Johnny U Inspired Broadway Joe.(SPORTS)

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), September 15, 2002 | Go to article overview

Johnny U Inspired Broadway Joe.(SPORTS)


Byline: Dan Daly, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

R.I.P., Johnny U.

***

Three things about Johnny Unitas that got left out of the obituaries:

1. Growing up in Beaver Falls, Pa., Joe Namath idolized Unitas - so much so that friends called him "Joey U." Namath wore Johnny's No. 19 jersey for home games, but had to settle for No.29 on the road because there was no 19.

2. Colts coach Weeb Ewbank, a former Cleveland assistant, brought Otto Graham to training camp to work with the young Unitas. "Otto liked the flat stuff [that is, throwing swing passes and dump-offs to his running backs]," Ordell Braase once said, "but I'm sure John would say he learned something from Otto."

3. Before his first NFL camp with Pittsburgh in 1955, Unitas used to drive to quarterback meetings with Steelers QB Jim Finks - the same Jim Finks who's now in the Hall of Fame for his general managing exploits. (Finks, the veteran, was the one who had a car.)

"Frankly," Finks says in Ray Didinger's book, "Pittsburgh Steelers," "he did not look like that great a prospect. From the day Ted Marchibroda came out of the service and Vic Eaton proved he could play defensive back, I knew Johnny was gone [because, among other things, he wasn't versatile enough to play DB]. At times you could see he had a live arm, but when it came to calling plays and reacting under pressure, John did not look that good. I wasn't shocked when he got cut.

"At the time we were using the Clark Shaughnessy [offensive] system, which was very difficult for a young quarterback to pick up. It would have overwhelmed any rookie, particularly someone like John. He played his college football at Louisville, where he probably had to memorize three running plays and three pass plays. Consequently, he tended to be hesitant calling his plays. That overshadowed the natural talent he had."

***

Unitas' last great game, as it turned out, was against Namath. In Week 2 of the '72 season, he and Joe Willie combined for 872 passing yards (Namath 496, Unitas 376), a record at the time, as the Jets beat the Colts, 44-34. Johnny, then 39, played in only 10 more NFL games and didn't throw for more than 215 yards in any of them.

***

Memo to Peyton Manning: If the NFL won't let you wear black hightops today - in memory of Unitas - maybe you should swing by the barber shop on the way to the game and get a brush cut.

***

Kurt Warner, of course, already has one.

***

To think I was worried that the Redskins' new "ball coach" wouldn't let Stephen Davis be Stephen Davis. Not only is Steve Spurrier letting Stephen be Stephen, he's letting him be Larry Centers, too.

***

Quote of the Week: "I had a cold last week, and I was going to go take Tylenol cold medicine, but we were warned that you can't even take that now because it may have some sort of ephedrine for a runny nose." - Falcons linebacker Matt Stewart on the perils of NFL drug testing (from the Atlanta Journal and Constitution).

***

The Arizona Cardinals, you'll be pleased to know, have signed first-pick Wendell Bryant - just in time for the 2003 season.

***

Did you see Lou Holtz has been invited to join Augusta National? It was probably on his celebrated list of 107 Things to Do Before I Die - right before "cross a picket line of angry women's rights advocates."

***

Heisman voters sure can pick 'em, can't they? Eric Crouch, last year's winner, just "retired" from the Rams without playing a single NFL game, and Chris Weinke, the previous recipient, is currently riding the bench in Carolina behind Rodney Peete.

***

Trivia question: Crouch is only the sixth Heisman winner since World War II who hasn't had an NFL career (assuming, that is, he doesn't change his mind). Who are the others? …

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