As a kid Brooks Robinson and Johnny Unitas were my favorite players. Brooks I saw much more of. His career lasted longer and I was just more exposed to baseball. Those games were easy to get tickets to and there were more of them to see both in person and on TV.
Johnny became a favorite because the men who I looked up to at that time spoke so highly of him. But other than watching the old films, I can’t recall any of his heroics first hand – only those I heard about. The games I do recall, Johnny was broken and battered and clearly in the December of his career.
But as the years came and went, Johnny never relinquished his pedestal in my eyes. In fact with time, he grew more untouchable and the pedestal, more elevated.
When Johnny passed on September 11, 2002, I wept, admittedly like I lost a dear friend. I channeled my sorrow into a poem, which became the song, Unitas We Stand co-written by Tony Sciuto (video below).
Johnny meant so much to Baltimore and like many of you, I took pride in hearing him regularly regarded as the “Greatest Quarterback of All-Time.” He was mine and he was yours – he was a civic pride.
As time went by, Johnny’s records began to fall one by one. With more games played and rule changes that favored passing and high scoring those that were left would surely fall as well – except for one. The DiMaggio consecutive games hit streak of football, Johnny U’s 47 straight contests with a touchdown pass.
I was wrong – that too is about to fall thanks to the accomplishments of Drew Brees.
We can argue how the game has changed and how knowledge of the record gives the pursuer an unfair advantage. Games that were well in hand, plus or minus, Brees could continue playing just to keep the streak alive. And that did happen.
So I sat in my living room on Sunday, full of venom and prepared to taint Brees’ record. In fact I did do that on Twitter, claiming that Brees’ record in the pro-passing modern era would be like a modern baseball player getting 4 strikes per at bat to sink Joltin’ Joe’s feat.
And many might even side with me on that.
But then this letter from Johnny’s son Joe surfaced on the web today and it completely diffused my angst towards Brees about as quickly as No. 19 himself would diffuse pregame chatter in a way that might make you feel silly and childish.
“Talk is cheap. Let’s go play.”
And boy after reading Joe’s letter, I sure do feel pretty silly.
October 2, 2012
New Orleans Saints
5800 Airline Dr.
Metairie, LA 70003
I wanted to take a minute to congratulate you on tying my father’s record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass. I’ve been following your pursuit of the record since last season. I’m a big fan of yours, and wish you the best Sunday night against San Diego as you try to break the record. My father always said that records were meant to be broken. I know that if he was still with us that he would wish you the best as well.
When I look back on my father’s life I remember a man who was much bigger than the game of football. The things he would appreciate most about you have nothing to do with football; it’s about who you are as a person. You’re a role model for today’s youth, a family man, and a humanitarian who cares for his community. My father would tell you these are the important things in life, not some record in a book.
Continue to be a leader for your team and the City of New Orleans. You’re a great quarterback but even better man. Stay healthy and safe this week and in the future. My family and I will be watching Sunday night cheering for you. Best of luck.