Once again, John Unitas is ready to drive the field and score points, this time in Baltimore's continuing effort to obtain an expansion team. He's not going to be window dressing or merely lend his name, but will be working intently with the group of author Tom Clancy to impress on the National Football League it should look with favor on this city's bid to regain a franchise.
The addition of Unitas is more than a public relations maneuver. Unitas says he's extremely pleased to join the ownership combine led by Clancy and movie/television producer Jim Robinson, both of whom are Baltimore-born and longtime admirers of the most renowned of all quarterbacks. Each, in his own way, offers strong name recognition and the group will attract wide attention via its combined presence.
The three men came to an agreement yesterday after a meeting that lasted four hours and covered structured details of their planned operation.
The session that brought them together was arranged by John Unitas Jr., who directs a new organization formed last spring. It trades under the name of Unitas Management Inc. and represents the elder Unitas in football-related transactions.
"First off, I'm pleased to be working to bring an expansion club to Baltimore," said Unitas. "Furthermore, I feel elated to be associated with men of the stature of Clancy and Robinson. They are giants in the literary world and film industry. They have a reputation that is first-rate. Their name recognition is not only in this country but in various parts of the world. They are individuals with a lot of sincerity and the best of intentions."
Two other Baltimore groups are vying with Clancy/Robinson and now Unitas for the NFL's attentions, organizations led by Leonard "Boogie" Weinglass and Malcolm Glazer.
The Weinglass lineup also includes a movie producer from Baltimore, Barry Levinson, and a former NFL halfback, Joe Washington, who played for the San Diego Chargers, Baltimore Colts and Washington Redskins.
The addition of Unitas and the name value he brings with him as a Hall of Fame member, achieved during his celebrated career with the Colts, creates prestige for Baltimore and likewise for the Clancy/Robinson connection.
Asked what title Unitas would have with their organization, Clancy answered: "That's premature right now. I'm not big on titles and neither is John. We just want to get the job done. The important thing is we are going to be working together and he will have a front-office position for perpetuity."
Before that can happen, however, the league must: (1) expand; (2) pick Baltimore as one of two expansion cities; and (3) award the franchise to Clancy and Robinson. Meanwhile, negotiations continue with attorney David Cohan, who represents John Mackey, another ex-Colt who is in the Hall of Fame. He, too, has voiced an interest in joining Robinson and Clancy.
"Jim Robinson and John have been meeting and in a couple of weeks will confer again," explained Clancy. "It has never been our intention to involve John Unitas or John Mackey in any aspect of coaching. We want to make that clear. They each have a profound awareness of football and we want them for their expertise. I think we're safe in proclaiming those two as the best their positions ever knew. As men, they have earned the respect of the public."
Does Clancy believe the NFL will select the two expansion cities at its March meeting or will there be further delays? NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue wants the league to have teams on the field in 1995, but it first must resolve its differences with the players association.
"I can't read tea leaves," said Clancy. "As of this moment, I don't think the NFL knows. But I don't see how they could reject Baltimore. I can't imagine any city having more to recommend it. If I were a betting man, I'd pick Baltimore and St. Louis. That's not to say Charlotte, with Jerry Richardson in charge, won't be in the picture."
Unitas' alignment with Clancy and Robertson, whose movie studio, Morgan Creek Productions, turned out the 1991 box-office hit "Robin Hood," came about when Unitas Jr., who also is in the real estate publishing business, decided he wanted to meet with these prospective expansion owners.
"I was impressed with Clancy and Robinson for obvious reasons," he said. "They are much like my father. They are self-made men with sound reputations. Of course, I was a fan of Clancy, who is the most talented writer in America. And come to FTC find out, Clancy and my father once lived in the same neighborhood in north Baltimore. It'll be a relationship that will work in a positive way for all concerned -- the city, the fans and, hopefully, the NFL."
John Unitas has been courted by other potential owners in the past but never made a commitment until now. Clancy, Robinson, Unitas and maybe Mackey in the same lineup. They can only enhance Baltimore's chances.