|Thursday, September 12
Updated: September 20, 4:04 PM ET
Unitas' star rose after Yankee Stadium heroics
NEW YORK -- Johnny Unitas was remembered Sept. 12 at baseball's most historic park -- and the place where he starred in one of football's most famous games.
There was a moment of silence at Yankee Stadium before New York played -- fittingly -- against Baltimore. The Baltimore Colts' star quarterback died Sept. 11 of a heart attack at 69.
On Dec. 28, 1958, Unitas and the Colts beat the New York Giants 23-17 in overtime for the NFL championship, called by many "The Greatest Game Ever Played.'' Baltimore won it on a plunge by Alan Ameche, into an end zone that was laid out in what is now left field.
To reach overtime, Unitas guided the Colts from their own 14 in the final 1:56 of the fourth quarter to a tying field goal. It was his leadership and pinpoint passes to Raymond Berry on that drive that brought the future Hall of Famer to national prominence.
In his pregame tribute, longtime Yankees public-address man Bob Sheppard told fans, "I announced Johnny Unitas as he led the Baltimore Colts to a dramatic, come-from-behind victory over the New York football Giants.''
Sheppard, who became the public-address announcer for the Giants when they moved into Yankee Stadium in 1956, earlier in the evening said he still vividly recalled that tying drive.
"Once the Colts got the ball, it seemed like I was stuttering, 'Unitas to Berry, Unitas to Berry, Unitas to Berry, Unitas to Berry,''' he said. "I wanted to shout into my microphone, 'Will someone cover Berry?'''
Orioles broadcaster Jim Palmer recalled attending his first NFL game in 1966, the year he helped pitch Baltimore to the World Series title, and watching Unitas at old Memorial Stadium.
"I paid $5.75 for my ticket, right on the 50-yard line,'' said Palmer, the winningest pitcher in Orioles' history. "I was a flanker in high school, and I wanted more than anything to be in the huddle with Johnny Unitas, with him telling me what to do.
"He was a perfect guy for Baltimore. It was a real blue-collar town in those days,'' Palmer said.
Orioles coach Elrod Hendricks played in Baltimore near the end of Unitas' career.
"Baltimore is a football town. The Colts could do no wrong,'' Hendricks said. "And he was the biggest star of all.''
Hendricks said he ran into Unitas a couple of weeks ago in a Baltimore suburb.
"He was a very private person, and he was friend,'' Hendricks said. "I saw him on the street and I said, 'What are you doing out here, old fella?' He laughed, and said we'd catch up this winter.''