As future Sportsphiles, Lil Wally + Bone Daddy + Runt, were growing up in the 1950’s with sports of all kinds as their daily menu…..they each naturally had their favorite players, teams even sports which dictated their decisions of what television sports to watch on Sundays after church….and Sunday lunch at The Blue Star Inn in Midland, Texas….cuz Pops and Los Tres Hermanos always spent Sunday afternoon watching the games of the week…..and when it came to the NFL season, it was always an easy pick…. which was the Colts game, with Johnny U…..as the boys loved Ray Berry, John Mackey, Big Daddy Lipscomb, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti, Art Donavan, Allen Ameche…..I mean, I have heard so many stories about this team…..but BD’s favorite story was Johnny Unitas…..as he had “high heel” football shoes and wore # 19 just like Johnny U…..when he played QB for the San Jacinto Mustangs 7th grade football team. Therefore, you can see why this particular L E’s Story is so meaningful to me….. as I hope you enjoy these videos.
NFL – 1955 tO 1973 – NFL Films – Johnny Unitas Baltimore Colts – With Sports Illustrated Writer Frank DeFord
Johny Unitas (May 7, 1933 – September 11, 2002) was nicknamed “Johnny U” and “the Golden Arm” …..was an American professional football player in the National Football League (NFL)….who spent the majority of his career playing for the Baltimore Colts….as a record-setting quarterback….and the NFL’s most valuable player in 1959, 1964, and 1967. For 52 years, he held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (set between 1956 and 1960)…… until it was broken in 2012 by Drew Brees. Unitas was the prototype of the modern era marquee quarterback….with a strong passing game, media fanfare and widespread popularity….as evidenced by Pops and Los Tres Hermanos….. who has been consistently listed as one of the greatest NFL players of all time.
NFL – 1958 – NFL Championship Game – Baltimore Colts vs New York Giants AT Yankee Stadium
In his younger years, Unitas dreamed about being part of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team, but when he tried out for the team, coach Frank Leahy said that he was just too skinny and he would “get murdered” if he was put on the field….when instead, he attended the University of Louisville….and In his four-year career as a Louisville Cardinal, Unitas completed 245 passes for 3,139 yards and 27 touchdowns. Reportedly, the 6 ft 1 in (1.85 m) Unitas weighed 145 pounds (66 kg) pounds on his first day of practice…..as his first start was in the 5th game of the 1951 season against St. Bonaventure….when he threw 11 consecutive passes with three touchdowns to give the Cardinals a 21–19 lead….but Louisville ended up losing the game 22–21 on a disputed field goal…..as the Cardinals had found a new starting quarterback. Unitas completed 12 of 19 passes for 240 yards and four touchdowns in a 35–28 victory over the University of Houston. The team finished the season 5–5 overall and 4–1 with Unitas starting. He completed 46 of 99 passes for 602 yards and nine touchdowns.
By the 1952 season, the university decided to de-emphasize sports…..as the new president at Louisville, Dr. Philip Grant Davidson, reduced the amount of athletic aid…..and tightened academic standards for athletes….which resulted in 15 returning players that could not meet the new standards….and lost their scholarships…..but Unitas maintained his by taking square dancing as a new elective. In 1952, coach Frank Camp switched the team to two-way football. Unitas not only played safety or linebacker on defense and quarterback on offense….but also returned kicks and punts on special teams. The Cardinals won their first game against Wayne State, and then Florida State in the second game….as Unitas completed 16 of 21 passes for 198 yards and three touchdowns. It was said that Unitas put on such a show at the Florida State game that he threw a pass under his legs for 15 yards. The rest of the season was a struggle for the Cardinals….who finished 3–5. Unitas completed 106 of 198 passes for 1,540 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The team won their first game in 1953, against Murray State…..and then lost the rest of their games for a record of 1–7…..with one of the most memorable games of the season came in a 59–6 loss against Tennessee….as Unitas completed 9 out of 19 passes for 73 yards, rushed 9 times for 52 yards, returned six kickoffs for 85 yards, one punt for three yards, and had 86 percent of the team’s tackles. The only touchdown the team scored was in the fourth quarter when Unitas made a fake pitch to the running back and ran the ball 23 yards for a touchdown. Unitas was hurt later in the fourth quarter while trying to run the ball. On his way off the field, he received a standing ovation. When he got to the locker room he was so tired that his jersey and shoulder pads had to be cut off because he could not lift his arms. Louisville ended the season with a 20–13 loss to Eastern Kentucky.and for the season, Unitas completed 49 of 95 passes for 470 yards and three touchdowns.
