Forever embedded in the city's football history, John Unitas and his fellow Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts will now become permanent parts of Ravens Stadium.
At the Ravens' next home game on Oct. 20, the team will unveil a statue of Unitas and dedicate the front area of the stadium's main entrance as Unitas Plaza. The tribute will take place during a halftime ceremony of the Ravens- Jacksonville Jaguars game in which the Ravens will place all eight Hall of Fame Colts in the Ring of Honor.
The Ravens will make an official announcement of these events today.
Unitas, the legendary quarterback who led the Baltimore Colts to championships in the 1958, 1959 and 1970 seasons, died Sept. 11 of a heart attack at 69.
"We thought we understood how important Johnny and the Colts were to this community," Ravens owner Art Modell said. "But we saw an even deeper devotion when John passed. We've paid tribute to the history of Baltimore football since we've arrived but we felt we had to do more when John died. That's why we're adding him and the Hall of Fame Baltimore Colts to our Ring of Honor."
While a part of the property will be named for Unitas, the entire stadium or the field will not be. Unitas Plaza puts an end to the idea of Unitas Field. Also rejected is the push to rename the stadium in his honor.
Since Unitas' death, 56,934 people have signed an online petition urging the Ravens to call the facility "Johnny Unitas Memorial Stadium." Previously it was named for PSINet, a Virginia company that became insolvent.
"It would be great to name the stadium after a great man like John Unitas or call it Memorial Stadium or Schaefer Stadium, but that's not the reality of our business these days," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' vice president of public and community relations. "Like we've said since 1998, there is a competitive reality involved in stadium naming rights. We need and depend on those funds."
The 13-foot statue - which features Unitas throwing - will stand at the center of the main entrance. Temporary "Unitas Plaza" signage will hang on the stadium's north side, and the Ravens will erect permanent displays before the start of the 2003 season.
Unitas will also be the centerpiece of the Colts addition to the Ring of Honor. The Colts franchise moved from Baltimore to Indianapolis in 1984.
The lettering that will hang will read: 19 24 70 77 John Unitas and the Baltimore Colts 82 83 88 89
The numbers represent Unitas, Lenny Moore, Art Donovan, Jim Parker, Raymond Berry, Ted Hendricks, John Mackey and Gino Marchetti. Those confirmed to attend are Moore, Donovan, Parker, Berry and Mackey.
"It's a wonderful thing [to see a Ring of Honor going up] and to see John [Unitas] being honored," said Mackey, a former tight end. "John was the best on and off the field. We won because we were together as a team."
On being inducted into the Ring of Honor, Berry said: "It's a unique thing and will probably never happen again now that the NFL has learned how to move teams. It's a great honor for me.
"It [will be the] first time I've watched a football game in Baltimore in a long time. It's great timing for the [Unitas] statue. The Modells are doing it the right way."
It's the third induction to the Ravens' Ring of Honor, which adorns the curvature of the stadium's upper-deck façade above the field. Earnest Byner was the first to be honored in 2000, and the Ravens' Super Bowl banner was added a year ago.
"I'm excited about this step of bringing as close as possibly can be done the history of the old Colts and the new history we're creating with the Ravens under one single Baltimore umbrella," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
In the Ravens' home opener, the team honored Unitas by marking the spot where perhaps the city's greatest sports hero always stood for games. To the left of the Ravens bench, the team spray-painted a replica of his No. 19 jersey that will remain for this season.
Now, Unitas and the Colts will have a permanent home.
"We would like to thank Art Modell, his family and [team minority owner] Steve Bisciotti for his great honor in John's memory," said Sandra Unitas, John's widow. "We are pleased and touched by the establishment of the Unitas Plaza and the entrance into the Ring of Honor."
Moore, a former running back, saluted the Ravens.
"To have us going into their Ring of Honor shows you what the Ravens are all about," Moore said. "I personally feel it's gallant of them to do this. My congratulations to the Modells. I think the Ravens have gone all out in support of the ex-Colts since they've been here. I mean, they let us run the last play at Memorial Stadium. That was a very thoughtful gesture."