Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Johnny Unitas Student of the Game

By Chris Willis, NFL Films
Johnny Unitas, coach Weeb Ewbank and Raymond Berry watching film

Last month Pro Football Journal looked back at the career of Johnny Unitas. One additional article that was not included was one that Unitas helped write with Al Silverman of Sport magazine in 1959, titled "Block, Tackle and Think."

In the short two page article Unitas talk about the process of learning the playbook in training camp to preparing for regular season games in the classroom. During camp Unitas reveals he is given a two-inch thick binder from coach Weeb Ewbank that includes diagrams, plays and other special information. Losing a playbook would cost the player a $200 fine. Unitas talks about absorbing the playbook:

"Three days after arriving in training camp we have a 106-question exam on basic information...each man has to know his own assignment on every one of the 250 plays, with ten or so variations on each play. As quarterback, I have it a little tougher. I not only have to know my own assignment, but everyone else's too."

Number 19 then tells Silverman about the regular season routine he goes through to learn the game plans for the upcoming opponent.

"I call maybe 50 or 55 percent of the plays from the line of scrimmage after I've seen how the defenses are lined up...During the game we get to run off about 60 or 70 plays. Generally we use only about 25 different ones. Plays are chosen by the coaches and quarterbacks using films and scouting reports. They break down to the best plays to use against the enemy's particular defense."

Watching game film was a big part of Unitas's preparation for games. He would watch game film of his next opponent on Wednesday morning with the coaches. Then he would take film home and watch for two hours each night the rest of the week to get a better understanding of the defense he would be facing.

All of this preparation would make Unitas one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. And when the week was over he would spend Sunday night with his wife away from football.

"Sunday night after the game, is my one real night to relax. Then my wife, Dorothy, and I can sit down and watch our favorite television shows. It's a lot better than watching 22 men clobbering each other- in slow motion, no less!"

What would Unitas have watched on TV on Sunday night in 1959. His choices would've been:

ABC: Maverick and The Lawman
CBS: Lassie, Dennis the Menace and Ed Sullivan Show
NBC: NBC Sunday Showcase and The Dinah Shore Chevy Show

My guess would be Maverick, followed by the Ed Sullivan Show.

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