SI Vault
 
The Unitas Factor
Tom Callahan
August 07, 2006
Every young NFL quarterback owes a debt to Johnny U, who in 1956 showed how a skinny rookie could take charge of a middling team and lay the foundation for a champion
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
August 07, 2006

The Unitas Factor

Every young NFL quarterback owes a debt to Johnny U, who in 1956 showed how a skinny rookie could take charge of a middling team and lay the foundation for a champion

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6

"I thought, What the hell is he talking about?" Moore recalled. "'You're going to have to get more involved in the offense,' Raymond said. 'Hey,' I told him, 'John's the one calling the plays.' 'That's not what I mean. John's not going to throw to you if he doesn't have confidence in you, and he can't have confidence in you if you haven't worked with him. Lenny, John won't ask you to stay after practice. You've got to do it yourself. He has to know that after three and two-tenths seconds, this is where you're going to be. You've got to time it up with him. It's like music. The same beat has to be playing in all of our heads.' From then on I stayed out after practice enough to win John's confidence. 'Sput, you've got to come off that break just a half a beat quicker,' he'd say. 'O.K., John, I'll try.'"

In the huddle Unitas might ask, "What do you have?" and Moore might reply, "I can do the slant-takeoff-sideline. I'll see what else we got going later on."

"John wouldn't necessarily call it right away," Lenny said. "He'd file it in the back of his head. Raymond would come in and say, 'I can do a Z-out pattern. I can do a Q.' Most of the time John would go right to what Raymond suggested. But sooner or later he'd turn to me and ask, 'Do you think we can do that thing now?' Sometimes he'd get on a roll and just start reeling off my whole list. The angle-ins, the angle-outs, the angle-out-in, the angle-out-loop. As soon as I'd start to make my plant, I knew the ball was already in the air. I'd turn around and, wham, it would be on top of me. Three and two-tenths seconds."

Moore never stopped being astonished by how much of the field John could see, even under the worst duress. "There were 13 seconds left at Wrigley," Lenny said. "The Bears were leading us by three, and we were about 40 yards away. It had been a brutal game, typical Bears game. Alex Sandusky had to reach down into the mud to pack off John's bloody nose. His upper lip was shredded too. He was a mess. The trainer, Eddie Block, had put Band-Aids all over his face, but they weren't staying on. We get in the huddle, and John says, as casual as anything, 'Sput, you know Sixty-six?' 'Yeah, an angle in, at 12 yards, out of, like, the Sixty-two series.' 'Right. I want the line to give me the Sixty-two blocking protection, but I want you to give me the Sixty-six takeoff with a good look to the inside, like you're poised for a quick hitter. I'll make a real big pump. You make a real good head turn. Plant hard, then break to the outside and take off.'

"Sure enough, the fake drew the defensive back inside. JU laid it right out. Six points. Man, I damn near ran the football straight into the brick wall. I mean, with everything that was spinning around him at that moment, how in hell could he think of a play that we don't ever run? He had told me not just what to run but how to run it. That should have been coming from me to him. He had been watching my man all game long and waiting. He knew exactly what my man was going to do when it mattered. He saw him clearer than I did. I can't tell you how many games came down to a play like that."

Moore's man, by the way, was J.C. Caroline, the interceptor of John's first pass as a pro.

> Excerpted from Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas, by Tom Callahan, to be published in September by Crown Publishers, a division of Random House Inc. � 2006 by Tom Callahan.

1 2 3 4 5 6