In the twilight of his football career with the Baltimore Colts, John Unitas was repeatedly asked the question by reporters:
How will you feel if your records are broken?
Unitas' response was always the same, teammate Bill Curry said. "John would stare at the writers, shrug and say, 'The only thing that would bother me is if you stole my beer before I finished it. Then I might cry.'"
Career marks meant so little to Baltimore's Hall of Fame quarterback that Unitas wouldn't give a hoot that one of his aerial records is on the ropes, said those who played beside him.
Indianapolis' Peyton Manning needs three touchdown passes to break Unitas' franchise mark of 287, set from 1956 to 1972.
The Colts play Monday night at Jacksonville.
Never mind that Unitas' mark has stood for 35 years, Gino Marchetti said.
"He'd say, 'Somebody is going to break it someday.' That's how John was," said Marchetti, Baltimore's celebrated defensive end. "He didn't worry about honors. They were the least important thing. All he cared about was winning."
Marchetti remembers one contest in 1958 - a victory over the San Francisco 49ers - in which he was voted the game ball by Colts players. Marchetti, in turn, presented the ball to Unitas, who that day had thrown a touchdown pass in his 23rd consecutive game, tying Cecil Isbell's NFL record.
Unitas declined the keepsake.
"Don't want it," he said. "What I did was nothin'."
"John was very critical of himself, much more than he should have been," teammate Alex Hawkins said.
A week later, Unitas broke Isbell's mark, then rolled on for 23 more games, setting what is generally considered the most daunting passing record of all: 47 straight contests in which he completed a touchdown pass. Nearly five decades later, Unitas' mark still stands. A distant second is the Green Bay Packers' Brett Favre (36 games from 2002 to 2004).
"That record will not be broken soon," said Hawkins, a former running back. "It might have gone on forever if I hadn't dropped a ball in the end zone of the [Los Angeles] Coliseum in game No. 48."
Unitas passed away in 2002. Two years earlier, he had met grudgingly with a Sun reporter and deflected a litany of his accomplishments.
"I never paid much attention to records," he said gruffly. "That was for you newspaper guys."
That Manning should eclipse his career touchdown passing mark would suit Unitas, said members of the old Baltimore Colts.
"Manning is a marvelous role model," Curry said. "He and [Colts' receiver] Marvin Harrison behave, just like Unitas and Raymond Berry behaved. They go to work, do their jobs and jog off of the field.
"There are no frills, just a whole lot of wins. John would have loved that."
Unitas "wouldn't begrudge Peyton breaking his record and neither do we," Jimmy Orr said.
"He [Unitas] would be tickled to death that Manning is the one," Hawkins said. "Peyton is mild-mannered and unpretentious, the same as John. Watch the way he calls audibles, and the way he cocks his helmet back on his head, never quite taking it off."
The similarities are eerie, Hawkins said:
"I've had a dozen ex-Colts call me up and say, 'Doesn't he remind you of John?'" It has reached the point where I would swear that [former NFL Quarterback] Archie Manning didn't father that boy; Unitas had to have something to do with it."
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