“Unitas We Stand” Perhaps By Super Bowl 48
- Updated: March 5, 2013
In a season where the New Orleans Saints (7-9) were not much of a factor and, got more negative publicity than positive, quarterback Drew Brees had a pretty darn good year. Some might say he had a record-breaking season.
Entering week 5 of the 2012 NFL season, the Saints were 0-4 on the season and were hosting the San Diego Chargers. With 3:05 remaining in the first quarter and the Saints down 0-7, Brees fired a 40 yard pass to Devery Henderson to tie the game 7-7 at the end of the first quarter. Brees would go on to guide the Saints to their first win of the season with a four-touchdown, 370 yard, 110.4 quarterback rating performance.
But, it was that first touchdown of the game that Joe Unitas, the 38 year-old son of legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback and Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas, was most thrilled about. With that pass to Henderson, Brees broke a 52-year record set by daddy Unitas in 1960 when he threw touchdowns in 47 consecutive games. Brees had just thrown in 48 consecutive games.
Brees went on to throw touchdowns in his next six consecutive games until the Saints went up against the Atlanta Falcons on November 29 and lost 23-13. Nonetheless, the Brees record, now at 54 consecutive games with at least one touchdown, could very well stand up for the next fifty years this time with a new name attached to the record.
Joe Unitas spoke with Drew Brees on the sideline prior to the record-breaking game October 7 and was in attendance at the Superdome with thousands of Saints fans sitting in Section 115. Speaking to NFL.com that day, Unitas said:
“Records didn’t matter to my dad. Winning is all that mattered. He was very black and white. No gray area with him . . . The record-breaking touchdown went to No. 19 (the number his father wore)! You can’t make that stuff up. If you tried, people would just say, ‘No way.’”
Interestingly, Joe Unitas made many of the same types of comments about his Hall-of-Fame father on Monday, March 4 when he appeared with film producer Chris Braun on Fan Junkies Radio with hosts Jonathan Ragus and me. Unitas and Braun are currently in “film development” for a big screen release of Unitas We Stand, a movie based on Tom Callahan’s best-selling book, “Johnny U; The Life and Times of Johnny Unitas”, just after the Super Bowl in 2014.
To hear Joe speak about his father it is difficult to believe that we’re talking about someone many of us never saw play (except in video clips), including Joe himself. One of Johnny Unitas’s biggest accomplishments came on December 28, 1958, considered by many the “greatest game ever played.” In that NFL Championship game (pre-Super Bowl era), Unitas brought the Baltimore Colts back from a 3 point deficit in the fourth quarter to tie the New York Giants and take the game to the first-ever sudden death overtime. Unitas then orchestrated an 80 yard drive to the win the first of two back-to-back NFL Championships, 23-17.
“At the age of 25 he had just beaten the New York Giants in what people called the ‘greatest game ever played’ in the first sudden death overtime championship,” Joe said. “Up until that time professional football was number three, behind baseball and college football. Having a national broadcast for football that went into overtime in New York City and he was MVP of the game, everything came together and laid the foundation for everything we see today of professional football.”
Yet years later, Unitas would be more notably recognized for his appearance in Super Bowl V on January 17, 1971 when he led the Baltimore Colts that year to the “Big Game” against the Dallas Cowboys. Unitas was knocked out of the game in the second quarter, but the Colts persevered to win the game 16-13. Considering the length of Unitas professional career, playing from 1956 to 1973, this movie might well be four hours long.
Not so according to Joe:
“It’s really the back-story of my dad’s life. It covers his early days from age 5 until 25. You can go on-line and look up all the stats and video if you want, but I really wanted to tell the story of the things he went through as a young man, even a young boy, constantly being told ‘No, you can’t play. You’re too small. You’re not good enough,’ and him having that single-mindedness not to listen to anybody and overcome all those objections and ultimately reach his goal he set when he was in second grade of becoming a professional football player and become one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.”
So, we asked Joe how dad “quarterbacked” being a father at home to numerous children.
“Growing up he was just ‘dad’ to me. I obviously got to do some things other kids didn’t but, he also told us very early on, ‘with this last name you have, it can be a blessing; it can be a curse.’ He put a lot of work into establishing his name and he told us it doesn’t take long to screw it up so be cognizant of where you are and what you’re doing at all times because if you do get in trouble it’s . . . going to be Johnny Unitas’ son. At the end of the day, I never looked at him as this superstar quarterback.”
One might think putting together a feature film about a legendary Hall-of-Fame quarterback, who set records and paved the way for the modern NFL as we know it, would be a snap. Studios and money should be flowing. Not so fast, according to producer Chris Braun but, he’s very optimistic:
“We’re in development. We have a great script. . . We are looking for funding right now. . . Right now the ball is really starting to roll. Our goal is to release this film after next year’s Super Bowl in metro New York City. . . When you get that ‘yes’ you’re looking for, things can move a thousand miles per hour after that.”
Joe chimed in on the funding issues as well:
“It’s kind of the chicken or the egg in this industry. When you talk to the agents of the actors it’s ‘oh, are you funded . . . well, call us back when you’re funded.’ When you talk to the money people it’s ‘do you have any attachments (a.k.a. big name stars) because that would really help us get you the money.’ . . . Right now it’s all about getting the money.”
Both Joe & Chris have taken their funding efforts to the masses . . . the consumers . . . the average sports and football fans by going grassroots with social media by creating a web site, www.UnitasWeStand.com, Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest. At any of those sites everyday fans of Johnny Unitas or just the history of football and the NFL can contribute their time, talents or monetary contributions.
I mentioned to Joe that he quoted his father as saying about any movie ever made about him, “who would want to see that movie?”
Producer Chris Braun makes it clear why we do:
“This movie is bigger than sports; it’s bigger than Johnny Unitas. This movie is about the way things used to be done in this country. The way people worked hard; they never gave up. When you see this movie you’re going to see about a young man that never gave up. A lot of real horrific things did happen to him and a lot of things would have knocked a lot of people down on their rear end.”
Coming from a town where we worship a fictional character like “Rocky,” how could we not buy in to the true story of a second grader from Pittsburgh who grew up “too-small” but dreamed one day of being a professional quarterback . . . and ultimately became one of the best that ever played the position?