“There’s a big difference between confidence and conceit.”– Johnny Unitas
John Constantine Unitas was born on this day in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1933. today is the 80th anniversary of his birth.
Unitas grew up in the suburb of Brookline where he played halfback and quarterback at St. Justin’s High School. He became a Louisville Cardinal in college when he attended University of Louisville in Kentucky. In 1952 the school tightened academic standards and reduced athletic aid, so the football team lost players on the roster. The coach changed strategy and went with two-way football, and Unitas stepped up his game by playing both defense (safety or linebacker) and offense (quarterback and special teams).
“In his four-year career as a Louisville Cardinal, Unitas completed 245 passes for 3,139 yards and 27 touchdowns.” [Johnny Unitas.com]
He was the ninth round draft pick of the Pittsburg Steelers, but the team — who already had 3 quarterbacks — released him before the season started. Unitas found himself working construction to support his family. He kept his arm in shape by playing semi pro ball with the Bloomfield Rams (at a whopping $6 a game.)
In 1956 Unitas and another Bloomfield Ram player, lineman Jim Deglaum, tried out for the Baltimore Colts. He stepped into the role of first line quarterback after George Shaw broke his leg a few weeks into the season. After a rocky start the rookie settled in and took control on the field. Unitas was the Colt’s quarterback for the next 15 years.
If you say the number 19 in Baltimore every one knows you mean the man who led the Colts to two NFL World Championships (58 and 59) and brought home a Super Bowl victory in 1970. It broke many a heart in Charm City when he was traded to San Diego Chargers in 73 (his last playing year.)
After retiring from football he did color commentary on CBS and, when the Colts bolted to Indianapolis, he was leading advocate in getting the city of Baltimore a new NFL team. He was often on the Raven’s sidelines when the team came to Baltimore.
Unitas died of a heart attack on September 11, 2002.
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