Johnny Unitas

Johnny Unitas Biography and Career Highlights

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Johnny Unitas' football career began at St. Justin's, a small Catholic high school in Pittsburgh, where he played halfback and end until he replaced the injured starting quarterback early in his junior year.

As a senior, he drew interest from some colleges, but was turned down by Notre Dame, the college he had hoped to play for.

He eventually accepted a scholarship from Louisville, where as a freshman he took over the starting job and led the Cardinals to four wins.

Unitas also played safety, but much of his college career was slowed by injury.

Considered by many to be the greatest quarterback of all time, he was cut from his first pro team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, after the head coach proclaimed Unitas was not intelligent enough to be a quarterback.

He played semi-pro ball until the Baltimore Colts offered him a $7,000 contract in 1956. When an injury to starter George Shaw gave him his first opportunity, Unitas responded by throwing an interception on his first pass and fumbling a handoff on his next play.

He rebounded that season by setting a rookie record for completion percentage at 55.6, and tossed a modest nine touchdown passes.

During his 18 year NFL career, 17 years with the Colts before playing his final season with the San Diego Chargers, he led the Colts to three NFL championships, including one Super Bowl, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

At the time of his retirement, he held records for the most pass attempts (5,186), most completions (2,830), most total yards (40,239), most touchdowns (290), most 300-yard games (26), and most consecutive games throwing touchdown passes (47). He also had three seasons of 3,000+ passing yards.

He had several laudatory nicknames in his playing days, one of them being "The Golden Arm," but he was usually referred to simply as "Johnny U."

Unitas bridged the gap between the old-time, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust quarterbacks and the modern era of QBs. He was to become the model of the modern quarterback because of his and his team's reliance on the passing game.

Unitas also came along at a time when the game was getting increasing media coverage and the game itself was well on its way to capturing the public imagination.


Career Highlights

Player of the Year: 1959, 1964, 1967
NFL MVP: 1959, 1964, 1967
Player of the Decade: 1960s
Ten Pro-Bowl selections
Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame: 1979
Named Greatest Player in the First 50 Years of Pro Football
Named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary Team

Championship Teams
1958 NFL Championship - Baltimore 23, NY Giants 17
1959 NFL Championship - Baltimore 31, NY Giants 16
Super Bowl V - Baltimore 16, Dallas 13


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Your Citation
Alder, James. "Johnny Unitas." ThoughtCo, Feb. 25, 2016, Alder, James. (2016, February 25). Johnny Unitas. Retrieved from Alder, James. "Johnny Unitas." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 21, 2017).