After you're done making your way through FanNation for the day (or hour), pick up and read a copy of the new book Johnny U: The Life & Times of John Unitas by Tom Callahan. We have seen already that lots of citizens of The Nation take their sports history seriously and that's a good thing. For those who do (and those who don't, as well), you should get this book and read it quickly. If the Indianapolis Colts and QB Peyton Manning go somewhere big this season at last, you will be hearing a lot about the old Colts and their old QB. You should be ready.
Callahan has taken Unitas off the hero's pedestal and recreated the tough life and times of one of the most important figures in NFL history. Callahan tells all the stories of Unitas--scrawny, Depression era kid from the streets of Pittsburgh; Notre Dame reject; diamond in the rough at the U of Louisville; Pittsburgh Steelers' reject; Baltimore Colts backup. And then, remarkably and quickly, the story of the greatest QB in the history of the NFL. When Johnny U gets to where he's going, you're not really surprised.
We feel what it was like in the Unitas house on William Street in Pittsburgh and you feel the family struggle to make it after the death of his father. You are on the field with Johnny U at Saint Justin's High School, very definitely not the school of choice in post-war Pittsburgh. You are disappointed along with the hopeful Unitas as he longs for the Golden Dome of Notre Dame and winds up in Louisville. And you are amazed at the lack of attention paid to this talent when the woeful Steelers of 1955 give him virtually no chance to make the team.
Then it's off to a tryout with the Colts in Baltimore and a spot with a remarkable aggregation of players. Many of his teammates were veterans--veterans of the NFL and remarkably veterans of World War II. In all of sports history it's unlikely that any team better fit its community than the Baltimore Colts of 1950s and 1960s. Only the Brooklyn Dodgers of the 1950s may have come close. Callahan takes you to the players' kitchens where you might find one Colt, Unitas in fact, helping put down a tile floor, or to the bars where the players spend a bit of time together, to the locker room where the players learned how to get along, these men from different backgrounds and races and how it all came to work.
This is not only the story of Johnny U but also that of Gino Marchetti and Artie Donovan; of Lenny Moore, Raymond Berry and Alan Ameche; of Daddy Lipscomb and Jim Parker; of Bert Rechichar and Jim Mutscheller; and of Coach Weeb Ewbank and Coach Don Shula. It's the story of the Greatest Game Ever Played, the 1958 NFL championship game between Unitas's Colts and the New York Giants; and the story of the most important Super Bowl ever played, the 1969 match between Unitas's Colts and the New York Jets.
This is as good a re-creation of the formative and most important years of the sport of pro football as I've ever read. Tom Callahan has been a friend and colleague over the years, but I was never so pleased and proud to say that as when I finished this book. Have a read; I'm going back for seconds.