Bisciotti confirms he's buyer of Unitas souvenirs

Sun reporter

Driven to keep John Unitas memorabilia in Baltimore, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti confirmed yesterday that he was the anonymous bidder who purchased 10 items relating to the legendary Colts quarterback for $165,370.

At the Feb. 23 auction, Bisciotti bought a helmet worn by Unitas in the 1960s for $54,050 and the quarterback's first contract with the Baltimore Colts for $29,900.

Bisciotti intends to lend some of the items to the Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards so that fans can view them.

"I don't like stuff like that floating around," Bisciotti said yesterday during a break at the NFL owners meetings. "For me, it was an opportunity - no matter what the cost is - to stop that from ending up in a private collection. They couldn't charge too much."

Unitas' widow, Sandra, said she couldn't be happier because Bisciotti has been "a good friend to the family."

"He's a wonderful owner, a good person and has been very supportive to my family since John passed," she said. "I know how he loves John."

The helmet has a two-bar face mask, a blue horseshoe on each side and Unitas' No. 19 on the back. The four-page contract, which was signed by Unitas in 1956, was sold for nearly four times the amount Unitas earned during his rookie season ($7,500).

"I wasn't going to be outbid for the helmet or the contract," Bisciotti said. "Then, I just got carried away."

Among the other items purchased were a sterling silver tea service presented to the quarterback after the Colts won the 1959 NFL championship and two belts Unitas received in 1959 and 1964 as a finalist for the S. Rae Hickok Professional Athlete of the Year Award.

"It's great that all the items will remain in Baltimore," Sandra Unitas said. "I think John would be very happy about this."

John Unitas Jr., who runs Unitas Management Corp., said his brother, Christopher M. Unitas, sold the tea set and a personal, hard-cover Look magazine, and that his sister, Janice A. Unitas, sold the various charms given to the quarterback as awards.

A Web site for Hunt Auctions Inc., said a portion of the proceeds were to be donated to the American Heart Association and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm educational Foundation Inc., in memory of Dorothy and John Unitas.

"I'm glad Steve Bisciotti bought it," John Jr. said. "I think it's wonderful. It belongs in Baltimore."

Bisciotti likely will put the helmet in his owner's suite at M&T Bank Stadium, where he has Unitas memorabilia in one mock locker and items in another one.

It's there that Bisciotti has a shaving kit used by Unitas, the only personal item Sandra Unitas has ever given away.

"John Unitas represents my childhood," said Bisciotti, who still has a photo taken with Unitas when he was 6 years old. "It means no more or no less than every other Baltimore fan."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.comSun reporter Ken Murray contributed to this article.

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