80 years old.
His son Brandon said he died in his sleep. He said he didn’t know the cause, but his father was not in poor health.
Lamonica became one of professional football’s leading passers in the late 1960s and early 1970s. But initially, after playing for three seasons with mediocre Notre Dame teams, he hardly seemed destined to an exceptional professional career.
The Buffalo Bills selected him in the 24th round of the all-new 1963 American Football League draft, and the Green Bay Packers selected him in the 12th round of the National Football League draft.
Lamonica signed with the Bills, thinking he was more likely to supplant Jack Kemp as the starting quarterback than take over from Bart Starr of the Packers.
Playing for the Bills from 1963 to 1966, he could never dislodge Kemp, who led Buffalo to two AFL championships. But he embarked on a string of stellar seasons after the Bills traded him to the Raiders.
He led the 1967 Raiders to a 13–1 regular season record and the AFL championship, throwing for 30 touchdowns and 3,228 yards. He had two Super Bowl touchdowns, which the Raiders lost to the Packers, 33-14.
Lamonica was part of an offense that emphasized precise timing between the quarterback and a receiver in his path. It was designed to create open space in the secondary of the defense, making it particularly vulnerable to through plays.
He played under head coaches John Rauch and then John Madden with the Raiders. But he gave most of the credit for the offensive plan to Al Davis, the Raiders owner, general manager and former coach.
“Al convinced me that the vertical game would work,” Lamonica told the SportsRaid newsletter in 2021. “He wanted me to throw the ball down the field. I think about the end zone all the time.
Davis, in turn, adapted a program led by Sid Gillman, the head coach of the San Diego Chargers when Davis was one of his assistant coaches in the early 1960s.
Howard Cosell, who commentated on ABC’s “Monday Night Football,” gave Lamonica the nickname Mad Bomber.
“The crazy suicide bomber; they named it aptly,” said Len Dawson, who was the Kansas City Chiefs quarterback when Lamonica was with the Raiders, in 2021. “He went back and unloaded that ball. He was going for it every game.”
Lamonica was selected for the Pro Bowl once with the Bills and four times with the Raiders.
His favorite targets included Raiders wide receivers Fred Biletnikoff and Warren Wells as well as tight end Billy Cannon. He was protected by a strong offensive line with Gene Upshaw at guard and Jim Otto at center.
A solid 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, Lamonica threw for 25 touchdowns and averaged nearly 250 passing yards per game in 1968. Perhaps his finest moment that season was seen by few: he threw the game-winning touchdown pass with 42 seconds left in the Mid-November, Raiders-Jets game at the Oakland Coliseum became infamously known as the “Heidi game.”
The Jets were leading, 32-29, with 1:05 remaining when NBC paused the game to begin its scheduled run of the children’s movie “Heidi.”
Lamonica combined with halfback Charlie Smith on a 43-yard touchdown play with 43 seconds left, his fourth scoring pass of the game, giving Oakland a 36-32 lead. The Raiders scored again after the Jets fumbled the ensuing kickoff, and Oakland emerged with a 43-32 victory.
Viewers flooded the NBC standard to express their outrage at missing the game’s thrilling ending, prompting the network to issue an apology.
The Raiders met the Jets again in the 1968 AFL Championship Game. Lamonica threw for 401 yards and a touchdown, but the Jets, led by their brash and flashy quarterback Joe Namath, won, 27 -23, and earned an upset 16-7 win over the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl.
The Raiders were 12-1-1 in 1969 with Lamonica throwing for 34 touchdowns, including six in the first half of an October game against the Bills. He threw for six more touchdowns when the Raiders defeated the Houston Oilers, 56-7, in a playoff game, while Namath struggled in the Jets’ loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in the other first-round game. .
When Lamonica was asked to compare himself to Namath after those matches, he told Sports Illustrated, “I don’t jump and I don’t like mod clothes. I’m not saying I don’t like having a good time, but I’m discreet. My idea of how to relax is to go into the woods on Monday after a game, to go hunting or fishing.
But, he added: “I respect him. He works hard to be a good quarterback.
After the AFL and NFL merged in 1970, the Raiders reached the NFL American Football Conference championship game, facing the Colts, now in the AFC, in the final tier before the Super Bowl. . But Lamonica was knocked out of the game in the second quarter when he was hit by Baltimore defensive end Bubba Smith, and the Raiders lost 27-12.
Lamonica’s last playoff appearance came against the Pittsburgh Steelers in December 1972, when, on the last play of the game, Franco Harris caught a pass from jamming quarterback Terry Bradshaw that had ricocheted off his target, Frenchy Fuqua, and scored to give the Steelers a 13-7 victory in what will be remembered as the “spotless reception.”
Lamonica lost his starting job to Kenny Stabler in 1973 and joined the California Sun of the new World Football League in 1975. He saw limited action before retiring during that season.
Daryle Pasquale Lamonica was born July 17, 1941, in Fresno, California, and grew up in nearby Clovis. Her father owned a fruit ranch and her mother was a dietitian.
Lamonica was an all-state quarterback for Clovis High School. Playing under coach Joe Kuharich at Notre Dame from 1960 to 1962, he threw just eight touchdowns on teams that went 12-18 overall.
In his four seasons with the Bills and eight with the Raiders, Lamonica threw for 164 touchdowns and 19,154 yards. But he was not elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, perhaps because he never played for a Super Bowl champion team and because he compiled his most impressive statistics in a span of relatively short time, from 1967 to 1972.
After quitting football, Lamonica owned a trucking business and engaged in fishing and hunting. He was the host of the Fox Sports Net fishing program “Outdoors With the Pros”.
Besides his son Brandon, he is survived by his wife, Mary Ditzel Lamonica; another son, Brian; his sister, Judy Nash; and three grandchildren.
Lamonica, who was not good at bombing, was surprised when Cosell first called him the Mad Bomber.
“I heard it and said, ‘What a stupid name,'” he recalled to the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2020. But on his next match, as he recounted, “I came out of the center and I looked at the left corner. We made eye contact and he took two steps back. I thought, ‘Ooh, I like that. Maybe that’s not an if bad nickname. It stuck.