John Constantine Unitas

Burial Location Visited
Timonium, Maryland April 22, 2010


With relative ease, my father and I located                                  Unitas played the majority of his career
the grave of NFL great Johnny Unitas at the                                with the Baltimore Colts, who moved to
Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens.                                              Indianapolis in 1984.


The quarterback was the NFL MVP in 1959,                                Johnny was elected to ten Pro Bowls in his
1964, and 1967. He was responsible for the                               career and is regarded as one of the best
first "two minute drill" in history, which                                      football players of all-time.
happened during the 1958 NFL Championship

                                       *** Interesting Facts ***

* Iconic quarterback Johnny Unitas, who played 17 seasons in Baltimore, grew up in another city with a monstrous football team: Pittsburgh. He was born there in 1933 and spent his childhood in Brookline and Mount Washington, two neighborhoods in the city. His father passed away when Johnny was five, and his mother had to work several jobs in order to support her family. Unitas had wanted to be a professional football player from early on, and played for St. Justin's High School during his teens. He was always interested in trying to become a better quarterback, and would read books about athletes like Sid Luckman and try to learn from them. Unitas was OK in high school, but was not exceptionally good. He was turned down by the college that he hoped to play for, Notre Dame. He was invited to attend Pittsburgh University, but could not pass the entrance exam. Instead, he went to the University of Louisville, which had offered him a scholarship.

* Unitas attended school at Louisville and played football there, but his team rarely won. He did throw twenty-seven touchdowns in his four years there, though, including a record-setting four in one game. In the ninth round of the 1955 NFL Draft, Unitas was picked by his hometown Pittsburgh Steelers. However, Unitas never ended up playing for the Steelers. Head Coach Walt Kiesling had several quarterbacks competing to be on his team's roster, and Unitas was released after Kiesling concluded he was not intelligent enough to serve as a professional QB. Before he was picked up by the Baltimore Colts in 1956, Unitas was working in construction and playing semi-pro football for the Bloomfield Rams at $6 a game.

* Unfortunately, Unitas' playing career did not start off as well as he had hoped. Taking over in the fourth game of the season for starting QB George Shaw (who broke his leg), Unitas' first pass in the pros was intercepted by a defender for the Chicago Bears and returned for a touchdown. When the Colts took the field on the next drive, Unitas messed up a handoff and fumbled the ball. Chicago took the game 58-27. After that debacle, however, Unitas did well. He scored nine touchdowns during the remainder of the season and had a rookie completion percentage of 55.6, which remained a team record until Peyton Manning posted a 56.7 in 1998.

* Known to fans as "Johnny U", Unitas ended up becoming one of the greatest NFLers of all-time. Playing in 211 games in his career, he had 303 touchdowns (13 of them rushing) and a career passer rating of 78.2. He rushed for 1,777 yards and threw for 40,239. Unitas led the Colts to two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl V following the 1970 regular season. "Johnny U" also was elected to ten Pro Bowls and was the MVP of three of them. From 1956 to 1960, Unitas threw touchdown passes in 47 consecutive games, a record he still holds today. He was elected to the NFL 1960's All-Decade Team and was the first recipient of the NFL Man of the Year Award, which has since been renamed for Walter Payton. Additionally, he was one of four quarterbacks named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. Aside from his incredible numbers, Unitas was loved by football fans for his friendly demeanor. He was also the hero of the 1958 NFL Championship Game, regarded by many as "the greatest game ever played". Down by three points with two minutes left, Unitas drove his team down the field in phenomenal fashion and set them up for a field goal, which they got. The game soon went into overtime (the first NFL playoff game to do so), and the opposing team (the New York Giants) won the coin toss. When they couldn't score, the ball went to Unitas and the Colts, who drove down the field and won the game with a touchdown run. The spectacular match was watched by 45 million television viewers and helped put the National Football League on the map with both fans and TV networks.

* In 1973, Unitas was traded by the Colts to the San Diego Chargers. After that season, he retired from professional football. Both the Colts and his alma mater, the University of Louisville, retired his number, and he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979. When the owner of the Colts moved the team to Indianapolis in what Baltimore residents have dubbed "Bob Irsay's Midnight Ride", an aggravated Johnny Unitas cut his ties with the Colts. In his later years, Unitas suffered from many health problems, the result of all of the blows he had received during his career. He even lost most of the use of his right hand, the result of his fingers being broken so many times over the years. Unitas also underwent emergency triple bypass surgery in 1993. Unitas was working out at the Kernan Physical Therapy Center in Timonium on September 11, 2002 when he suddenly collapsed. He had suffered a heart attack. Despite the efforts of nearby doctors and nurses, nothing could be done to save him. As tributes poured in from adoring fans, "Johnny U" was laid to rest at the Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Timonium.

Spouse: Dorothy Jean Hoelle Unitas (1934-2002)
              Sandra Lemon Unitas (1944-      )

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