The late John Steadman, longtime sports columnist for The Sun, Evening Sun and News American, probably wrote as much about John Unitas as any writer. Some excerpts from Steadman's columns:
Unitas was a talent unto himself. Physically strong, mentally alert, quietly defiant in the face of all challenges and beyond intimidation. Respected by the men on the other side of the scrimmage line, as well as revered by teammates. A guard named Art Spinney, who played to his left, referred to him as the "meal ticket." To halfback Lenny Moore, he was simply "Johnny U." ...
He has paid an enormous personal price for throwing touchdown passes. Yet he doesn't complain. That was never the Unitas way. He just took the best shot they had to give, got up, looked the defense in the eye and found a way to put the ball in the end zone. (Oct. 5, 1997)
As a bona fide, genuine hero, John Unitas causes heads to turn in public places. Men, women and children, all strangers, approach to extend a glad hand of recognition. That's the celebrity role, a position he never sought, but which occurred by dint of his Football Hall of Fame accomplishments.
The Baltimore Colts and Unitas became synonymous. He was a quarterback who rescued his team with daring play-calling, exacting execution and, in the end, he didn't know what it was to brag on himself. More importantly, from a character standpoint, if the final result happened to go into the loss column, there was not the faintest trace of a self-serving alibi. (March 17, 1993)
Most of John Unitas' life has been consumed with statistics. Such impressive attainments as the first quarterback to account for more than 40,000 yards and the incomparable achievement of completing touchdown passes in 47 straight games. But the intangibles were more important, how he was beyond intimidation and refused to yield when confronted with physical pain.
There was, furthermore, no defense he couldn't beat. A mind reader? No. Just an analytical leader with a sense of recognition, a perception of how to attack a coverage and introduce the element of surprise. (Aug. 31, 1994)
Nothing has ever been easy for John Unitas, who gave himself to pro football as few men ever have, totally and without condition, while achieving extraordinary Hall of Fame results. (Feb. 26, 1991)
Unitas never met a cause he didn't want to help. ... He has answered calls from the USO to go to Germany and Vietnam, to hold a leadership role in the search for missing-in-action military personnel, the fights against cystic fibrosis, prostate cancer, child abuse via the protective custody of the Ed Block Courage House and the John Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation in Louisville.
He has served those and maybe 101 other charities. (March 19, 2000)
Unitas lent much to the Colts' persona, a kid rejected by his hometown team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was signed to a $7,000 contract (no bonus) in Baltimore, and when he got the opportunity proved he had enormous ability. America quickly became interested in Unitas and what he represented - a little-known player who wouldn't take no for an answer because all he wanted was a chance to show what he could do. (Sept. 1, 1996)
John Unitas [holds a] special place in the hearts of America. His humility never let him deal in self-promotion. He heard all the cheers, has been hailed as the consummate quarterback and automatically rode into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a unanimous selection.
There wasn't much else to attain in a sport where for 18 seasons he took the toughest physical shots the opposition could deliver, pulled himself up without complaint and proceeded to record first downs or touchdowns. Unitas earned the personal and professional respect of those on the other side of the scrimmage line because he was beyond intimidation and never alibied.
Often the public creates heroes and, in the end, is disappointed. Not with Unitas. (April 22, 1993)