Unitas was elected captain for the 1954 season…..but due to an early injury did not see much playing time…..as his first start was the third game of the season against Florida State….who took over a team that had 21 freshmen on the 34-man team. The 1954 Cardinals went 3–6….with their last win being at home against Morehead State…..as Unitas had been slowed the entire season by so many injuries his senior year when his 527 passing yards ended second to Jim Houser’s 560.
NFL – 1955 To 1973 – ESPN Presents NFL’s 50 Greatest Athletes – “The Golden Arm” Johnny Unitas
NFL & Music – 1955 To 1973 – NFL Films Music – “Unitas We Stand” – The Ballad Of Johnny Unitas
NFL – 1999 – The Golden Arm Foundation Special Interview With HOF Johnny Unitas
After his collegiate career, the Pittsburgh Steelers of the NFL drafted Unitas in the ninth round….however, he was released before the season began as the odd man out among four quarterbacks trying to fill three spots…..Steelers’ head coach Walt Kiesling had made up his mind about Unitas….when he thought he was not smart enough to quarterback an NFL team……as he was not given any snaps in practice with the team. Out of pro football, Unitas was by this time married…..and worked in construction in Pittsburgh to support his family. On the weekends, he played quarterback, safety and punter on a local semi-pro team called the Bloomfield Rams for $6 a game.
In 1956, Unitas joined the Baltimore Colts of the NFL under legendary coach Weeb Ewbank….after being asked at the last minute to join Bloomfield Rams lineman Jim Deglau, a Croatian steel worker with a life much like Unitas, at the latter’s scheduled Colts tryout…..as the pair borrowed money from friends to pay for the gas to make the trip. Deglau later told a reporter after Unitas’s death that “[His] uncle told him not to come. [He] was worried that if he came down and the Colts passed on him, it would look bad (to other NFL teams).” The Colts signed Unitas, much to the chagrin of the Cleveland Browns….who had hoped to claim the former Steeler quarterback.
Unitas made his NFL debut with an inauspicious “mop-up” appearance against Detroit, going 0–2 with one interception…..then two weeks later, starting quarterback George Shaw suffered a broken leg against the Chicago Bears. In his first serious action, Unitas’s initial pass was intercepted and returned for a touchdown….then he botched a hand-off on his next play with a fumble recovered by the Bears. Unitas rebounded quickly from that 58–27 loss by leading the Colts to an upset of Green Bay….and their first win over Cleveland. He threw nine touchdown passes that year…..which included the one in the season finale that started his record 47-game streak of throwing a touchdown…..while his 55.6-percent completion mark was a rookie record.
In 1957, his first season as the Colts full-time starter at quarterback, Unitas finished 1st in the NFL in passing yards with 2,550….and touchdown passes with 24….which helped lead the Colts to a 7–5 record, the first winning record in franchise history. At season’s end, Unitas received the Jim Thorpe Trophy as the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA).
NFL – 1967 – Woodie’s World Special – The Baltimore Colts Starring QB Johnny Unitas – As Seen Thru The Eyes Of His Teammates
NFL – 2008 – ESPN Documentary – 50th Anniversary of the Greatest Game Ever Played – 1958 NFL Championship With New York Giants Vs Baltimore Colts
NFL – 1955 To 1973 – Special – Unitas: He Changed The Game Forever
Unitas continued his prowess in 1958 while passing for 2,007 yards and 19 touchdowns as the Colts won the Western Conference title. The Colts won the NFL championship under his leadership on December 28, 1958, by defeating the New York Giants 23–17 in sudden death overtime on a touchdown by fullback Alan Ameche. It was the first overtime game in NFL history….and is often referred to as the “greatest game ever played”. The game, nationally televised by NBC, has been credited for sparking the rise in popularity of professional football during the 1960’s.
In 1959, Unitas was named the NFL’s MVP by the Associated Press (AP) for the first time….as well as United Press International’s player of the year after leading the NFL in passing yards with 2,899 yards, touchdown passes with 32 and completions with 193…..then he led the Colts to a repeat championship by beating the Giants again 31–16 in the title game.
As the 1960’s began, the Colts’ fortunes and win totals declined….with injuries to key players such as Alan Ameche, Raymond Berry, and Lenny Moore were contributing factors….and that is when Unitas’s streak of 47 straight games with at least one touchdown pass ended against the Los Angeles Rams in week 11 of the 1960 season. In spite of this, he topped the 3,000-yard passing mark for the first time….. while leading the league in touchdown passes for the 4th consecutive season.
After three middle-of-the-pack seasons, Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom fired Weeb Ewbank….and replaced him with Don Shula…..who at the time was the youngest head coach in NFL history at 33 years of age when he was hired. The Colts finished 8–6 in Shula’s first season at the helm….which was good enough for only third place in the NFL’s Western Conference….but they did end the season on a strong note by winning their final three games. The season was very successful for Unitas personally, as he led the NFL in passing yards with a career-best total of 3,481….and also led in completions with 237.
