Forever embedded in the city's football history, John Unitas and his fellowHall of Fame Baltimore Colts will now become permanent parts of RavensStadium.
At the Ravens' next home game on Oct. 20, the team will unveil a statue ofUnitas and dedicate the front area of the stadium's main entrance as UnitasPlaza. The tribute will take place during a halftime ceremony of theRavens- Jacksonville Jaguars game in which the Ravens will place all eight Hallof Fame Colts in the Ring of Honor.
The Ravens will make an official announcement of these events today.
Unitas, the legendary quarterback who led the Baltimore Colts tochampionships in the 1958, 1959 and 1970 seasons, died Sept. 11 of a heartattack at 69.
"We thought we understood how important Johnny and the Colts were to thiscommunity," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "But we saw an even deeper devotionwhen John passed. We've paid tribute to the history of Baltimore footballsince we've arrived but we felt we had to do more when John died. That's whywe're adding him and the Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts to our Ring of Honor."
While a part of the property will be named for Unitas, the entire stadiumor the field will not be. Unitas Plaza puts an end to the idea of UnitasField. Also rejected is the push to rename the stadium in his honor.
Since Unitas' death, 56,934 people have signed an online petition urgingthe Ravens to call the facility "Johnny Unitas Memorial Stadium." Previouslyit was named for PSINet, a Virginia company that became insolvent.
"It would be great to name the stadium after a great man like John Unitasor call it Memorial Stadium or Schaefer Stadium, but that's not the reality ofour business these days," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president ofpublic and community relations. "Like we've said since 1998, there is acompetitive reality involved in stadium naming rights. We need and depend onthose funds."
The 13-foot statue - which features Unitas throwing - will stand at thecenter of the main entrance. Temporary "Unitas Plaza" signage will hang on thestadium's north side, and the Ravens will erect permanent displays before thestart of the 2003 season.
Unitas will also be the centerpiece of the Colts addition to the Ring ofHonor. The Colts franchise moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984.
The lettering that will hang will read: 19 24 70 77 John Unitas and theBaltimore Colts 82 83 88 89
The numbers represent Unitas, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Jim Parker, RaymondBerry, Ted Hendricks, John Mackey and Gino Marchetti. Those confirmed toattend are Moore, Donovan, Parker, Berry and Mackey.
"It's a wonderful thing [to see a Ring of Honor going up] and to see John[Unitas] being honored," said Mackey, a former tight end. "John was the beston and off the field. We won because we were together as a team."
On being inducted into the Ring of Honor, Berry said: "It's a unique thingand will probably never happen again now that the NFL has learned how to moveteams. It's a great honor for me.
"It [will be the] first time I've watched a football game in Baltimore in along time. It's great timing for the [Unitas] statue. The Modells are doing itthe right way."
It's the third induction to the Ravens' Ring of Honor, which adorns thecurvature of the stadium's upper-deck façade above the field. EarnestByner was the first to be honored in 2000, and the Ravens' Super Bowl bannerwas added a year ago.
"I'm excited about this step of bringing as close as possibly can be donethe history of the old Colts and the new history we're creating with theRavens under one single Baltimore umbrella," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
In the Ravens' home opener, the team honored Unitas by marking the spotwhere perhaps the city's greatest sports hero always stood for games. To theleft of the Ravens bench, the team spray-painted a replica of his No. 19jersey that will remain for this season.
Now, Unitas and the Colts will have a permanent home.
"We would like to thank Art Modell, his family and [team minority owner]Steve Bisciotti for his great honor in John's memory," said Sandra Unitas,John's widow. "We are pleased and touched by the establishment of the UnitasPlaza and the entrance into the Ring of Honor."
Moore, a former running back, saluted the Ravens.
"To have us going into their Ring of Honor shows you what the Ravens areall about," Moore said. "I personally feel it's gallant of them to do this. Mycongratulations to the Modells. I think the Ravens have gone all out insupport of the ex-Colts since they've been here. I mean, they let us run thelast play at Memorial Stadium. That was a very thoughtful gesture."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun