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 said Lamonica died at his Fresno, California, home on Thursday morning. His death is considered to be from natural causes.
“The Raiders Family is deeply saddened to learn of Daryle Lamonica’s passing earlier today,” the Raiders announced in a statement. “The Raider Nation will forever miss his easy-going nature and warm smile. Our deepest condolences are with his wife Mary, son Brandon, the rest of the Lamonica family, teammates and friends.”
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. But after starting just four games in four years as Jack Kemp’s backup, he was traded to the Raiders, along with receiver Glenn Bass, for Flores and receiver Art Powell, with draft picks also involved.
Daryle Lamonica was one of the most prolific passers in the AFL, leading pro football with 145 touchdown passes in his six seasons as a starter for the Raiders. He still holds the Raiders record with 34 touchdown passes in a single season. Focus on Sport/Getty Images
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 that I’m becoming a leader. I had to improve in a hurry because I knew they were counting on me. By playing regularly, the game plan is becoming second nature to me. I’m getting to the point where I can see situations on the field and use plays, in special instances, that aren’t even in our game plan. Some day I want to finish a game with 100% completions. But the fans don’t ask about your statistics. All they ask about is whether you win or lose.”
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 told Sports Illustrated at the time the Raiders were “willing to wait a couple of years” for Lamonica to develop and fit in their system.
“We knew we could play defense and we knew we could run the ball, but it was up to Daryle to get our passing game going,” Davis said. “He seems to be doing it sooner than we had expected. Now what we’ve got to watch out for is not to let ourselves get 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.