"Unitas had them in the end zone so often that day, the horse's tongue was hanging out," says R.C. Owens, a San Francisco receiver.

Says Sandusky, recalling the go-ahead touchdown: "Lenny went by me so fast, I didn't get to throw a block." Sandusky still marvels at Unitas' call: "John was like a pool hustler, always thinking three plays ahead."

Amazing turnaround

With two minutes remaining, Unitas struck again — a 7-yard pass to Berry, capping a 35-27 victory and tying Isbell's mark.

There was no question who'd sparked the turnaround. Unitas completed 12 of 16 passes for 168 yards "while acting as cool as if he were playing in a pickup game," recalls Andy Nelson, defensive back.

The fans went nuts, hurling scarves and hats, engulfing the home team and hoisting players aloft. "Unbelievable noise, unbelievable crush," says Berry. "It's a miracle no one was killed."

Unitas, toweling off at his locker, was as blase about the victory as about his early woes. He said he was "not really worried. There had been some mistakes made that I guess you could say worried me. I just wanted to ... straighten them out.

He smiled. "I guess we did."

Less than a month after that Nov. 30 game, the Colts won the NFL championship, defeating the New York Giants in a game that brought Unitas the kind of public acclaim he was already getting from fellow players. A nationwide TV audience ooohed as he hurled smart bombs and marched his team downfield to win in overtime, 23-17.

It was such Patton-esque command and shrewd play-calling that would distinguish Unitas throughout his 18-year career. In that era, NFL quarterbacks called their own games, in contrast to today's headset-directed offenses. But even then, Unitas stood out; he drew on his acumen to think on his feet.

And his right arm? He could throw long at a time when few quarterbacks were expected — or allowed — to do so. Twenty-seven times, Unitas passed for 300 or more yards in a single game.

Streak for the ages

All of this helped him set the one record that may never be equaled: 47 consecutive regular-season games in which Unitas threw at least one touchdown pass. During that five-year span (1956-60), he passed for more than 1¨ miles, staked Baltimore to two NFL titles and won the reputation that in 1999 earned him Pro Football Hall of Fame plaudits as the game's all-time top quarterback.

The streak concluded with a flourish. In Game 43, Unitas completed five passes — four of them for touchdowns —in the first half. The following week, he threw for four more scores, three of them in the first 20 minutes. One week after that, pummeled and bloodied by the Chicago Bears, Unitas threw for the winning score with 17 seconds remaining. Then, in an uncharacteristic burst of emotion, he leaped into the air, arms over his head.

Two years ago, talking about the streak, Unitas appeared modest. "I never paid much attention to it, not like the newspaper people did," he said in an interview. "My whole thing was to just win games, using everything at my disposal. It didn't matter if we did it by running or throwing, as long as our concentration was on winning. Everyone was on the same page. There were no jealousies among anyone. The team ran the plays I called and never questioned them."

Reflecting on changes in the position that his play helped define, Unitas was critical. "Coaches today have taken the game away from the quarterback. They don't allow him to use his head, and that's a mistake. They don't allow him to think."

During his years at quarterback, Unitas was honored four times as the league's best player, either as Most Valuable Player or player of the year (1957, 1964, 1967 and 1959).

He accomplished so much because of the way he could throw, and the way he could think, opponents say.

Playing mind games

"Only John Unitas could have done, with the Colts, what John Unitas did," says Dave Robinson, who tangled with him regularly in the 1960s as a linebacker for archrival Green Bay. Few clubs played long ball as a matter of course, like Baltimore. "John could drop one in on you from 50 yards on the fly," says Robinson.