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Remembering Johnny U

Lombardi's Way Remembering Johnny U

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I had a bit of a restless night last night with sleep arriving only in tattered bits and pieces. Instead of having my fiancé share in the restlessness, I dragged my weary butt out of bed and of course made my way to the computer.

While surfing around and looking for interesting topics I discovered a video dedicated to the memory of Johnny Unitas. After watching it I paused and admittedly felt a bit cheated that I really didn’t have a chance to fully embrace this man’s excellence.  His great years were behind him by the time I really developed an understanding for the game of football. Thankfully video clips like the one below do exist…

I was raised to revere Johnny U. He was a god-like figure in Baltimore and in many ways he still is.  I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Johnny a couple of times and what a genuine guy he was.  He had a way of making you feel as though he was as much honored by your acquaintance as you were his.

I don’t recall exactly when it was but there was an article written by Frank Deford in Sports Illustrated that chronicled the pain and suffering Johnny experienced after football as a result of on-the-field battle wounds. Towards the end, Johnny struggled with simple task like buttoning his shirt, tying his shoes and gripping a golf club. 

One of Deford’s resonating points made in the article was how the NFL turned its collective back on a man who perhaps more so than any other player in the game’s history helped to make the game what it is today.  The league refused to aid Johnny in the way he deserved claiming that Unitas’ physical ailments were no longer their responsibility.  It is behavior like this from the league that drives my friend Bruce Laird’s crusade against the NFL for the benefit of retired players far worse off than Johnny prior to his passing.

The day Unitas left us and this state of consciousness, I was driving along Long Green Pike on my way to pick up the kids from school at St. John’s. The news stunned me.  The drive from that point forward was surreal. I felt like I lost a dear friend. We all lost a friend.

Later that night I wrote a poem about Johnny which I later shared with a friend of mine who in turn would share with another friend, recording artist Tony Sciuto. Tony put a tune to the poem and the song Unitas We Stand was born – a song that moved Johnny’s wife Sandy to tears.

With the help of the good people of Ravens Roost 50, we tried to market the song and use the proceeds to help the Ed Block Courage Foundation. The efforts were eventually thwarted by John Unitas, Jr. who insisted that his foundation receive all of the proceeds. After many attempts to reach a comprise John Jr. was simply not willing to concede anything.  The project was left to rot as Jr. refused to grant us permission to do anything with the song since the name Unitas, a copyrighted name, was used prominently throughout the song.

Time, money and hope for a promising project were lost.

Yet our memories remain and they are strengthened and preserved by videos like the one below.  I hope you enjoy it as I did. 

Now, I think it’s time for a nap.

Enjoy your weekend…
 
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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan. A diehard Fab Four fan, Tony is a frustrated musician who thinks beating on the steering wheel is akin to being John Bonham. Follow Tony on Twitter @RussellStReport. More from Tony Lombardi

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