Johnny Unitas, extolled in countless football arenas as one of the GREATEST QUARTERBACKS ever to play the game, was almost denied the chance to prove his talent.
Unitas began his career as field general while a sophomore at St. Justin's High School when the quarterback broke his ankle. Johnny U, it was decided, could throw the ball well enough and was moved to the QB position with less than a week to learn the entire offense. Johnny wanted very much to go to college to continue his sport and build himself a solid foundation for the future. However, his dream team, Notre Dame, was unwilling to take a gamble that his six foot, 138 pound frame would bulk up.
Unitas received an offer from the University of Louisville, and after some consideration, decided being a big fish in a small pond might be more to his advantage after all. He made a solid reputation for himself while at Louisville that got him into the ninth slot for the Pittsburgh Steelers draft of '55. Unitas was eventually told the club couldn't use him; they had too many quarterbacks. The Steelers had waited so long to let him go that it was too late for a chance of being drafted anywhere else. Johnny was left to construction work and the Bloomfield Rams, a semi-pro team that had to sprinkle its field with oil before every game to keep the dust down since there was no grass to do it.
Finally, one fateful day in February of 1956, the lucky call came. The Baltimore Colts were interested in what Johnny might be able to do for them. They saw. They liked. They bought. The $7,000 contract was a far cry from the $3 a game he had been making on his dusty field. So began a 17-year career with the Colts.
The 1958 title game in which Unitas took the Colts on two 80-yard drives to beat the New York Giants 23-17 is considered by many as the greatest pro football game ever played. Johnny U. retired in 1973 after one year with the San Diego Chargers. He left behind him records for: most pass attempts (5,186); most completions (2,830); most total yards (40,239); most touchdowns (290); most 300-yard games (26); and most consecutive games throwing touchdown passes (47). He led the Colts to one Super Bowl Crown, three NFL championships, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.
"Just be a professional, and you'll be successful."
-- JOHNNY UNITAS