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Unitas statue unveiled at ceremony honoring Colts Hall of Fame players
Ravens Stadium got the Unitas touch yesterday, from the 13-foot statue of John Unitas to a ring of honor induction for Baltimore Colts Hall of Famers to an eloquent halftime address by the late quarterback's wife.
"He was very much looking forward to today and still was in awe of it," Sandy Unitas said after an elaborate ceremony honored her husband and seven of his former teammates. "He really didn't think he deserved it. That was just John. But he would have been very, very proud and thankful for the fans."
The statue of Unitas in a throwing pose was two years in the making. A sellout crowd of 69,173 watched on the SmartVision boards as Unitas' grandchildren unveiled the statue on the north side of the stadium. There were more cheers when the cover was pulled away from two new plaques on the team's ring of honor.
The plaques read, "Johnny Unitas & the Baltimore Colts," with the numbers of eight Baltimore Colt Hall of Famers. Five of the eight were in attendance, including tight end John Mackey, whose impromptu 50-yard "touchdown" run with a ceremonial ball brought a roar from the crowd.
Other former Colts on hand were running back/flanker Lenny Moore, wide receiver Raymond Berry, offensive tackle Jim Parker and defensive tackle Art Donovan.
Unitas' No. 19 Colts jersey was draped over an empty chair by his wife. He died of a heart attack on Sept. 11.
"I wish he was here," Sandy Unitas said after the ceremony, her voice cracking with emotion. "I so wanted this day for him, and for him to see it. I think he's looking down on us. I just wish he could've been here. He certainly worked hard enough for it."
The former Colts said they were appreciative of the unique honor of having their numbers posted in a stadium where they never played, by a team they never played for.
"John, yes, he deserves everything they can possibly give him," Moore said. "He certainly deserves the statue and all the accolades that go along with it. The beautiful thing is they included us in it, because they didn't have to do that. We had our days. We had our ring of honor in the old stadium. For them to do this is quite a grand gesture, and I think we appreciate that."
Moments after Mackey made an unexpected dash to the end zone upon receiving a ball from Ravens president David Modell, Moore took his and gave several jukes in the open field. Neither celebration, Moore said, was planned.
"We're not like the guys now; we don't plan activity or whatever," Moore said. "I just went on to see if I could do a couple moves without pulling a hamstring."
Berry marveled at the crowd's reaction to the old Colts.
"I think it's quite unexpected," he said. "Certainly, looking back to the years when we played here, frankly [they thought] nobody would give a flip 45 years later. That they do tells you that people have a lot of great memories and they never want to lose them."
It was left to Sandy Unitas to inject some of Unitas' dry wit into the proceedings. She said he was involved in the tribute before his death.
"He had very much input the last two years," she said. "He was very impressed that it was going to be a couple feet taller than the one in Louisville, because the birds would have more room. He thought that was great."
The Unitas statue at Ravens Stadium is the second done by local sculptor Fred Kail. The first went to Louisville, Unitas' college.
Unitas, his wife said, had a lot to say about the various elements that went into the statue.
"It meant a lot to him to have it just right," she said.
The day meant a lot to the Unitas family, too.
"The last month and a half has not been easy," Sandy Unitas said. "But I got my strength from him, because he always said if you have a job to do, you do it ... [and you don't complain]. I just kept hoping and praying to God that we could get through it in a way that would honor him the way it should."
The Ravens also have named the stadium plaza after Unitas.