In the 1964 season the Colts returned to the top of the Western Conference…..when after dropping their season opener to the Minnesota Vikings….that’s when the Colts ran off 10 straight victories to finish with a 12–2 record. The season was one of Unitas’s best as he finished with 2,824 yards passing, a league-best 9.26 yards per pass attempt, 19 touchdown passes and only 6 interceptions. He was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player by the AP and UPI for a second time. However, the season ended on a disappointing note for the Colts as they were upset by the Cleveland Browns in the 1964 NFL Championship Game, losing 27–0.
Unitas resumed his torrid passing in 1965….while throwing for 2,530 yards, 23 touchdowns and finishing with a league-high and career best 97.1 passer rating….but he was lost for the balance of the season due to a knee injury in a week 12 loss to the Bears…..then backup quarterback Gary Cuozzo also suffered a season-ending injury the following week….and running back Tom Matte filled in as the emergency quarterback for the regular season finale…..which was a heartbreaking playoff loss to the Packers. The Colts and Packers finished in a tie for first place in the Western Conference….and a one-game playoff was played in Green Bay to decide who would be the conference representative in the 1965 NFL Championship Game…..when the Colts lost in overtime 13–10 due in large part to a game-tying field goal by Don Chandler that many say was incorrectly ruled good.
Unitas, healthy once more, threw for 2,748 yards and 22 touchdowns in 1966 in a return to Pro Bowl form. However, he posted a league-high 24 interceptions. After once again finishing 2nd in the Western Conference in 1966, the Colts rebounded to finish 11–1–2 in 1967….while tying the Los Angeles Rams for the NFL’s best record. In winning his 3rd MVP award from the AP and UPI in 1967….and his second from the NEA….Unitas had a league-high 58.5 completion percentage and passed for 3,428 yards and 20 touchdowns. He openly complained about having tennis elbow and he threw eight interceptions and only three touchdown passes in the final five games. Once again, the season ended in heartbreak for the Colts….as they were shut out of the newly instituted four team NFL playoff after losing the divisional tiebreaker to the Rams, a 34–10 rout in the regular season finale.
NFL – 1970 – Special – Baltimore Colts Season Highlights Ending With The Super Bowl
NFL – 1972 – Game Of The Week – New York Jets Vs Baltimore Colts – Only Full Game The Joe Namath And Johnny Unitas Faced Each Other
NFL – 1966 – Special – Johnny Unitas Breaks Career Passing TD Record (Sept. 18, 1966) | This Day in NFL History
NFL – 1970 – NFL Films – Super Bowl Champions Baltimore Colts Week By Week Highlights Of Their March To The Title
In the final game of the 1968 preseason, the muscles in Unitas’s arm were torn when he was hit by a member of the Dallas Cowboys defense. Unitas wrote in his autobiography that he felt his arm was initially injured by the use of the “night ball” that the NFL was testing for better TV visibility during night games. In a post-game interview the previous year, he noted having constant pain in his elbow for several years prior…..when he would spend most of the season sitting on the bench. The Colts still marched to a league-best 13–1 record behind backup quarterback and ultimate 1968 NFL MVP Earl Morrall…..and even though he was injured throughout most of the season….Unitas came off the bench to play in Super Bowl III….which was the famous game where Joe Namath guaranteed a New York Jets win despite conventional wisdom. Unitas’s insertion was a desperation move in an attempt to retrieve dominance of the NFL over the upstart AFL. Although the Colts won an NFL Championship in 1968, they lost the Super Bowl to the AFL Champion New York Jets, thus becoming the first ever NFL champions that were not also deemed world champions. Unitas helped put together the Colts’ only score, a touchdown late in the game. Unitas also drove the Colts into scoring position following the touchdown and successful onside kick….but for reasons that to this day are unknown, head coach Don Shula eschewed a field goal attempt, which if successful would have cut the Jets’ lead to 16–10. Despite not playing until late in the third quarter, he still finished the game with more passing yards than the team’s starter, Earl Morrall.
After an off-season of rehabilitation on his elbow, Unitas rebounded in 1969, passing for 2,342 yards and 12 touchdowns with 20 interceptions. But the Colts finished with a disappointing 8–5–1 record, and missed the playoffs….then in 1970…..after the NFL and AFL had merged into one league……and the Colts moved to the new American Football Conference, along with the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers…..he threw for 2,213 yards and 14 touchdowns while leading the Colts to an 11–2–1 season. In their first rematch with the Jets, Unitas and Namath threw a combined nine interceptions in a 29–22 Colts win….in which Namath had thrown 62 passes…..and broke his hand on the final play of the game while ending his season.
