December 28, 2006


Blue-Collar Colossus: When NFL athletes really played out of love of the game--a long time ago. (GEOFFREY NORMAN, December 28, 2006, Opinion Journal)

Before the kickoff, few people would have considered the football game scheduled for Yankee Stadium on Dec. 28, 1958, terribly significant. [...]

What they saw came to be regarded as a seminal event in modern sports, one that began pro football's ascent to wild popularity, Super Bowls, "Monday Night Football" and billion-dollar television contracts: Everything that the NFL became was spawned by that game. Also born that day was the pro league's first superstar: Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas.

The scene is vividly recaptured by in his biography of the quarterback, "Johnny U." In the last two minutes of the game, with the Colts trailing 17-14, Unitas completed four passes--three in a row to the future Hall of Fame receiver Raymond Berry, for a total of 62 yards. He had moved his team from its own 14-yard line to the Giants' 13. With seven seconds remaining, Colts kicker Steve Myhra put the ball through the uprights to tie the score, 17-17, pushing the game into sudden death.

The drive to put the Colts in field-goal range was agonizingly dramatic, but Unitas looked like the coolest man in America. No sign of nerves. No showboating. There was a kind of sublime, icy confidence in the way he managed the Colts' advance. It was utterly professional--and effective. In the overtime, Unitas led the Colts on an 80-yard drive--including a white-knuckle third-and-14 completion to Berry--before handing the ball to running back Alan Ameche for a one-yard plunge into the end zone and victory. This was decades before the celebrating star of a football game would pause onfield to make a paid announcement that his next stop was Disney World; Unitas turned down $500 to appear on "The Ed Sullivan Show" so that he could travel back to Baltimore with his teammates.

Posted by Orrin Judd at December 28, 2006 8:53 PM


Posted by: Bartman at December 29, 2006 8:39 AM
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