But it was Unitas' furtive mind-set and chess-like gambits that drove teams to distraction, including the two-time Super Bowl champion Packers. "Coach [Vince] Lombardi knew we had to play cat-and-mouse with Unitas," says Robinson. "If John called something odd in the first three or four plays, a formation that wasn't on our game films, look out he was setting us up. He'd remember how every [defender] reacted, and file it away. Later, when he needed it on third-and-eight, he'd come back to that play and burn you."
As a result, says Robinson, any anomaly in the Colts' game plan would freak out the enemy: "We'd ask ourselves, 'Where was I weak on that play? How did I react? How did he think I'd react? Am I going to get burned next time?' " The fact that Unitas called his own plays heightened the challenge, says Robinson: "It was mano-a-mano with him."
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., knew the outcome was uncertain. If anyone could knock off the leaders, it was the defending Super Bowl champs. Green Bay was 5-1-1 and had defeated the Colts in their previous five outings.
For nearly 55 minutes, the Packers held Unitas at bay, allowing 20 yards passing. The Colts poked, prodded, punted. They trailed 10-0 when Unitas tried again to crack a Green Bay wall that featured five future Pro Football Hall of Famers ( Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke, Henry Jordan, Herb Adderley and Willie Wood).
Shrugging off the futility of the first 3¨ quarters, Unitas huddled up at the Colts' 38. Quickly, deftly, he drove his team 62 yards, curling a 10-yard touchdown pass to Alex Hawkins with 2:19 to play. People who'd headed for the exits halted, stood on the ramps, craned their necks to watch. The Colts missed the extra-point try but recovered an onside kick 34 yards from the goal line. Green Bay led 10-6.
'The guy was unshakable'
As he trotted onto the field, surrounded by blaring horns and boisterous fans, Packers defensive end Willie Davis braced for the worst. "I'd seen it before," he says. "With two minutes to go, an eerie late-afternoon darkness would set in at that stadium, the horse would start prancing, the crowd would sense something and Unitas would start performing.
"It was almost a psychological thing. We had this fear that no matter what had happened in the first three quarters, that guy would get it done."
Green Bay's defense held ... for three downs. On fourth-and-six at the 30, Davis and his mates roared in on Unitas, who ducked the rush and took off running to his left in that odd, crab-like gait.
The Packers were ready. Awaiting Unitas near the sideline, and standing just inside the first-down marker, was linebacker Lee Roy Caffey. They met head-on, Unitas straining toward the yardstick, Caffey determined to deny him. Another tackler slammed into the quarterback from behind, driving him forward for the first down. He made it by inches.
Unitas rose slowly but stoically, much to Green Bay's dismay. "He just looked at us, rolled his eyes a little and walked away," says Davis. "That look said, 'I have a plan, and you interrupted it for a moment, but I've still got the plan.'
"That look scared you. The guy was unshakable."
A perfect pass
Seconds later, Unitas threw a 23-yard scoring pass to Willie Richardson, who held the ball briefly, then hurled it into the stands. On Nov. 5, 1967, Unitas had thrown two touchdown passes within 51 seconds to defeat Lombardi's Packers, 13-10.
The Colts finished the season 11-1-2 but failed to make the playoffs, losing the division to the Rams on a tiebreaker. Green Bay regrouped and won the Super Bowl (defeating Oakland). On the strength of his play, Unitas won that season's MVP award his third.
At 34, he still wielded an arm that could carry the Colts' offense. What set him apart? Unitas' twofold talent his mind and his matter, says Adderley, Green Bay's stellar cornerback. To this day, Adderley is baffled as to how Unitas completed the game-winning pass to Richardson in 1967.
"I was all over Willie no, I was more than on him," says Adderley, the defender. "I'd overplayed him so well, I was a step ahead of [Richardson] when Unitas set to throw that pass. It was like I was the receiver and Willie the defensive back."
If Unitas had thrown to the spot where everyone expected Richardson to be, Adderley would have intercepted. "When that ball left John's hand, it had my name on it," Adderley says. What he didn't know at the time was that Unitas had glimpsed them maneuvering downfield and improvised.
"Somehow, John changed the trajectory of the ball as it left his hand," says Adderley. "He threw it behind me, allowing Willie to make the catch."
That play, he says, was "the greatest read-and-throw I've ever seen.
"That's why John Unitas was the best."
Sun researcher Paul McCardell contributed to this article.
The mix that made him great
To get the most out of his golden arm, Unitas combined intelligence, poise, leadership, confidence and sheer will to create a legend.
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