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Remembering Johnny Unitas

Johnny Unitas was one of the great quarterbacks in NFL history. He’ll be honored, along with George Blanda, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Joe Montana and Joe Namath — western Pennsylvania’s six Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterbacks — on June 6 in Pittsburgh.

Unitas grew up in Brookline and Mount Washington and played high school football at St. Justin’s, which closed in 1974. After a college career at Louisville, Unitas was cut by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955 and played semi-pro ball for a year before signing with the Baltimore Colts. Johnny U played 18 seasons of pro football, winning three MVP awards, earning 10 Pro Bowl and five first-team All-Pro selections. Unitas won four NFL championships, including one Super Bowl, and was the winning quarterback in the 1958 NFL Championship, still considered the “Greatest Game Ever Played.” For 52 years Unitas held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass until New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees broke his long standing record in 2012. Unitas retired after the 1973 season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. He died of a sudden heart attack while working out in Timonium, Maryland in 2002.

“Unitas was signed after we received a letter from a fan telling us there was a player in Bloomington deserving a chance. I always accused Johnny of writing it.”  – Weeb Ewbank, Baltimore Colts head coach

“The most important thing of all about Unitas is that he had a real hunger. This was a kid who wanted success and didn’t have it so long that he wasn’t about to waste it when it came.” – Ewbank

“His uncanny instinct for calling the right play at the right time, his icy composure under fire, his fierce competitiveness, and his utter disregard for his own safety.” – Colts Hall of Fame wide receiver Ray Berry on what made Unitas special

“I was proud to wear the same uniform as Johnny Unitas. It’s a very humbling experience.” – Peyton Manning

“We didn’t get him because of any great recruiting coup. We got him because no one else wanted him.” – Frank Gitschier, Unitas’s QB coach at Louisville

“John was the first of those lunch-pail quarterbacks to come out of western Pennsylvania. Later on came Jim Kelly and Dan Marino and Joe Namath and Joe Montana. They were all the same. Guys who didn’t have anything. Guys who knew that it was back to the steel mills or coal mines if they didn’t get the job done.” – Gitschier

“You couldn’t help but see it: Every book he ever got out of the library was a book about a quarterback. He was alrays reading something like ‘The Sid Luckman Story.’ All he wanted was football.” – Shirley Unitas, his younger sister

“Johnny Unitas is the greatest quarterback ever to play the game. Better than me, better than Sammy Baugh, better than anyone.” – Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman

“He would take a glove to a shoe repairman and they would put Velcro in and he would wrap it around the club so the club wouldn’t go flying.” – Sandra Unitas, his wife, on her husband’s insistance on playing golf despite chronic pain

“Johnny was very quiet and unassuming, with a great sense of humor. In the huddle, he was the boss. Every game, he gave us the same speech: ‘Talk’s cheap. Let’s go play.’ He was the coolest player I have every seen. he would have made a great general or admiral in the service.” – Colts Hall of Fame lineman Art Donovan

Johnny Unitas“Now, Johnny Unitas, there’s a haircut you could set your watch to.” – Grampa Simpson from The Simpson’s TV show

“There’s a big difference between confidence and conceit. To me, conceit is bragging about yourself. Being confident means you believe you can get the job done, but you know you can’t get your job done unless you also have the confidence that the other guys are going to get their jobs done too. Without them, I’m nothing.” – Johnny Unitas

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