An era passes, leaving Baltimore a different place

"I have to go by Yankee Stadium on the way home, but every Dec. 28, I would call John up on the cell phone," said Accorsi, who often dined with Unitas on Thanksgiving Day. "I'd say, I just went by the Concourse Plaza Hotel where John Unitas had to wake up to meet his destiny.

"John really never knew how big he was when he played," said Accorsi, a Colts assistant public relations director in the 1970s. "He had that typical Western Pennsylvania working man's mentality. Hospitals would request him, and he would say, 'Why do they want me?' I would say, 'John, don't you understand how big you are?' "

But he would always go.

Yesterday, former teammates wept upon hearing of Unitas' death. Friends and former players recounted how Unitas would spend endless hours at charitable events. Jim Phillips, the longtime director of the Colt Corrals, recalled how Unitas would appear at yearly bull roasts and cookouts.

That might command a fee of a couple thousand dollars these days. Unitas did it for free.

Everyone who ever played with him or watched him play in Baltimore seems to have a Unitas story.

"In 1966 or 1967 against the Bears, John Unitas broke his nose, and he refused to come out," said formers Colts kicker and lineman Lou Michaels. "He wouldn't even tell anybody. That's the kind of guy he was.

"He would walk into a huddle, tell the linemen to block, and 'I'll win the game for you.' He would say, 'I'm not bragging, but that's just the way it is.'

"Tough guy on the field, but big heart off of it," said Michaels, starting to cry. "He was very simple, very straightforward. No matter what I asked him to do, he would do it. If a kid asked him for an autograph, John would go out of his way to get it done."

Vince Bohn, 42, a salesman at Finch Services in Baltimore, recalled trying to be one of those kids.

"I was 8 years old, standing outside of Gill Gymnasium at Western Maryland College waiting for him to come out," Bohn said. "He comes out, and all of these 10-, 11-, 12-year-olds are screaming in his face. I don't get an autograph because I was in awe. I froze up."

Phillips said: "The first game I ever saw in Baltimore we were losing 13-10 to Detroit, and he pulled it out with two minutes left. You were always sure he was going to bring you back in the last couple of minutes. Recently, you'd see him on the sidelines at Ravens game. Even if the guy was 200 years old, and you had met him six, eight, 10 or 12 times, you'd still feel as though he was still playing."

Maybe the most fitting tribute to Unitas came during his last game in Baltimore. On Dec. 3, 1972, Unitas threw a 63-yard touchdown pass to Eddie Hinton. Early in the fourth quarter, a plane flew overhead with a banner trailing that read: "Unitas we stand!"

The noise was deafening as Unitas drew a standing ovation.

Almost 30 years later, we're still standing, still honoring the greatest sports hero in Baltimore history.


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