Just mention the nickname “The Mad Bomber,” and football fans remember one of the best quarterbacks to play in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Daryle Lamonica received that nickname from broadcaster Howard Cosell. Lamonica recalled, “It was on a Monday night game. I don’t know where he came up with that one. I heard it and I said, ‘What a dumb name.’ But the very next game, I distinctly remember it. It was a home game. I got under center and I looked out at the left corner. 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.”
Lamonica grew up in rural California. “I was born on a farm. Peaches and grapes,” recalled Lamonica. “I spent a lot of time hunting and fishing in the back yard. That is the way I was raised.”
However, the sports bug hit. “My first big sports thrill was that I played in the first ever Little League World Series in Hershey Park, Pennsylvania.” He was a multi-sport athlete in high school. “I lettered in four sports: track, football, basketball and baseball. Baseball was my strongest sport.” He continued, “I just tried to play all sports to keep in shape year round.”
Lamonica was an All-State quarterback in high school, but baseball came calling. “My senior year, I turned down a $50,000 bonus plus contract with the Chicago Cubs to play baseball.” Instead, he went to Notre Dame on a scholarship to play football. He started at quarterback for three years and was named the Most Valuable Player in the East-West Shrine Game in 1962.
In 1963, Lamonica was drafted by both the Buffalo Bills of the American Football League (AFL) and the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL). Lamonica chose the Buffalo Bills. “The Bills were calling me every day. I got a call from a scout with Green Bay and he said that they would get back to me in a few days. I was getting ready to go out and play in the East-West Shrine Game. Ara Parseghian called me and said that he wanted me to be the starting quarterback for the East team. The Bills kept saying that if you get hurt, you won’t have a contract. We didn’t have agents back then. My mom used to send me $5 a week from her tip money from her beauty shop and that was my spending money. [The Bills] offered me $11,500 and a $1,500 signing bonus. I took that offer to my [Notre Dame] coach Joe Kuharich. He said, ‘That is a good contract. You should sign it.’ Now, I am walking back to my dorm room and thought, ‘Gosh, I am worth more than that.’ So, I called them back. I told John Mazer with the Bills, ‘I gotta have more money.’ He said, ‘How much more do you need?’ I said, ‘I gotta have a $2,000 bonus and a $12,000 contract.’ He was laughing so hard, he almost dropped the phone. He said, ‘I will send the contract in the mail to you.’ Then, I went out and played for Ara Parseghian and had a reall good game. I won MVP. After the game, I had a scout come up to me and said, ‘Here is a $100,000 bonus and a $100,000 contract.’ I didn’t know there was that much money in pro football. It just shows how the game has changed with agents. What it did prove is that maybe I had some ability and that I could possibly play at the next level.”
From 1963 through 1966, the Bills went on a winning streak, appearing in four straight league championships and winning in 1964 and 1965. That set the groundwork for Lamonica’s career. “I was fortunate to be an understudy to Jack Kemp. I had a chance to play with some great football players. We had a great defense that could keep us in all of the games. I got to learn the winning ways. Maybe I could be a starting quarterback.”
In 1967, Lamonica and wide receiver Glenn Bass were traded to the Oakland Raiders for wide receiver Art Powell and quarterback Tom Flores. Lamonica recalled, “Art Powell said to me, ‘I am probably the culprit, because I wanted to get back to Canada. I probably instigated that.’ Whether that is true or not, I don’t know.”
Lamonica continued, “There were no agents back then. I got to talk to both Ralph Wilson Junior and Senior the night before I was traded. Mr. Wilson Sr. said, ‘You will be our starting quarterback coming back this year.’ I was so fired up I could run through a brick wall. Eight hours later, I was traded. I still don’t know. Mr. Wilson has never explained it to me, why he traded me.”
However, Lamonica did not find out about the trade from traditional channels. Lamonica recalled, “I was talking to somebody and he said, ‘Hey, you have been traded to the Raiders!’ I said, ‘Yeah, yeah, right. No way.’ I had to call the Fresno Bee, my hometown paper, to find out that I was traded. I called my mom and she said that Al Davis had called and wanted me to call.”
Lamonica remembered, “I called Al [Davis] and met with him the next day. I looked at their upcoming schedule and the third league game was Buffalo in Buffalo. I got my playbook that day and just started studying for that one game.” Once game time arrived, “I go back and the fans give me a 15-minute standing ovation. It was really good. Cornerback Butch Byrd said that I would never complete a pass to his side of the field. I threw two touchdown passes in the first half right over top of him. They were a really good football team.”
Lamonica recalled, “I learned my winning ways from Buffalo. I go back to Buffalo a lot. A big part of my heart is still there because they gave me the opportunity to be a professional quarterback.” When asked if there were any hard feelings toward the Buffalo Bills organization, Lamonica said, “No. No. In fact, it is the exact opposite. They gave me an opportunity to come back to the West Coast and my family could come to the games and see me play. It all works out. You are hurt at the time and you do not understand the reasons why, but after you play the game enough, they are still part of my family. I am still very active with the alumni there, as well as the Raiders.”
