Sunday, Dec. 22, 2002

Johnny Unitas

Magic on Sunday Afternoon
It's a Lithuanian name, but an American imperative: Johnny, unite us! Every Sunday afternoon from 1956 to 1972, Johnny U. laced up his black cleats to mid-calf, put his helmet on over his signature flattop (so square you could balance a playbook on it) and gathered the city of Baltimore to watch the birth of modern football. While the rest of the National Football League was scrumming its way forward a few yards at a time, Unitas threw precise, elegant passes that proved how beautiful the game could be. Unitas' greatest triumph was marching the Colts to a sudden-death victory over the New York Giants in the 1958 NFL championship game. Just before handing off for the winning touchdown, Unitas completed a long sideline pass to his favorite target, Raymond Berry. "Wasn't that pass kind of dangerous?" Unitas was asked. He replied, "Nothing's dangerous if you know what you're doing."