September 15, 2002
Johnny U. made that kind of difference on the psyche of a city. And he raised the expectations that a city has for itself, and, to its credit, Baltimore delivered.
Whenever the debate about quarterbacks and who was the best occurred, Baltimoreans could sit back and let the debate roll on and then end the debate just by saying "Johnny U." Game, set, match. Indisputable fact. And that fact instilled a real pride in this Baltimorean.
So that's a thank you to Johnny U. for increasing the self-esteem and the perceived and actual worth of an entire city just by doing his job.
-Drew Carberry, Chicago
I remember back in 1960 or 1961, Saint Patrick's Church would hold a fathers/sons communion breakfast on Mother's Day. I was just 10 or 11 at that time. As was the custom, a local sporting figure would be asked to give a talk. That year, Johnny Unitas was the guest speaker.
He not only gave the talk, he attended Mass, ate breakfast with the gathering and stayed until the end.
Along with our pastor and my father, we walked Mr. Unitas back to his car parked on Broadway. My father was a longshoreman and, of course, a Colts fan. I remember the pastor and my father talking with the legendary Johnny Unitas as if he were just another regular guy.
Me, I was speechless! He put his arm around me as we walked. I don't think my feet ever touched the ground on that trip to the car. I'll never forget that day.
May God bless Johnny Unitas and his family.
-Patrick M. Wojciechowski, White Hall
What I remember whenever I saw or talked about John Unitas is my grandfathers.
They were both hard working, blue-collar Baltimoreans who loved the Colts. I'm sure neither would have cared much for today's flashiness and grandstanding and would no doubt comment on how Johnny U. would do his job, perform his miracle, and get off the field.
Johnny Unitas did more than people know in making sure that football in this town wasn't about the Colts or the Ravens, but about Baltimore.
Not only did he bridge generations of football fans, he himself was a bridge to fond memories about my late grandfathers.
When John died, it made me think of them again, and for that I am grateful. Many people will remember John for his football accomplishments. I'll remember him for what he did for me, a man he never met.
-David Hughes, Dundalk
Johnny U. literally reinvented his position.
He created the two-minute drill, including the spiked ball to stop the clock. He developed the timed pass thrown to a spot on the field where the receiver would be at a pre-determined number of seconds from the snap of the ball.
And together with Ray Berry, he developed the pass thrown out of bounds that Berry would grab with his body, legs, and arms fully extended - reaching nearly horizontally out of bounds while he dragged his feet barely in play to make the catch that Unitas had thrown deliberately toward the bench.
Not the most physically endowed, but he was impossible to unnerve and fellow opponents would swear he had ice water in his veins.
Unitas was a true innovator and gambler, and the NFL owes much of its success today to those early days of TV when Unitas worked his magic.
Hats off to you, sir - Mr. John Unitas.
-Ron Cucina, Nottingham
My father was a big Colts fan. Needless to say, that made him a big Johnny Unitas fan.
Born in 1969, I never had a chance to see the great Unitas play. But I knew what he meant to my dad, this city and to the sport of football.
When I began going to the Colts games in 1976, I heard the whispers in Section 8 Upper. "Unitas would have got it in there" or "Unitas wouldn't have thrown that interception."
I heard it enough to know how good he was without ever seeing him play.
It's not always the game that makes you a fan. Sometimes it's just the man playing whose talent and persona rise above all others.
-Dwayne Showalter, Jarrettsville
The passing of Johnny U. brought back 40-year-old memories of touch football games on Laurel Drive as fresh as yesterday: "Down and out." "Down, out, and long." "Go Long." "Stop and go." "Buttonhook." "Three completes for a first down."
Thank you, Mr. Unitas, for giving us something to aspire to. We were all No. 19.
-David Feigelson, Memphis, Tenn.
"Time will not dim the glory of his deeds."
It is impossible to compare athletes of one era to another since they do not play on the same fields, but their characters do play in the same arena as chronicled in the media.
With John Unitas, we got greatness with dignity, humility and grace.
-Dave Reich, Perry Hall
Johnny U. played in an era that is so different from today, an era when first downs were simply part of the job, and certainly never celebrated, an era when defenses were not just allowed but encouraged to "manhandle" quarterbacks, an era that expected quarterbacks to think ... and to call their own plays!
My intent is not to disparage systems and personalities of today, just to point out especially to younger readers that football has grown enormously, in part due to No. 19 and his peers.
Always keep in mind that many quarterbacks have been compared to Johnny Unitas, yet he is never compared to anyone else.
-Bob Straub, Cleveland
I read Michael Olesker's article Thursday ["Toughest Colt lifted up a city"], and I want to say I thought it really captured who Johnny Unitas was.
