UNITAS WE STAND
Adapted from the book “Johnny U: The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas” by Tom Callahan
Screenplay by Joe Unitas, Nick Slatkin, and Steven Scaffidi
Produced by Joe Unitas, Steven Scaffidi, Chris Braun, and Oley Sassone
A Ghost Rider Pictures / Unitas-Braun Production
Writers Guild of America Registration: #1253320
Johnny Unitas is known as one of professional football’s all-time greatest players. One of his most memorable achievements was winning the 1958 NFL Championship.
On that day, in front of the very first national television audience (40,000,000 people), Unitas lead his Baltimore Colts down the field in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter to tie the game against the mighty New York Giants on their home field. Then when he returned to the field in sudden death, he drove his Colts 80 yards to score the game-winning touchdown to beat Giants in what has become known as “The Greatest Game of All Time”.
Even though Unitas solidified his legend that day as one of the greatest athletes to ever play the game, his journey to stardom and eventually the Hall of Fame was not an easy one.
Johnny Unitas was the son of a coal miner and he grew up sharing a very small house with his extended family in a poor part of Pittsburgh. Young Johnny’s father, who became ill from years of working in the Pennsylvania coal mines, died right in front of him when he was only five years old.
As a young boy, Johnny was always small and some would say even skinny for his age. Nonetheless, he would not be deterred in following his dreams of playing football and he developed an affinity for his hero Knute Rockne. Johnny’s goal in life growing up was to play college football for Notre Dame.
After convincing his high school coach that he wasn’t too small to play football, he eventually got his chance to start at quarterback and he made the most of that opportunity. In fact, he played so well in high school that he was invited for a tryout at the college of his dreams, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
But nothing would come easy for the young quarterback, and his dreams of playing for the team he so loved were crushed when the Notre Dame coaches thought he was too small. Johnny was devastated but not defeated and he pushed even harder to show everyone that “looks don’t count”.
After several more college rejections, Johnny went on to star at University of Louisville. Not only did he excel on the football field but he also excelled as a good teammate when the young quarterback befriended black players during a time of racial strife in the south.
After graduation, Johnny Unitas was drafted in the ninth round by the Pittsburgh Steelers. Before the season started, he was cut by the head coach who told him he would never make it in professional football.
After he was let go by the Steelers, where he was never given a chance to prove himself, he went on to play semi-pro ball on dirt lots in such disrepair that he would go home with cuts from the sharp objects that lay hidden in those fields. He was paid $6 a game. In spite of the horrific playing conditions, Johnny persevered until the Baltimore Colts finally took notice.
Johnny Unitas had a very inauspicious start with the Colts. But in true Unitas fashion, he would not be denied and got better and better each year leading up to legendary Colts/Giants championship game. It was in that game that the culmination of Johnny’s determination, guile, talent, leadership, class and winning-ways came together showcasing his greatness and eventually securing his place at the top of professional football history.
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