oo bad we can't jump in the car today and drive to
' Golden Arm restaurant in Rodgers Forge and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1958 championship game between the
with a hearty meal and a couple of cold ones.
But don't bother steering for the York Road Plaza restaurant. If you do, you'll only be disappointed. A Radio Shack electronics store sits where the fabled restaurant once stood.
Unitas opened the restaurant in 1968 with defensive back Bobby Boyd and owned it for the next 20 years, until he sold it to Bill Grauel in 1988.
Make no mistake, first-time diners or bar patrons knew instantly they were treading on hallowed ground when entering the restaurant.
Over the 40-foot bar hung a painted mural that forever captured the sudden-death victory of the Colts over the Giants - known as the Greatest Game Ever Played - that was so ably wrought by Unitas, No. 19;
, No. 89; Alan Ameche, No. 35; and George Preas, No. 60, before a national TV and radio audience.
Football historians claim the great game put the
on the map.
Fans could also bathe in the light from overhead bar lamps, from whose shades glowed the immortal words: "Golden Arm, Unitas, No. 19."
Surely among Baltimore collectibles, the beer glasses and matchbooks carrying his name and the restaurant logo of a quarterback throwing a pass must be highly sought-after items.
And then there was always the possibility that No. 19 would show up and thrill diners, who would get a chance to shake the immortal quarterback's hand or ask for an autograph.
Unitas took a different view. He is said to have asked, "Why would anyone want to talk to me?'"
A persistent story is that Sonny Jurgenson, the
quarterback, walked into the restaurant one day, walked up to Unitas and said: "Hey, thanks for naming the place after me."
This was not a place where one would come expecting haute cuisine. Rather, it was the good old-fashioned, stick-to-your-ribs steak and seafood dinners of the 1940s and 1950s that defined dining at the Golden Arm.
It was only natural that the food gracing his tables was as big as everything else from his native Western Pennsylvania, once the land of big steel, big railroads and big football players.
Drinks were right out of a
There were Scotch-filled tumblers, mahogany-colored Manhattans, chilled martinis and tall sweating beers.
Unitas' drink of choice was a couple of Arrow beers, and that was about it.
Perish the thought of ever seeing arugula or cilantro on the menu. Salads were generally of the iceberg lettuce variety and were drenched in Thousand Island dressing or oil and vinegar.
At Johnny's place, dishes arriving from the kitchen were free of the artistic squiggles produced by a frustrated chef who wished he had enrolled at the
College of Art instead of the Culinary Institute of America. A clump of parsley or a glistening slice of lemon was all that passed for an artistic garnish at the Golden Arm.
Diners enjoyed their meals in a dining room that was separated from the bar by a latticework screen. It was finished in dark wood and leatherette seats, while in the back, a large fireplace lent a cozy air.
Brad Wines played the keyboard while operating a special-effects machine that could launch clouds of Lawrence Welk-like bubbles into the air or a Nantucket pea-soup-thick fog.
"You could get a respectable prime rib and a version of oysters casino that had its devotees. The shrimp under a generous mound of crab imperial became a favorite among regulars who jammed the place in the best days,"
said in a 2002 article.
"Whatever the menu, when the Baltimore Colts were in town and tearing up the National Football League, you'd have a tough time getting a reservation on a Sunday at the 160-seat restaurant," said the newspaper.
"Customers would stream in for brunch, then board buses for the ride from the small shopping center on York Road to
. After the game, they returned by bus, followed by some players and coaches and their wives."
The Golden Arm throbbed with post-game delirium or sadness, depending on how things turned out on 33rd Street.
"It was sort of our hangout after the game," former Colts running back Tom Matte told
. "Three-quarters of the team would come back. ... It was a meeting place."
After Unitas sold the restaurant, it stayed open until early 1995, when it served its last rare New York strip steak and Manhattan.
Giant, the shopping center's anchor tenant, announced an expansion that would more than double the size of the supermarket and claim the restaurant's space and several other businesses.
Unitas was saddened by its closing. "It was well established and catered to a great bunch of people," he told
at the time.