Unitas Vs. Montana? No Question

Jeff BerlinickeContributor IJune 19, 2009

BALTIMORE - SEPTEMBER  15:  On display are the famous black high top shoes worn by Johnny Unitas while completing his last touchdown pass as a Colt on December 3, 1972.  A jersey painted with his name and uniform number on the grass is in the background.  The Baltimore Ravens paid tribute to Johnny Unitas prior to the start of the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on September 15, 2002 at Ravens Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland.  The Baltimore Colts' Hall of Fame quarterback died of a heart attack September 11 at age 69.  The Buccaneers shut out the Ravens 25-0.  (Photo By Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

You know, sometimes being a sportswriter tends to make you cynical.

We laugh when we should be serious and we criticize when there’s really not any reason to.

The question arose recently on Bleacher Report asking us to choose between several players as to whom was the best. One of them was “Unitas or Montana?’’

I flippantly responded, “Unitas, because I am from Baltimore.’’

Stupid response. I should have said, “Unitas, because he’s by far the greatest quarterback of all-time and the clouds will cry if Peyton Manning ever breaks even one of his records. Also, Montana couldn’t carry Johnny U’s cleats.’’

No one could. Unitas’ cleats, those hightops, along with the crew cut, are only part of what made Unitas. The rest was heart, soul, and about a billion other intangibles that should put Montana or any of today’s pretty boys to shame.

I found one response to a previous comment I made regarding Unitas. Someone wrote, “Montana. He won four Super Bowls. Case closed.’’

Any fan of football knows that the NFL didn’t begin in January 1967, when the Super Bowl started. There have always been NFL champions dating back to 1933. No one can claim that Sammy Baugh, Sid Luckman, Bobby Layne, or Otto Graham weren’t great quarterbacks. They simply didn’t play during the Super Bowl era. Unitas was the best of them all during his career, and it’s unfortunate that his career peaked before the inaugural Super Bowl.

Unitas went to five NFL championships, Montana went to four. Unitas played when men were men and, only weeks before he quarterbacked the 1958 Baltimore Colts to the first overtime championship in NFL history in a game that put the NFL on the national radar, he had three broken ribs and a punctured lung that came from one of those damaged ribs.

Also that season, he broke his nose during touchdown drive against the Detroit Lions. Any pretty boy would have walked off the field and gone on injured reserve. Unitas stuck a pack of mud up his nose and kept going. Montana would have been out for the year.

Unitas invented the two-minute drill. He invented the slant, the audible and the short drop and quick release that Montana could only emulate.

Johnny U. played when quarterbacks were real men who called their own plays and didn’t throw the ball away when the Fearsome Foursome was charging straight ahead. He played in five championship games and Montana played in four. Unitas defined the quarterback position while Montana, also from western Pennsylvania, added to Unitas’ legacy.

Don’t consider Montana a hero because he won more Super Bowls. Football’s history goes a long way beyond 1967.

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