John Unitas no longer can pull the string on the long pass like he once
did, but he still can pull some tricks which keep him high on the list
of pro quarterbacks. He's a proud athlete who can draw deeply on a
championship background and his supporting cast at Baltimore is a good
At 6-1 and 196, he has only average size, or perhaps less by today's
standards. At 37, his age has become a major factor, particularly in
view of his injury problems. But his style and savvy continue to command
respect from rivals.
"Unitas is the master, the greatest of them all," said a star cornerback
who has faced him many times. "He does everything well. He just walks on
that field with authority. I can't see anything bad when he's healthy.
He may not throw the long ball as well as he once did because of elbow
trouble (which rendered him almost totally inactive in 1968), but he
adjusts and still gets a lot from what he has."
Another veteran defender noted, "Unitas is just one of the greatest
around. He still has to be one of the top three or four quarterbacks in
the business despite any problems he has had in recent seasons."
Unitas' credentials, of course, are peerless. At the end of the NFL's
50th year, 1969, he was selected the greatest quarterback of all time.
He was voted Player of the Decade in an Associated Press poll. Sam Baugh
thinks he's grand, too.
has completed more passes for more yardage and more touchdowns than any
player in NFL history. But as he played his 15th season in 1970,
everyone wondered how much longer Unitas can be a real factor as a
quarterback. Maybe he'll surprise some people. He's tough.
"Quarterbacks can't permit themselves to think of injuries," he has
said, "or they'll leave their game in the locker room."
What does the Unitas of the present have from the Unitas of the past?
"In his prime," said a scout, "Unitas had the fastest set-up and fastest
delivery of all quarterbacks. He's always been very sound fundamentally.
More young football players have tried to copy his style than any other
quarterback. He still sets up quickly. He is a master at reading
defenses, and he's still one of the best on the short arc pass over the
linebacker's head to the receiver. He throws most passes from the
pocket. He does not scramble too much. He is a notorious gambler. He
will throw from any position on the field or on any down. He is an
Unitas proved his gambler's instinct was still alive during the 70
season. The Colts were nursing a 7-6 lead against Boston in the final
minutes and Coach Don McCafferty told Unitas to keep the ball on ground
and run out the clock if he could. Facing third-and-1 at midfield,
Unitas couldn't resist the sight of Boston pulling its defense into
virtually a 10-man front. He audibled and popped a little pass to a
receiver for an easy touchdown.
McCafferty couldn't help grinning when Unitas came to the bench. It's
still fun to see an old master at work.