All-time great NFL quarterback and Baltimore icon John Unitas was born on this day in 1933. Sadly, he died almost 20 years ago and, by an eerie coincidence, on the first anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. His death was overshadowed in the news that day.
While working for the Orioles, I had the good fortune to interact with Unitas on more than one occasion. He was always most gracious. Two or three times a season I would end up sitting near him during a game. I felt sorry for him because he was inundated with autograph requests. He never showed any displeasure at these interruptions even though signing autographs was difficult for him as he had limited use of his right hand, the result of football injuries.
This next section comes from my post on this day in 2020:
When I was young Unitas was one of my “Holy Trinity” of sports idols along with Frank Robinson and Babe Ruth.
Unfortunately for me, I never had the opportunity to see him play before he suffered the serious elbow injury that cost him most of the 1968 season. He was never the same after the injury.
Since I am the author of this book and it is no longer in print I am going to show you the article about Unitas in my book about the greatest NFL teams of all time.
I tried to find a non-copyrighted image of Unitas in his legendary high-top football cleats to show here, but could not. Here is a picture of a gift from Dr. Zal.
As I wrote in my book, Unitas’s place in pro football history cannot be solely expressed by numbers and charts. His rags-to-riches story–his father dying when Unitas was just five years old, being drafted by his hometown Steelers but being cut without playing in an exhibition game, his playing semi-pro football for a season at $6 a game and working in construction before signing with the Colts and getting his chance when former first overall pick George Shaw suffered a broken leg in a game–resonated far beyond the confines of Baltimore.
I do want to make some statistical points about Unitas, specifically about his 1959 season. He threw 32 touchdown passes in a 12-game schedule. Today, the NFL schedule is 17 games and the rules have been changed time and time again since the late 1970s in order to bolster the passing game. Unitas’ 32 TD would still have finished in the top ten in the NFL in 2021.
More about 1959: in a 12-team league, Unitas threw one-sixth of all NFL TD passes. His touchdown to interception ratio was 32-to-14; the rest of the league’s was 165-to-207.
I’ll stop here. Long live John Unitas!
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