Per the AP on October 4th., The New York Mets are still in the news, and for all the wrong reasons. A trusted former team executive, three of his co-workers, and two other suspects surrendered to authorities for allegedly stealing $2 million from the team between 1994 and 2000, per Queens DA Richard A. Brown. It was accomplished through several schemes, bribes, kickbacks, and other illegal payments. It was the latest in a series of embarrassing Mets off-field foibles, including allegations of wide-spread drug use on the team. And all this while the Mets were finishing dead last in the NL East despite a $95 million payroll. If they were smart, they’d hire the one man who could set their ship in the proper direction; I refer to none other than Kevin Malone.
Story of the Week
On March 21, 2002, my article on the 1958 NFL Title Game was published, and put on my website. Johnny Unitas was a major player in that memorable game. The subject of that article was the game. The subject of this article is the recently-deceased Johnny Unitas.
From the top of his crew cut to the toe of his high-top cleats, there was nothing flashy about Unitas. His trademark wasn’t a stylish flip over the middle. It was getting off the deck, and throwing a touchdown pass. With those slumped shoulders, you’d think he had been caved in from a blitz. But he’d come back to the huddle, maybe bleeding, and do it again. The harder he was hit, the more he came back.
The Baltimore Colts liked to say that they acquired Johnny Unitas for 80 cents, the price of a phone call from Baltimore to Pittsburgh in those days. That’s true, but the real story was what Unitas was doing in Pittsburgh, running a pile driver, and playing for a semi-pro team called the Bloomfield Rams. He’d been cut the year before by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who waited until the ninth round of the 1955 NFL draft to choose the former walk-on at the University of Louisville.
When the Steelers cut Unitas, team owner Art Rooney wanted to know the reason. Rooney favored local kids, and Unitas had gone to high school in Pittsburgh. Rooney was actually told that "Unitas was too dumb to remember the plays."
All Unitas did was become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He played in 10 Pro Bowls, and was named the Most Valuable Player of the NFL three times. He also directed the Colts to three NFL titles, including Super Bowl V. He retired with 40,239 yards passing and 290 touchdown passes.
One of my favorite NFL personalities, Art Donovan, Hall-of-Fame defensive tackle and a teammate of Johnny U., remembers Unitas to be the boss, to be in total command on the field. He established his supremacy at the quarterback position, and the offense rallied around it.
Unitas was not physically imposing; in addition to his appearance, he never had the easy grace of a natural athlete. In fact, running to the huddle for his first pro start, he tripped and literally fell on his face. But Unitas possessed loads of savvy and guts to compensate.
He had some remarkable accomplishments, including a streak of 47 games in which he threw a touchdown pass. But he’ll always be remembered for his leadership in the 1958 NFL Championship Game against the New York Giants, in which he engineered a heart-pounding drive in the final two minutes to force overtime, then completed three consecutive passes in the extra period to set up Ameche’s score. This game typified Johnny Unitas.
Last Week’s Trivia
When was the last scoreless game in NFL history? What teams were the participants? The New York Giants and the Detroit Lions battled to a scoreless tie in 1943.
Trivia Question of the Week
Who replaced Satchel Paige as the oldest pitcher to throw a shutout in major league baseball? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.