When you talk about the greatest quarterbacks of all-time as well as greatest players of all- time who ever played, whether they are still playing, or not you have to talk about John Unitas as well or its a meaningless conversation. Because John Unitas changed the way the game was played and introduced things that were never done before. He called his own plays, was the field Coach, everyone on the Colts teams knew who was their most important player and the one guy they couldn’t afford to lose, every team that played the Colts knew who was the one player that they couldn’t let beat them.
Without Johnny Unitas, the Colts are a solid team perhaps a winning team but with Unitas the Colts were a championship contender from the mid 1950s until the early 70s, he was their Larry Bird or Earvin Johnson, Jim Brown whoever you want to put on that list. That one guy who was the Colts MVP every year he was there practically and a guy who could’ve won the NFL MVP almost every year he played, because he was that guy he was that great the difference in the Colts winning the Championship or being a mediocre team.
The only other two guys that I would compare to Unitas after he retired as far as what they meant to their teams and how great they were would be, Joe Montana and John Elway. You take those two guys away from the San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos and you can make a very good case that both franchises are still looking for their first Super Bowl Championship.If you judge players by whether they were great or not and should be in the Hall of Fame or not, I have four standards that players have to pass just to be eligible with me.
Was the player one of the best players at his position during his career?
Was he one of the best players in the league during his career?
Would he be a great player in any era that he played and was he a great player based on the previous standards for a long enough period of time?
Typically great NFL Players play around 10-13 seasons. So for me, most players aren’t great as soon as they walk in the league. They need about three seasons to see whether they can be a great player or not, sometimes longer then that. And a lot of great players aren’t great towards the end of their career, Jim Brown would be an exception to that. So for me if a player is great 6-8 years lets say, as well as meeting the other standards I just laid out then they are a Hall of Famer as far as I’m concern. But John Unitas had all of that plus so much more. you’re not going to find a tougher QB or a better QB in the clutch. Plus the fact that he was the Colts offensive coordinator on the field. He called their plays, he invented the Two Minute Drill and made fourth quarter comebacks popular and exciting.
John Unitas wasn’t a QB but a great player who played QB. “What do I have to do to win the game”. Thats all he cared about, if you took the lead late in the fourth quarter against the Colts in the fifties and sixties with Unitas, you were probably going to lose. Because now you have to face the master and you have to figure out how to defend one player with eleven and most teams couldn’t do that. The New York Giants found that out the hard way in the 1958 NFL Championship. They tried to take away the pass and Unitas calls a trap play up the middle and Alan Ameche runs for 20 plus yards that put the Colts in field goal position. Which would’ve won the game in overtime. But they had Unitas and were thinking Touchdown and that’s why the Colts won the most important game in NFL History.
NFL Films: Baltimore Colts Johnny Unitas