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Stadium group OKs plan for Unitas statue


The Maryland Stadium Authority yesterday approved a plan to erect a statue of former Colts great Johnny Unitas near the football stadium at Camden Yards.

The bronze statue, to be paid for through private donations, would be built in the shadows of PSINet Stadium and, with its base, would stand 19 feet tall - a height that is significant for both artistic and symbolic reasons.

Not only did Unitas wear 19 on his jersey, but "anything shy of that [height] would not be very significant in front of that monolithic stadium," said Lutherville sculptor Frederick Kail, who plans to raise $250,000 for the project.

Kail, who built a 7-foot statue of Unitas that was unveiled two years ago at the University of Louisville, said that Baltimore deserved a statue at least as much as the NFL Hall of Famer's alma mater.

"I felt that it would be really appropriate if we honored our own sports legend, as other stadiums do across the country," Kail said. "This is where he changed professional football."

Unitas said the planned statue should be considered a memorial to the "olden days, golden days" when the city bonded with its football heroes.

"The statue has to be representative of the whole Colts organization and the players who played in my era," he said.

The statue was one of two proposals to honor Baltimore sports legends that gained stadium authority support yesterday. Authority officials have no objection to a fledgling plan for a "walk of fame" along a path between Oriole Park and the football stadium, said Rick Slosson, executive director of the stadium authority.

Kail, along with former Baltimore Colt Elmer Wingate, argued that Unitas was not the only former Baltimore star who deserves to be recognized, said Bruce Laird, another former Colt who also is president of the Baltimore-Washington chapter of the NFL Players Association Alumni.

Laird said his group plans to help raise money for the statue and the walk, which could include monuments to former stars from the Baltimore Colts, the Orioles and, eventually, the Ravens or former Baltimore Bullets.

Slosson said that under the stadium authority's agreement with Kail, the sculptor has 18 months to raise money for the Unitas statue, and another year to design and build it. But Kail said he expects to have the statue ready for the 2002 football season.

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