Strange But True: Rags to Riches

He began as a skinny young quarterback at St. Justin High School in Pittsburgh. Although he was good enough to be chosen for the all-Catholic team, no college seemed interested in giving him a football scholarship. And he could never afford to pay his own way through college. His mother delivered coal in the winter and scrubbed office floors during the summer. His father was dead.

Then the young man was invited to try out at the University of Louisville. The coach liked what he saw and awarded him a scholarship. The kid was pretty good, but certainly no college star.

In the college draft 200 players were picked ahead of him before the Pittsburgh Steelers called his name. But Pitt already had three quarterbacks and he was cut. At that point only the Cleveland Browns showed any interest, and they told him to try out the following year.

The young man never gave up on himself. To keep in shape he played sandlot football with the Bloomfield Rams for six dollars a game. He was noticed by Don Kellett, and executive with the Baltimore Colts, who saw him play and signed him with the team. But the rookie sat on the bench for the first four games. When the first-string quarterback was hurt, coach Webb Ewbank sent the sub into action.

The youngster nobody wanted went on to become one of the greatest passers in the history of football. When he retired in 1973, he held numerous records, and was later inducted into the Hall of Fame.

His name? Why, Johnny Unitas–Mr. Quarterback!

From The Giant Book of More Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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  1. Seems Unitas really wanted to play for Notre Dame, but the head coach told the 6’1″, 145 pound string bean that he would “get murdered” if he was put on the field.
    Also it looks like Unitas tried out for the Colts when one of his Bloomfield teammates was going to try and out encouraged Unitas to come along.  According to that teammate, Unitas’ uncle told him not to go to the tryout because if he didn’t make the team he’d probably get passed by everyone else.

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