Volume 96, Issue 10
Friday September 13, 2002

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The passing of a football legend
Johnny Unitas dies at the age of 69

BALTIMORE (AP) – Johnny Unitas, the Hall of Fame quarterback who broke nearly every National Football League passing record and won three championships with the Baltimore Colts in an 18-year career, died Wednesday at age 69.

Unitas had a heart attack while working out at a physical therapy centre in the Baltimore suburb of Timonium, said Vivienne Stearns-Elliott, a spokeswoman for St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson. Doctors and nurses at the scene could not resuscitate him, she said.

Unitas underwent emergency triple-bypass surgery in March 1993 after a heart attack.

"Johnny U," with his trademark crewcut and black hightops, was the first to throw for 40,000 yards and now ranks seventh, surpassed by a group of quarterbacks who played after him, with rules that make passing easier.

Unitas retired after the 1973 season with 22 NFL records, among them marks for most passes attempted and completed, most yards gained passing, most touchdown passes and most seasons leading the league in TD passes.

"Johnny Unitas will always be a legendary name in NFL history," said league commissioner Paul Tagliabue. "One of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, he epitomized the position with his leadership skills and his ability to perform under pressure."

Unitas completed 2,830 of 5,186 passes for 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns. He completed at least one touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games, a record not challenged since it was set from 1956-60.

Unitas was most valuable player twice and played in 10 Pro Bowls. He led Baltimore to the NFL championship in 1958 and 1959 and the Super Bowl in 1970.

On the NFL's 50th anniversary in 1969, Unitas was voted the greatest quarterback of all time. He also was selected at quarterback for the NFL's all-time team in 2000 by the 36 Pro Football Hall of Fame voters.

"Johnny Unitas is the greatest quarterback ever to play the game, better than I was, better than Sammy Baugh, better than anyone," Sid Luckman, the great Chicago Bears quarterback of the 1940s, once said.

Unitas was one of the few quarterbacks who called his own plays, an ability traced to his knack for reading an opponent's defence and spotting a weakness, then calling a play to take advantage.

John Mackey, the Colts' tight end during the Unitas years, once said of his teammate, "It's like being in a huddle with God."

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