Unitas threw for 390 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions in AFC playoff victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and the Oakland Raiders. In Super Bowl V against the Dallas Cowboys, he was knocked out of the game with a rib injury in the second quarter….which was right after throwing a 75-yard touchdown pass which set a then-Super Bowl record to John Mackey…..while he had also tossed two interceptions before his departure from the game. Earl Morrall came in to lead the team to a last second, 16–13 victory.
In 1971, Unitas split playing time with Morrall…..and thus throwing only three touchdown passes. He started both playoff games….a win over the Cleveland Browns that sent the Colts to the AFC Championship game against the Miami Dolphins….which they lost by a score of 21–0…..as Unitas threw three interceptions in the game…..with one being returned for a touchdown by safety Dick Anderson.
The 1972 season saw the Colts declining into mediocrity. After losing the season opener, Unitas was involved in the second and final regular season head-to-head meeting with “Broadway” Joe Namath. The first was in 1970….which was won by the Colts, 29–22. The last meeting was a memorable one, which took place on September 24, 1972, at Memorial Stadium…..as Johnny U threw for 376 yards and three touchdowns….but Namath upstaged him again by bombing the Colts for 496 yards and six touchdowns in a 44–34 Jets victory….which was their first over Baltimore since the 1970 merger. After losing four of their first five games, the Colts fired head coach Don McCafferty and benched their legendary QB.
One of the more memorable moments in football history came on Unitas’s last game in a Colts uniform at Memorial Stadium….when in a game against the Buffalo Bills….as Unitas was not the starter for this game….but the Colts were blowing the Bills out by a score of 28–0 behind Marty Domres….when Unitas entered the game due to the fans chanting, “We want Unitas!!!”….. and a plan devised by head coach John Sandusky to convince Unitas that the starting quarterback was injured….and that is when Unitas came onto the field and threw two passes….with one being a long touchdown to wide receiver Eddie Hinton….which would be his last pass as a Colt…..as the Colts won the game by the score of 35–7.
Unitas was traded to the San Diego Chargers in 1973 after posting a 5–9 record in 1972 with Baltimore…. but he was far past his prime…..as he replaced former Chargers quarterback John Hadl. He threw for just 55 yards and 3 interceptions….while being sacked 8 times. His final victory as a starter came against the Buffalo Bills in week two…..when Unitas was 10–18 for 175 yards, two touchdown passes and no interceptions in a 34–7 Chargers rout…..as Johnny U was clearly not the same player he was years ago and many were questioning his role as a starter after a loss to the Bengals in week three. Two weeks later, he threw two first-half interceptions, passed for only 19 yards, and went 2-for-9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers…..when he was replaced by rookie quarterback, future Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. After having posted a 1–3 record as a starter, Unitas retired in the preseason of 1974.
Unitas finished his 18 NFL seasons with 2,830 completions in 5,186 attempts for 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns, with 253 interceptions. He also rushed for 1,777 yards and 13 touchdowns. Plagued by arm trouble in his later seasons, he threw more interceptions (64) than touchdowns (38) in 1968–1973. After averaging 215.8 yards per game in his first 12 seasons, his production fell to 124.4 in his final six. His passer rating plummeted from 82.9 to 60.4 for the same periods. Even so, Unitas set many passing records during his career. He was the first quarterback to throw for more than 40,000 yards, despite playing during an era when NFL teams played shorter seasons of 12 or 14 games (as opposed to today’s 16-game seasons)….plus being prior to modern passing-friendly rules implemented in 1978. His 32 touchdown passes in 1959 were a record at the time….which made Unitas the 1st quarterback to hit the 30 touchdown mark in a season. His 47-game consecutive touchdown streak between 1956 and 1960 was a record considered by many to be unbreakable. The streak stood for 52 years before being broken by New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in a game against the San Diego Chargers on October 7, 2012.
NFL – 2010 – NFL Special Highlights – Johnny Unitas: # 6 On The Top 100 NFL’s Greatest Players List
NFL – 1971 – Monday Night Football – Los Angeles Rams Vs Baltimore Colts – With Don Meredith + Howard Cosell + Frank Gifford
NFL – 1955 To 1973 – Special Highlights – Breakdown Of Colts QB Johnny Unitas Throwing Motion
As evidenced by these videos showcased in this special ImaSportsphile tribute to Hall Of Fame Quarterback Johnny Unitas…..it is easy to see why Johnny U was the man to watch on the Sunday NFL Game of the Week….and why he was Pops and Los Tres Hermanos favorite hero of the gridiron….for he was something very special….and is why we equate former Pats and now the 2020 Tampa Bay Bucs QB Tom Brady is compared to The Golden Arm so often.