The injury is a severe case of what is ordinarily called "tennis elbow." There has been a tear in the muscles on the inside of the right elbow. The tear is healing, but the soreness remains. "Many baseball pitchers, jack-hammer operators and tennis players eventually get this type of injury," says Baltimore Trainer Eddie Block. "It simply comes from overuse of the arm. Unitas throws with a whipping motion, his wrist snapping down. For years he has thrown as he was about to get hit, with his mind giving him the signal to get rid of the ball and his arm—moving sharply—adding to the stress. Throwing a ball is an unnatural motion. We've used cortisone, heat and everything else on his elbow. The only way to cure it entirely is for him to stop playing football."
Many quarterbacks, including Unitas, have played with the pain of a tennis elbow that has not quite become a torn muscle. Morrall has had a touch of it, himself. He throws with a motion similar to that of Unitas—the wrist rolling counterclockwise down and out so that the palm faces outward. "But my arm feels fine now," he says.
Morrall's problem has been not his arm but his knowledge of the Baltimore offensive system. "As one example, all the teams I had played for numbered the even holes to the left and odd to the right on running plays," Morrall says. "That may not sound difficult, but it was hammered into me for years. Baltimore does it the opposite. Now and then I find myself thinking I've called a fullback sweep to the right. I turn and nobody is there. They've gone to the left." That happened on a third and one against Chicago two weeks ago, and Morrall tossed the ball to a surprised Tom Matte, who made the first down. "Matte and the others help me in the huddle if they think I've called the wrong play. I began to notice that Matte stands there in the huddle wiggling the fingers on his right hand. I thought he was trying to remind me that evens are to the right, so I used that as a memory aid. Later I discovered it was just a nervous mannerism."
Provided Unitas does come back to his former stylishness—and the betting is that he will—Morrall is prepared to surrender the job despite his ranking among the league's leading passers. "I know what will happen when John gets ready," says Morrall. "He'll be back in there. He should be. My role is to do as well as I can, to do my share. This is a good team with a lot of depth, and I enjoyed being a part of it. You know, there's no certainty John's tendonitis won't recur."
"John will need to build up the strength in his arm and regain his timing," Shula says. "Whether he will start next week depends on how well he does in practice. I've told him to stop the moment his arm hurts too much."
Unitas called three passes against San Francisco. One was the six-yard touch-down to John Mackey, one was dropped, and on the third Unitas was tackled while waiting for a flanker to clear on a long pattern. He intended to see if the arm would take it. "This is like starting in the first exhibition game after being off a whole season," says Unitas. "My arm hurt, but I suppose it always will."
"It's too soon to tell what John may do," Shula says. "Meanwhile, I'm glad we have a guy like Earl Morrall." And when the Colts are far enough ahead, what a remarkable substitute is waiting for Shula to beckon—whether his name is Unitas or Morrall.