Friday, December 26, 2014

Greatest Players of the NFL: Johnny Unitas

In Patrick McCaskey's Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships he covers the ten greatest NFL coaches of all-time.  Among the pillars is Weeb Ewbank who coached the Baltimore Colts and New York Jets to championships.  In Pillars, we describe some of the key players  for these great coaches and we'd  thought we'd reproduce some of that for our posts.

Johnny Unitas joined the Colts in 1956.  The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him in 1955 and released him before he had a chance to shows his skills.  The Hall of Famer was one of the best football players.  Unitas was also a game-manager, who tirelessly worked with his teammates to improve their game.  He played with the Colts from 1956-1972. 

Unitas impressed the Colts in a tryout and he was signed.  In the fourth game of the season against the Chicago Bears, the Colts starting quarterback George Shaw broke his leg and Unitas stepped in for him.  The Bears won 58–27, but Johnny U’s professional career was launched.

In only his second year, Unitas was the top-rated quarterback, who threw a league leading 24 touchdown passes, and was named league MVP.

For many growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, Unitas would come to be the archetype for the quarterback.  With his clean cut looks and brush cut hairstyle, he would also be the face of football.  After his father died when Unitas was a boy, Johnny U. helped support his family by working before and after school.  He went to church regularly.  He toughed-out injuries.  He practiced harder than most players.  He commanded attention in the huddle.   He gave the game everything he had.  He wanted to win them all.  Personal honor and glory took a back seat to his team’s accomplishments.  Even his Lithuanian family name, “Janaitis,” had been hammered out in translation to “Unitas” many years before as if to fit the destiny of an “All-American” quarterback of the era.  

Pillars of the NFL is the only book that includes the complete history of the NFL top ten coaches.  Everyone who loves NFL history will enjoy this great book.  

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