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A little twist of Unitas

Join senior editor Vic Ketchman as he tackles the fans' tough questions.

Mark from Jacksonville:
You mentioned Unitas the other day and it made me think of my deceased father. He and I were both born in Baltimore and I can remember as a child the shrine my dad had honoring Unitas. In our later years we were estranged, so, I was wondering if could you share some Unitas stories you might have. It would help a son who misses his dad remember and honor him in a small way.

Vic: I'm always intrigued by how fragile history is. In other words, if you change one person or one event, you often change everything. You and your father are bonded forever by Johnny Unitas and you owe it all to a coach named Walt Kiesling. Who? Well, Kiesling was the Steelers coach who cut Unitas, and if Unitas hadn't been cut by the Steelers he wouldn't have made it to Baltimore and you and your father might be bonded by Earl Morrall. Here's the full story. After a great career at Louisville, Unitas was drafted in the ninth round by the Steelers in 1955. In training camp that summer, Dan Rooney, who played against Unitas in high school, wrote letters to his father telling how Unitas was the best quarterback on the team but that Kiesling wouldn't even give him a chance because Kiesling didn't like rookie quarterbacks. The elder Rooney questioned Kiesling about Unitas, was told Unitas didn't have what it takes and then supported his coach over his young son. Kiesling cut Unitas who then starred for the Bloomfield Rams, a sandlot team in Pittsburgh. The Colts signed Unitas off the sandlot and Unitas quickly became the NFL's dominant quarterback. I had the pleasure of playing golf with Unitas a few years ago at a charity event in Pittsburgh. His hand and arm were crippled to the point that he could barely get two hands on the club, but everything he hit was crisp. All the way around the course, I could feel his toughness. This was a real man; a guy who was cut by his hometown team, discovered under a bridge on a field of dust and stone, within two years was the star of "The Greatest Game Ever Played," pioneered the quarterback position as we know it today and retired as the greatest passer who ever lived, then lost all of his money and lived his final years crippled by the game he made popular and did so without ever losing his dignity. Unitas is one of football's true heroes. You and your father picked a man worthy of admiration.

Ryan from Jacksonville:
I recently fractured my big toe and I have intramural flag football starting when the fall semester begins at the end of August. The doctor gives me vague time periods for recovery. I was wondering that since you've been around football and injuries for many years, how long does it usually take a guy to be in running condition after a big toe injury?

Vic: I had a coach in high school who used to say, "If you don't think you're injured, you're not injured." I'm probably not a good guy to ask this kind of a question, especially after a Johnny Unitas story. Just do what the doctor says.

Matt from Jacksonville:
Have any NFL reporters, front office guys or life-long assistant coaches been inducted into the pro football Hall of Fame? Or is the HOF reserved strictly for head coaches and players?

Vic: One reporter has been inducted into the Hall of Fame every year dating back to the 1960's. Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union was inducted into the "writer's wing" of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989. His name appears in the Hall of Fame on a plaque that includes all of the inducted reporters. Each inducted reporter is his year's winner of the Dick McCann Memorial Award for "long and distinguished reporting in the field of pro football." Sportscasters are eligible for induction as a yearly winner of the Pete Rozelle Award. Myron Cope is this year's winner. The Hall of Fame is otherwise populated by owners, players, head coaches and general managers. No man has been inducted solely for his service as an assistant coach.

Anthony from Tallahassee, FL:
Hey, Vic, glad to see you made it back safe and sound from your vacation. If you don't mind me asking, what did you do during your week or so of seclusion from football?

Vic: I call it "golf camp." I need a week every year during which my only responsibilities are playing golf and re-hydrating myself. I have done this with a group of friends for a long time and it's something I target every year. Some men hunt and re-hydrate, some men fish and re-hydrate, I golf and re-hydrate.

Robert from Las Vegas, NV:
What is your biggest concern for the Jaguars in the upcoming season?

Vic: The first seven games of the season. It's a very difficult opening stretch of schedule that includes six teams that were in last year's playoffs, and four of those games are on the road. I believe the Jaguars can be a division title contender this year, but not if they start slow.

Harley from Ormond Beach, FL:
The guest editorial on 6/27 regarding the ticket situation was right on! In the past five years the Jags have hired a new GM and coach and completely restocked their player pool trying to win. Five straight years of declining sales in most businesses is enough to get the marketing and sales department fired two or three times. There must be some NFL marketing "hot shots" available. We need new creative blood in those departments. Is it happening?

Vic: OK, so now it's blame the marketing people, right? Wrong! No more excuses. The Jaguars' marketing people are experts in their field.

Joshua from Orange Park, FL:
Let's just say that Fred Taylor is healthy going into training camp and has a 100-yard game to open the season. If Fred puts up decent numbers, say 1,200 to 1,500 yards, where do you see the Jaguars at the end of the year?

Vic: In the playoffs.

Cameron from Tallahassee, FL:
On the issue of cheering in the press box, I work for the sports information department at Florida State and the press box at FSU is a no-cheering zone as well. I always thought it would be hard to suppress emotions while working at a game, especially for my school, but it was surprisingly easy. I guess it's tough to understand that we're there to work, not to watch the game and be a fan. The worst part about it now is that I can sit in the stands of a game, where I'm allowed and encouraged to cheer, and I don't make a peep. I am officially desensitized to being a fan.

Vic: You've described it perfectly. The press box teaches you to watch football. The press box is kind of like the mafia. Silence!

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