When I was ten, my team and their new owner traded away my favorite player.
The team was the Baltimore Colts, the owner was Bob Irsay, and the player was Johnny Unitas.
Johnny was pissed. Particularly because the previous owner, Carroll Rosenbloom had inked him to an extra, personal-services contract that promised to pay him another $30K a year for ten years once he retired, and Irsay refused to honor it. And so, Johnny was threatening to not report to San Diego.
Everyone was upset, including me. There were certainly plenty of reasons to feel that way.
But I grew up, and remained a Colts fan and eventually became a big fan of a guy named Bert Jones.
With the passage of time you can look at the decision to move Unitas in one of two ways: emotionally or intellectually. Or maybe both ways. Neither are right or wrong.
Johnny had played 17 seasons in Baltimore and was the face of the franchise, if not the NFL at one time. He put the city on the map in many ways. Why not let him retire a Colt?
If he had anything left in the tank, why not let him show it in Baltimore, and just let his back up, Mary Domres (ironically, acquired from San Diego just prior to Johnny’s final, ’72 season in Baltimore) wait in the wings?
While Johnny battled injuries in those final years, he was just a couple seasons removed from two trips to the Super Bowl in ’68 and ’70– and a near miss in ’67 when the Colts suffered their only loss of the season in the final game of the year versus the Rams, and somehow missed the playoffs.
Besides that, do you know what the Colts got back from San Diego in the Unitas trade? $150,000 cash in Irsay’s pocket.
Rookie running back Justice Hill may never amount to much, we’ll have to wait and see, but it’s a bit easier to accept the Joe Flacco trade to Denver when you consider the fact they netted Hill in return, rather than a briefcase full of cash.
So… while Unitas had already shown signs of decline by 1972, perhaps due to dealing with injuries, it wasn’t like he had just led Baltimore through five mediocre seasons.
On the other hand, the writing was on the wall. Johnny wasn’t entering his 11th season–it would be his 18th. The front office had completely turned over with new decision makers.
Regardless of whether in would have been ’72, or shortly thereafter, the Colts were going to need to find their next quarterback, whether that guy would be Marty Domres or the big-armed kid from LSU in the ’73 draft.
As fans, we had to have to accept the transition–even if it happened in a less than classy way.
Many of us chose to hold a grudge against Irsay, and his henchman, GM Joe Thomas. We still rooted for the Colts and held no ill will to Johnny as he ungraciously ended his career as far away from Baltimore as a player could get.
What’s all this have to do with Joe Flacco.