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Joe Flacco to portray Johnny Unitas in final scenes of upcoming film: 'Unitas We Stand'

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has agreed to portray the late Johnny Unitas in an upcoming film called "Unitas We Stand," according to Joe Unitas, Johnny Unitas' son.

Joe Unitas told The Baltimore Sun that Flacco will play his father playing football in the final scenes depicting the Colts' 1958 championship game victory.

"Obviously, the Baltimore ties are very important to me," Unitas said in a phone interview from his Las Vegas home. "I think it's great that Joe just won the Super Bowl with the Ravens and was Most Valuable Player in the game. A lot of the way Joe plays and his demeanor reminds me a lot of my dad. He's not a rah-rah guy. He throws a touchdown and maybe there's a little fist pump. He understands his job is all about winning and he does a phenomenal job leading the offense and the team and obviously they've developed a lot of trust after becoming a champion. He's an awesome teammate and great leader of the team.

"He does things the right way and is a good role model for kids and he gets what hard work is and does everything he can for the team. There are a lot of parallels that can be drawn between Joe and my dad. My production team is very fortunate and thankful that he's dedicated to help us and play my dad. I know he doesn't do a lot of things away from the game, and football players' time off in the offseason is very valuable. For him to take time away and commit to doing this is very humbling."

In a statement posted on the official website for the film www.unitaswestand.com, Flacco says: "I'm excited and honored by the opportunity to play Johnny Unitas.

Joe Unitas said that production is being planned so that it doesn't interfere with Flacco's football schedule with training camp traditionally set to start in late July.

Filming is scheduled to begin July 15 and is expected to last around nine to 12 weeks. Ideally, Unitas would like to release the movie timing it to the Super Bowl next year.

"Of course, this would be perfect with the Super Bowl being in New York-New Jersey," Joe Unitas said. "Especially with it being a cold-weather championship following the 1958 game when my dad first burst onto the national scene."

The genesis of the film stems from a screenplay written by Joe Unitas and Nick Slatkin.

It was adapted from the best-selling Tom Callahan book: "Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas."

"Tom was an excellent sportswriter who wrote a phenomenal book," Joe Unitas said. "When my dad was alive, he was asked several times about making a movie about his life and his response was always, 'Who in the world would want to see that?' So, it never happened. After he passed away, we were approached a few more times. I lived in Los Angeles and was pursuing acting at the time, and a few people contacted us and it was really never the right fit. Not too long after that, Tom's book came out and we got an advance copy to read and it was awesome. It was the best book written about my dad.

"Tom did an incredible job and it was very successful for him, on the New York Times best-seller list for a long time. I contacted him after I read and said, 'Tom, there's a movie in here. I can't tell the whole story, but I would love to get the movie rights for your book.' He was very generous. He said, 'It's your dad's story, the story of your family.' I set to work and began writing it seven years ago. I got a call from my co-writer, Nick Slatkin, who went to high school with my brother, Chad. We are still tweaking it. The script is never completely finished, but we're getting there and we'll probably continue to make changes."

Joe Unitas hopes to film the entire movie in Baltimore.

"My producing partners live in New Orleans and there are great tax credits there, but Maryland has very good tax credits as well," Joe Unitas said. "I would prefer to shoot everything in Baltimore. We would love nothing more than to give back to the city and state where my father lived and worked."

Joe Unitas said he's hoping for a wide theatrical release, but that will hinge on the distribution deal he negotiates. He prefers to release the movie in theaters instead of television.

Joe Unitas said the projected budget for the movie is $12.8 million, and they are accepting sponsorships from NFL fans from all over the country to invest through the website.  Proceeds are slated for charitable partners, USA Football and Gridiron Greats.

"We are under the gun to raise money," Joe Unitas said. "We've set up an opportunity for NFL fans from all over the country to invest into the film. Those charities were two groups that were pretty important to my dad. We're very excited."

awilson@baltsun.com

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