Monday, May 2, 2016

Johnny Unitas Week: Sport Magazine

By Chris Willis, NFL Films

During his playing career Johnny Unitas was featured in many magazines with cover photos and featured articles. One of the more popular publications during his playing days was Sport magazine. Published monthly Sport would go on to feature Unitas prominently 7 times.

Issue: December 1958
Cover Photo: Marvin Newman
Article: “The Quarterback” (photos by Marvin Newman)

Sport Magazine cover, December 1958
His first cover, the December 1958 issue, was historical and memorable, since it was the first time the Colts quarterback was on the cover of ANY magazine.

The cover photo was shot by Marvin Newman, well-known sports photographer, who would go on to cover most of Unitas’ career, including photos from the 1958 NFL Championship Game which Unitas would help guide the Colts to the thrilling overtime victory against the Giants in the “Greatest Game Ever Played.”

Inside, the pictorial article titled “The Quarterback” featured more photos from Newman with a few paragraphs of text about Unitas’s abilities. The article also features a color photo of Unitas shot by Ozzie Sweet, Sport magazine's top photographer, whose color images of all the great sport stars of the day made Sport magazine one of the top selling magazines in the country.
Johnny Unitas color photo inside Dec. 1958 issue Sport
Credit: Ozzie Sweet

Issue: December 1959
Cover Photo:  Ozzie Sweet
Article: “This Year’s Unitas” by Ed Linn
Sport Magazine, December 1959
A year after first appearing on the cover of Sport, Unitas was back on it again. This time smiling and showing off his trademark crew cut. That same month he would guide the Colts to their second straight NFL title.  Inside Ed Linn writes 10 pages on Johnny U- one of first full-length features written on Unitas. The article features some nice photographs of Unitas on the sidelines, in the locker room and off the field. One of the best full-length articles written on Unitas. 

Issue: December 1960

Cover Photo: Ozzie Sweet
Article: “Life Among the Champion Colts” by Dick Schaap

Sport Magazine, December 1960
Credit: Ozzie Sweet
For the third straight December Unitas appeared on the cover. This time Unitas has the ball tucked under his arm. Dick Schaap’s 8-page article gives inside coverage of the two-time defending NFL champs. “Dinner with Johnny Unitas, a card game with Alan Ameche….Here, in detail, is what it’s like to eat, sleep, work and relax with the top team in pro football today" writes Schaap. Another great article on the Colts and Unitas. Very good in-depth behind the scenes look at the 1950's Colts. Included in the article are several color photos of Raymond Berry, Gene "Big Daddy" Lipscomb and Alan Ameche. "I wish there was a Caribbean League in football," said Unitas to Schaap. "Like they have in baseball. Then I could play all year." Great stuff.

Issue: December 1962

Cover Photo: Both Unitas and Jim Brown photos by Ozzie Sweet
Article: “Who’s More Important, the Passer or Runner?” by Murray Olderman
Sport Magazine, December 1962
Credit: Ozzie Sweet
For the fourth time in five years Unitas appears on the December issue. In this article Murray Olderman (NEA sportswriter) takes a poll of the 14 NFL head coaches of who is more important, the runner or the passer? The results were: Five votes for the passer; two for the runner; and seven said they had to have both in equal portions.” The two coaches who went for running were Vince Lombardi and Tom Landry. "If we had a great passer," said Lomabardi to Olderman, "maybe I would have gone stronger for the passing game when I first came to Green Bay in 1959. Somebody like Unitas. Not that we don't have a good passer (Bart Starr). But you tailor your offense to your personnel."

Issue: January 1965
Cover Photo: Bill Peterson
Article: “Johnny Unitas, Quarterback” by Ed Fitzgerald

Sport Magazine, January 1965
Credit: Bill Peterson
In the January 1965 issue Sport magazine editor Ed Fitzgerald pens an article on Unitas, which was the basis of the book the two had just written Pro Quarterback: My Own Story which was published in the same year. "When you're winning everybody wants to get on the bandwagon," Unitas said to Fitzgerald. "When you're losing, it's like a tomb out there. They're willing to let me call all the plays."

Issue: November 1965
Cover Photo: Ozzie Sweet
Article: “The Coaches Grade the Players” by Murray Olderman

Sport Magazine, November 1965
Credit: Ozzie Sweet
Another article by Olderman that polled NFL Coaches on who was the best players are their respective positions. In 1965 most of the players ranked number one weren’t surprises, Mike Ditka (TE), Jim Parker (OG), Forrest Gregg (OT), Jim Brown (FB), Merlin Olsen (DT). Although Willie Davis was voted the top spot at defensive end over Deacon Jones and Tommy Mason and Charley Taylor were voted number one as running halfbacks.

At quarterback Mr. Unitas finished number one ahead of Sonny Jurgensen, Frank Ryan, Bart Starr, Charley Johnson and Fran Tarkenton. Interesting to see the vote had Cardinals QB Charlie Johnson ahead of Vikings QB Fran Tarkenton, who wasn't quite the QB threat he was later in his career.

Issue: July 1970
Cover Photo: Unitas photo by Neil Leifer
Article: “Starr-Unitas: Why Old Quarterbacks Won’t Quit” by Edwin Kiester, Jr.

Sport Magazine, July 1970
Credit: Bill Peterson/Neil Leifer
In the July 1970 issue Unitas shares the cover with Packers QB Bart Starr. The article is pretty self-explanatory, as Kiester writes about the two future Hall of Fame signal callers at the twilight of their careers.

"Quit? What do I want to quit for? Then I have to go to work,” said Unitas.

Both players keep working to win one more championship. Starr wouldn’t get one, but Unitas would. Helping lead the Colts to a victory later that year in Super Bowl V- although he didn’t finish the game, suffering broken ribs and replaced by Earl Morrall.

Unitas is also featured on the cover of Sport magazine' special Pro Football Almanac in 1965. That issue had a “Special Johnny Unitas Section.” Titled “The Making of an Immortal” the article written by Steve Gelman, managing editor of Sport, features several nice photographs with a short article on Unitas.

1965 Pro Football Almanac published by Sport Magazine

    "I throw the long one even when I'm pretty sure it's not going to be there. I do it to shake them up. I want to let them know we are willing to go deep. It helps me out on the running plays and the shorter passes. If they worry about the big one, I have an edge," said Unitas to Steve Gelman.  

Along with the covers, Unitas was also featured in several more articles.

August 1963: “What About Johnny Unitas Rumors” by Murray Olderman.
1964 Pro Football Almanac: “Johnny Unitas’ Finest Day” by Robert Smith
October 1967: “The Johnny Unitas I Know” written by former teammate and passing combo Raymond Berry.
March 1968: “The Fearsome Foursome vs. Johnny Unitas” by Bill Libby
August 1968: “No One Stands Higher Than John Unitas” by John Devaney
April 1969: “The Longest Year of John Unitas” by Roger Kahn

(Next: Sports Illustrated)

1 comment:

  1. august 1999 Dr. z chose his all-time team for SI....and Unitas was his choice(mine also) for pre-1978 QB....terrific stuff Chris.