Upon hearing the news this past week that Colts legend Johnny Unitas had passed away at the age of 69, current Colts quarterback Peyton Manning decided he wanted to pay tribute. He petitioned the NFL to allow him to wear Unitas’ trademark black high-top cleats in this week’s game against the Miami Dolphins (the Colts’ standard cleats are white). The NFL, citing uniform regulations, denied Manning his request. Furthermore, they ruled that only the Baltimore Ravens would be allowed to honor the NFL great with uniform alterations.
A cry went up from fans and media alike at the news of the NFL’s decision. Why not allow anyone to honor one of the NFL’s greatest signal callers? Who better to honor the Colts greatest player than their current star?
Anyone, that’s who.
Of all the people who should NOT be allowed to honor Unitas, Manning is second on the list. Though he bears the same horseshoe shaped imprint on his helmet that Johnny U did, he does not represent the same football entity.
Peyton Manning, you see, is an Indianapolis Colt. Johnny Unitas never played in Indianapolis. Johnny U bled Colts blue and white, but he bled it for the city of Baltimore. When the Colts deserted their home in the infamous “Midnight Move” in 1984, Unitas did not leave with them. He stayed true to the people of Baltimore who had adored him throughout his illustrious playing career. Upon the arrival of the Ravens from Cleveland in 1996, Unitas, like the rest of Baltimore, embraced the new franchise. He roamed the sidelines at their games, occasionally appearing on the stadium big screen to the deafening roar of the crowd.
When Walter Payton passed away in 1999, only the Bears were allowed to wear his distinctive number 34 in memoriam. Just as Sweetness belonged first and foremost to Chicago, though he touched us all, Unitas belongs to Baltimore. That’s why the Ravens should and will be the only franchise allowed to memorialize Unitas on their uniforms this season.
That said, Peyton Manning is a shining star for the NFL. Unitas probably would have been proud that a quarterback of Manning’s caliber wanted to honor his memory. It is only his role as the Indianapolis Colts quarterback that makes Manning an inappropriate eulogist.
John Elway, on the other hand, is number one on the mythical list of those who shouldn’t honor Unitas for a very personal reason. That’s because Elway, the number one pick in the 1983 draft by the Colts, refused to play in the city of Baltimore. It is widely believed by those among the Baltimore Colts faithful that if he had stayed, the team would have as well. Subsequently, Elway made Bronco-haters out of the state of Maryland.
That made his statement on Sunday (as a guest host of Fox’s NFL pre-game show) that he would help pay the 25,000 dollar fine that Manning would face if he wore the black cleats, all the more painful for those who loved Unitas most. The idea of the man who destroyed their franchise helping to honor the man who made it legit, is enough to make any Baltimore football fan shudder.
Just to add a touch of irony to all the controversy, rumors flew this week that the Indianapolis Colts might move to Los Angeles after the season. If Unitas were still with us, I’m sure he’d have a good laugh about that.
Week 2 Highlights
NY Giants 26, St. Louis 21: The fat lady ain’t singing yet, but she’s putting on her make-up. The St. Louis Rams, once the NFL’s unstoppable force, are now it’s jugger-naught. The Giants almost managed to beat them last year at this time, but didn’t quite have enough offense. On Sunday, Kerry Collins passed for 307 yards and a score, and the G-Men pulled out the win. The mantra is becoming quite simple for defensive coordinators: Beat the Rams? Beat them up.
New England 44, NY Jets 7: First they scored 30 against the Steelers on Monday night, and now this. Tom Brady and the Pats waltzed into the Giants Stadium on six days rest and laid down a beating on the hapless Jets. Bill Bellichick should make sure the words “lucky” and “fluke” stay in heavy rotation in his locker room speeches.
Buffalo 45, Minnesota 39: Seems Drew Bledsoe hadn’t had his fill of drama. After falling to the Jets in OT last week, the Bills managed to win a shootout with the Vikes in extra time. Drew and his receiving crew managed a mind-boggling 463 yards through the air, plus three touches.
New Orleans 35, Green Bay 20: Who needs a Ricky when you can let loose the Deuce?
Cleveland 20, Cincinnati 7: Tim, you can head back to the Couch. The Brownies offense never looked so delicious.
Jacksonville 23, Kansas City 16: If only someone could have thrown their helmet for ol’ KC.
Carolina 31, Detroit 7: Rodney Peete for MVP? Carolina doubles up on 2001 win total.
Arizona 24, Seattle 13: New stadium, new uniforms, new division, same ol’ horrible Hawks.
San Diego 24, Houston 3: Texans wake up and remember they’re an expansion team.
Dallas 21, Tennessee 13: Jerry Jones should threaten to cut the entire team more often.
Chicago 14, Atlanta 13: Two weeks, two lucky W’s for the Monsters of the Midway.
Denver 24, San Francisco 14: Broncos buck 49ers with smashmouth running game.
Miami 21, Indianapolis 13: If there were championships awarded by month, the Fins would be a September dynasty.
Tampa Bay 25, Baltimore 0: Can’t blame the Ravens D when the “O” puts up a 0.
Monday Night Preview: Philadelphia at Washington
Steve Spurrier already has his first NFL victory, but the Skins want to show people they’re for real. Though the Eagles will be hungry coming off of last week’s disappointing loss to the Titans, they’ll have a tough time in noisy Fed Ex Field.
Redskins 31, Eagles 24.