Monday, May 2, 2016

Johnny Unitas Week: Sports Illustrated

By Chris Willis, NFL Films

Over his playing career Johnny Unitas only appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice. As a matter of fact Unitas appeared on the cover of SI more times after he retired than when he was playing. Three times to two.

Issue:  October 5, 1959
Cover: Artwork by Sheldon Fink
Article: “A Stout Wall for Johnny” by Tex Maule

Unitas's first SI cover was a portrait drawing of him by Sheldon Fink. Looking stoic in the painting just a year after winning the 1958 NFL Championship Game, Unitas was featured on the cover of the magazine’s NFL Preview. Also within the issue was a full-length article on pass receiving by Raymond Berry.

Issue:  July 10, 1972
Cover:  Walter Iooss, Jr.
Article: “It’s Not Only How To, It’s Who To and When” by Johnny Unitas with Gwilym S. Brown.

An astounding 13 years went by in between covers for Unitas. The July 10, 1972 issue features a very detailed article written by Unitas, with illustrations from Gwilym Brown, about the techniques of playing quarterback.  Unitas's teachings combined with Brown's artwork makes this article priceless.

Issue:  May 7, 2001
Cover:  Walter Iooss, Jr.
Article:  “The Wrecking Yard” by William Nack

Nearly thirty years after his last appearance on the cover Unitas is the cover boy for a story on players struggling with health issues and the battle to get help from the NFL.
Little more than a year later Unitas would be gone.

Issue:  September 23, 2002
Cover: Neil Leifer
Articles: “The Best There Ever Was” by Frank DeFord; “Talking Football” by Paul Zimmerman; and “Field General” by Peter King.

On September 11, 2002, just a year after 9-11 happened, Johnny Unitas died of a heart attack while working out at the gym in Baltimore. He was 69 years old. Sports Illustrated honored Unitas with a tribute issue on their Sept. 23rd cover date that featured three articles by Baltimore native Frank DeFord, Paul Zimmerman and Peter King.

Johnny Unitas Tribute Section, Sports Illustrated Sept. 23, 2002
Photo Credit: Neil Leifer

Issue:  April 28, 2008
Cover: Robert Riger
Article: “The Best Game Ever” by Mark Bowden

Johnny Unitas cover, Sports Illustrated, April 28, 2002
Photo Creidt: Robert Riger
The last time Unitas was on the cover of SI was for the book excerpt of Mark Bowden’s “The Best Game Ever.”
Besides the odd number of appearances between his playing career and retirement, Unitas did not appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated throughout the whole decade of the 1960’s. Throughout that decade SI featured 75 covers of NFL players- not one was Unitas.

Even contemporaries at quarterback saw more cover time; Y.A. Tittle (3 times), Bart Starr (3), Roman Gabriel (3), Frank Tarkenton (6) and Joe Namath (7). Even Len Dawson, Frank Ryan and Charley Johnson appeared on the cover twice.

(Tuesday:  Annuals & Monthly Magazines and 1955 Pittsburgh Steelers/Bloomfield Rams)

1 comment:

  1. Strange about the 13 year gap in SI covers. One would think that the greatest QB of his, or possibly any, era would have warranted a cover during the Colts' dominant 1964 and 1967 regular seasons.