Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Greatest Quarterback who ever lived...

Few people around here remember that the great Johnny Unitas was a part owner of our Arena2 football team, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Pioneers.
Years ago, the Pioneers entered afl2. Their first game at the Wachovia Arena at Casey Plaza was a sellout. I wanted to go and take my son K.C., but he was committed to attending a clinic for his Wyoming Area volleyball team. Maybe we would see the second game in the team’s history.
Suddenly the clinic was cancelled and I engaged in a mad scramble to see if I could get tickets, any tickets, to see this history making game. I called my friend State Representative Kevin Blaum, the Chairman of the Arena Authority to see if he could help. This wasn’t a shot in the dark. I knew Kevin would come through and he did.
K.C. and I met Kevin outside the Arena about three hours before game time. He introduced us to the President of the team (I don’t remember the gentlemen’s name.)
After some brief conversation, Blaum handed me two tickets.
I remember looking at the tickets and thinking, Kevin you could have done better than this. The tickets had high numbers. We were going to be sitting in the Uecker seats. We waited until the gates opened and offered up our tickets to an usher. “Right this way sir,” he said. I thought to myself that the usher was going the extra mile to escort us to seats where oxygen was going to be served with hot dogs and sodas.
My son and I followed the usher to the elevator. I asked the usher where our seats were. “You’re in the owner’s box.”
We couldn’t believe it. We were among the first fans let into the Arena so we looked around before heading to our “box.” We made our way to the owner’s box and I opened the door. Just as quickly I closed it. My mouth fell agape. K.C. was considerably shorter then and he was looking under my arm as I opened the door. He saw what I saw.
“Is that who I think it is,” I said.
K.C. is the consummate sports fan. Baseball mostly. But even as a youngster he knew the history of sports and he knew who he saw.
“Dad. That’s Johnny Unitas.”
The greatest quarterback who ever lived was in the owner’s box. Oh yeah. He was the owner. I opened the door a second time. Unitas was reading the Citizens’ Voice newspaper. He never flinched. I closed the door again.
I opened the door a third time and slowly walked in. Unitas was grinning. He stood up and introduced himself. “Hi. I’m John Unitas.”
Now I have interviewed more than my share of famous people, but the best I could do was, “I know.”
Unitas laughed and invited us in.
It didn’t take fans long to see that a living legend was in the box. They began handing him stuff to autograph. Unitas’s hands were gnarled from his career as an NFL quarterback. He had to position a sharpie marker between two fingers that you and I cannot put together if we tried.
Unitas obliged as many fans as he could, but realized he was quickly a distraction. He exited the balcony off the owner’s box and sat down inside. Not wanting to hurt the fans, he asked my son to bring items to him and then K.C. would take them and give them back to those so hungry for the autograph of the most famous quarterback in NFL history.
“But make sure it’s OK with your Dad first,” he said.
Here was Johnny Unitas deferring to me. He wanted me to look good in my son’s eyes. Of course I said, “Yes.” I quickly understood why this man was revered by so many.
After the game started, Unitas made his way back onto the balcony. My son and I were seated on the balcony pretending to watch the game, which is pretty hard to do when Johnny Unitas is a few feet away. I walked into the box to grab something to eat. K.C followed.
My son walked past Unitas, excusing himself. As he did, Unitas wound up. With one motion he quickly cracked K.C. in the rear like a teammate congratulating the running back who just scored. K.C. was lifted in the air and landed in front of me. The smile couldn’t have been bigger. He looked at Unitas and looked at me.
“Dad, I may never wash my ass again.” I laughed. Unitas roared.


David Yonki said...

The thing about Unitas (and I was a big Bart Starr guy back then) was that he would play hurt. I have seen games on TV when Unitas had everything but his liver hanging out and worked like a dog to get a good outcome. The greatest?
He's in the top 5.

Danielle said...

As much as this is a wonderful memory, the title hurts my soul.

Brett Favre will always and forever be the greatest quarterback who ever lived.