Lamonica remembered what it was like to play for Al Davis: “Al was a unique individual. He knew the game of football. He actually coached the game. We had a wide-open offense. Everyone called it a form of the West Coast Offense. All of that was learned under Sid Gillman of the San Diego Chargers. Al was an assistant coach under him and learned the West Coast Offense. Where you put two wide receivers on the same side and open the game up. That fit me like a glove. The one thing about Al is that you could always talk football with him. One thing he stressed after every game. He would come up and ask, ‘What is the most important stat that you had this week?’ I said, ‘No INT’s.’ That was a big deal. No turnovers. Also, he liked speed. He liked guys that could run and could carry the ball and receivers that could go deep.” Lamonica finished by saying, “He was one of the few owners that really understood the game of football and made it fun to play.”
In Lamonica’s first year with the Raiders, he took them to the Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers. However, they lost 33-14. “That is the ultimate goal that you set out at the first of the year. We had a lot of young players. Shell and Upshaw and a lot of young guys there. We faced a pretty tough opponent in the Green Bay Packers. I talked to Jerry Kramer and he said, ‘Daryle, you had a big hurdle to get over. Right before the game started, the “old man,”’ as they called Vince Lombardi, ‘said that this was the last game that he was going to coach,’ and he wanted to win one for the coach. He said, ‘We were pretty well fired up.’ They were a good football team. They had a great pass rush. We played them real tough to halftime. But, we made a couple of errors and I threw an interception. I walked away from that game disappointed, but knowing that we had the potential to really play with the best-of-the-best in the game. I knew that we had a chance to go on and do very well in the future.”
Over the next three years, Lamonica was able to take the Raiders to the Conference Championship Game, but was never able to get them back to the Super Bowl. “We always go there, but were never able to close. I always felt bad about that.”
In 1973, he was benched in favor of fourth-year quarterback Ken Stabler. After seeing limited playing time in 1974, Lamonica was released by the Raiders.
In 1975, Lamonica played for the Southern California Sun of the World Football League. “I wish that I had an agent there. I would have probably stayed in the NFL. [The World Football League] had been calling me and calling me. They made me a really attractive offer. I went down there and it was really stepping down a couple of notches from what I was used to. The league folded that year. [Larry] Czonka, [Jim] Kiick and I talked and we thought it was a good concept, but from playing from where we were to where we went was not the same caliber.” After one season, he retired from playing football.
Lamonica commented, “I had a passion for the game of football. I still have a passion for the game of football. I think that I would have played the game for nothing. That is how much I loved it.”
Commenting on the Raiders fans, Lamonica said, “They were special and they still are. That is who we played for. We played for the city of Oakland and the fans. They get all fired up, but when you are on the field, you want to play good for them. You hate to let them down.” He continued, “I only have fond memories of the game of football. I mentioned before that we would have played for nothing.” He joked, “In retrospect, we probably did.”
After retirement, Lamonica focused on the trucking business. “While I was playing, I was into trucking. I had Mammoth Truck Lines here in Fresno. I did that in the off-season. Then, I went to Alaska and started a truck line there. My wife got pregnant with our son, and she said, ‘I am moving back to California.’ So, I sold my interest there and moved back to Fresno, California. I wanted to raise my family here and send my son to the Clovis Unified School District. It was a good move for me.”
Lamonica loves the outdoors. After he retired, he hosted a fishing show for Fox Sports Net named “Outdoors with the Pros.” Lamonica commented, “It is my passion. I love the outdoors. I still hunt and fish. I fished the Pro Bass circuit for a number of years. That is my hobby.”
One of the most meaningful honors Lamonica has received was from his high school, Clovis High. “My big thrill from high school was after I retired, they built a stadium and named it Daryle Lamonica Stadium. I have a stadium named after me in my home town. That was really nice.”
In 2013, Lamonica was inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s (PFRA) Hall of Very Good. The Hall of Very Good is the PFRA’s way of honoring players who have had excellent careers, but are not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Lamonica commented on receiving the call that he was inducted, “It was a pleasant shock. I wasn’t anticipating that. When I looked at the class of guys [that were inducted with him], I feel very honored and privileged to be named along with guys like [Erich] Barnes and Mike Curtis. Roman Gabriel and I are real close friends. We both won MVPs in, I think, 1969. Of course, Cookie Gilchrist. I have got to tell you, my first time with the Bills, Cookie Gilchrist could play offense, defense, anywhere. I watched him kick off and make the tackle on the five-yard line. Jim Tyrer was with the Kansas City Chiefs for years and years. All of the other guys were my era. I just feel honored to be associated in the same breath with those guys.”
Lamonica currently lives in California with his wife.
• Buffalo Bills (1963-66)
• Oakland Raiders (1967-74)
• Southern California Sun (1975) (World Football League)
• Three-Time AFL Champion (1964, 1965, 1967)
• Named AFL MVP Twice (1967, 1969)
• Named to the Pro Bowl Twice (1970, 1972)
• Clovis High named their field Lamonica Field (1976)
• Inducted into the Professional Football Researchers Association’s Hall of Very Good (2013)
Ken Crippen is the former executive director of the Professional Football Researchers Association. He has researched and written about pro football history for over two decades. He won the Pro Football Writers of America’s Dick Connor Writing Award for Feature Writing and was named the Ralph Hay Award winner by the Professional Football Researchers Association for lifetime achievement on pro football history.
Follow him on Twitter: @KenCrippen