I play with the Baltimore City Pipe Band and every year we played at the Golden Arm on St. Patrick's Day when Johnny owned it. He always made it a point to visit with us when we were on a break.
He really was a regular guy who did great things. He made everyone feel comfortable.
-Ed McFarland, Baltimore
The untimely passing of John Unitas should serve as the impetus for the Maryland Stadium Authority and the City of Baltimore to ensure lasting recognition of four men who are such an indelible part of the Baltimore region's social fabric.
I suggest the following steps:
1. Rename Oriole Park at Camden Yards as Brooks Robinson Park.
2. Rename Ravens Stadium as John Unitas Stadium.
3. Rename the portion of Eutaw Street south of Pratt Street as Chuck Thompson Way.
4. Name the combined baseball/football downtown facilities as The William Donald Schaefer Sports Complex at Camden Yards.
-David Robinette, Pasadena
The Ravens have a golden opportunity to show us that there is a much more important side to professional sports than money. Although the naming rights to stadiums are worth millions to NFL team owners, there is little doubt that Johnny Unitas deserves to be permanently memorialized in the city of Baltimore by naming the stadium after him.
By taking such an action, the Ravens can reclaim the integrity of professional sports, which Major League Baseball nearly destroyed once and for all this past summer.
-Scott Appelbaum, Catonsville
Johnny Unitas was and always will mean Baltimore pro football.
On a team of greats, Johnny U., above all, personified the Baltimore Colts, and he gave his heart and support to the Baltimore Ravens during the good times and the bad.
Today, pro football has come to mean big business and big money, but to dedicated players of the game and to the fans, it is first of all about heart - the heart to play hard and well, and the heart to never give up on the home team.
Johnny Unitas' great heart has been suddenly stilled, but his spirit and heart live on in his city of Baltimore, and among football fans everywhere.
The petition to name the Ravens' stadium after Unitas is both a plea and a challenge to the Baltimore Ravens to do the right thing.
Ravens, put Johnny Unitas' name on our stadium. Find a way.
-James J. Kotmair, Baltimore
I was fortunate to meet Mr. Unitas last year, and I spoke with him one-on-one for five to 10 minutes.
He spoke to me as if he knew me. I can't imagine any other professional athlete who has been labeled the greatest of all-time by most doing the same. He was a special man!
Hopefully, we will be watching all future Ravens football games at the renamed John C. Unitas Memorial Stadium.
-J. McDonald Kennedy, Baltimore
Johnny Unitas was not only the greatest quarterback who ever lived, he was also a very good person. He gave unselfishly of himself to many charitable causes and was always very humble and modest.
Here is a man who by football standards was small, yet in spite of his size he went on to set many NFL records. I can only imagine the pain that he suffered day in and day out being tackled by men twice his size, yet he still always managed to get the job done. He never complained; he just continued to play and play exceedingly well.
I don't know if they are going to change the name of our football stadium to honor him, but nobody deserves to have a football stadium named after him more than this great man.
-Murphy Edward Smith, Baltimore
Baltimore football and Johnny Unitas were synonymous. I never saw someone held with so much reverence by a generation than that of Johnny Unitas and my parents' generation.
He was one of us through and through. His gangly frame even made him look like one of us. His hunched shoulders and saddle-walk gait gave him a signature awkwardness that we all identified with. He took what God gave him and he gave us and our city an identity.
Mr. Unitas transcended football. He gave us all a message ... to believe in yourself, give others a chance, and it will all work out.
-Terry Woods, Cockeysville
In the early 1980s, I was at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to board a flight to visit my mother in Florida. While waiting to check in, I happened to turn around, and there stood Mr. John Unitas.
Normally, I don't ask athletes for autographs because of their questionable manners. I took a chance and asked him for his autograph for my mother.
He literally bowed to me and asked my mother's name and proceeded to write her a lovely note. My mother is an 87-year-old New York Giants fan, who always said that Mr. Unitas was the greatest quarterback that ever lived.
For me, he will always be the classic gentleman who set the standard for other NFL players.
-Maria DeMeo, Baltimore
Growing up in Washington, I was privileged to see the first of the truly great quarterbacks, "Slingin' " Sammy Baugh. We all saw Joe Montana do his magic on TV. But in between those two greats was the man who sat on top of the mountain - John Unitas.
His record of performance speaks for itself. He was without peer. He defined forever the position of quarterback.
When Baugh retired, he left town for Texas and seldom returned. Our D.C. hero was merely a sports hero. John Unitas stayed here and gave of himself to the citizens of Baltimore in both business ventures and personal appearances.
He made the city as proud of him as he had when he was on the football field. He may have passed from us, but he will never be gone. His legacy will live forever.
-Michael Baker, Baltimore
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