By Chris Willis, NFL Films
|Johnny Unitas, 1955 Pittsburgh Steelers|
After finishing his four years at the University of Louisville, Johnny Unitas was drafted in the 9
th of the 1955 NFL Draft by the Pittsburgh
Steelers, number 102 overall- right after Alabama defensive tackle Ed Culpepper
by the Green Bay Packers and right before Oregon State tackle John round by the
Los Angeles Rams. Witte
That summer the Steelers held their training camp at St. Bonaventure University in Allegany, New York. Steelers head coach Walt Kiesling didn’t seem too excited about the six-feet-two, 185 pound rookie.
Throughout camp Unitas did not get much practice time with the Steelers offense to show what he could do as a quarterback in the NFL. He spent some of the time throwing passes to the sons of Steelers owner Art Rooney. One of the other highlights of camp for Unitas was when a photo was taken of him showing two nuns how to throw a football.
Kiesling didn’t even let Unitas throw one pass in any of the team’s pre-season games. As camp ended Kiesling told Unitas he was being cut from the team. This did not make Unitas happy at all.
“They came down and told me ‘Coach wants to see you. Bring your notebook so you can turn it
.’ When I got into Kiesling’s office, he said, ‘We just can’t carry
four quarterbacks. It would be a luxury for that and you’d have to be able to
do something else. We’re going to let you go.’ I got a little hot under the
collar, and I told him. ‘You know, I wouldn’t mind being released or being cut
if I’d had an opportunity to play and I screwed up very badly. But you never
gave me the damn opportunity to do it.” in
Unitas left St. Bonaventure with his bag and pocketed the ten dollars for bus fare to
(some 218 miles) back home to Pittsburgh. When he arrived home
to his wife Dorothy he handed her the crisp ten dollar-bill. For now it looked
like Unitas’s NFL career was over before it really got started. hitchhiked
In 1955 the Pittsburgh Steelers finished in last place
the Eastern Division
with a 4-8 record. Jim Finks retired after the of the starting quarterback
spot to Marchibroda. season leaving
While at home in Pittsburgh Johnny Unitas did not give up on his dream of playing in the NFL. But he needed to work to help support his wife and new baby on the way so he accepted a job on a construction crew being a “monkey man” which required him to climb as high as one hundred feet in the air on a pile driver to apply lube.
|Johnny Unitas, number 45, playing for the Bloomfield Rams|
Credit: Chuck "Bear" Rogers
“I think I had only one practice with the Bloomfield Rams. We played Wednesdays and Saturday nights. We sort of made up the plays as we went along. I’d tell the receivers what patterns to trace, and I’d pass to the one who looked most open. Each team had only about three or four good players and these could do pretty much what they wanted against the rest. At the same time you might have a 140-pound blocker trying to hold off a 225-pound linebacker crashing in on you, so you had to take
punishment. But I was hardened enough
and lucky enough to escape injury. We won the championship, which was more
satisfying than the $6 a game I was getting. It was football, and I was able to
keep in practice.”
Unitas wore jersey number 45 with the Rams and played both quarterback and defensive back.
|Bloomfield Rams |
Unitas knew he could play pro ball and wanted a second chance. He was about to get it.
|Colts head coach Weeb Ewbank |
“We took pictures of John under center, and when he set up, and right at the last, when he followed through. The thing that we noticed right away was the way he followed through. It was exceptional. His arm went through so far that he turned his hand over like a pitcher. It was like throwing a screwball. When he followed through, you could see the back of his hand. I worried that he might get what they call a tennis elbow. But, boy, I saw the way he could throw and I never bothered him about it. You knew right away. We knew that as soon as learned the offense he would be our quarterback.”
the end the famous “eighty-cent phone call” did one thing. It got Johnny Unitas
to Baltimore and the rest is history.
|1956 Baltimore Colts contract for Johnny Unitas. His first Colts contract|