"In my memory, a blue Lincoln pulled over," Jerardi said. "Everything's bigger when you're a kid, but it definitely was not a compact. The driver motioned me into the car, and I looked in and said to myself, 'That's Johnny Unitas.' He gave me a pleasant smile, and I was too stunned to speak. He knew that I knew who he was, and he knew I was petrified. He humored me for a few miles, until I had the presence of mind to ask him to let me off near my neighborhood. I ran home and told my brothers about it, but I'm not sure any of them believed me."
Cameron C. Snyder
Snyder, 86, first covered pro football for The Sun in 1950 and reported on Unitas' entire career in Baltimore. On the beat in 1956, he eyed a skinny quarterback prospect and thought, "No wonder Pittsburgh got rid of him." Just as modern newspapermen waited for comment from Cal Ripken Jr., Unitas unwound with some of the longest showers in the business. After one game Snyder got impatient, went searching and found Unitas under a shower head, being interviewed by John Steadman of the rival News-Post.
The recipient of the last touchdown pass thrown by Unitas in Baltimore, Hinton doesn't consider their most vivid connection to be the simple crossing pattern that he converted into a 63-yard score on Dec. 3, 1972.
Hinton had been a star back at Oklahoma and had a rocky adjustment to wide receiver. The Colts won Super Bowl V in his second season with them, in 1970, but it was a trying year for Unitas. Three days after Thanksgiving, he rallied the Colts from a 17-0 deficit for a 21-20 win over Chicago despite five interceptions and a jittery Hinton, who had two drops on the Colts' second touchdown drive.
"John was always Mr. Unitas to me," said Hinton, who named his Texas real estate company Colts Development. "In that drive, John threw a perfect pass, and I dropped it between my legs. He called the same play, a 15-yard curl, and I dropped another perfect pass. On fourth down, he waves off the field-goal unit. He calls my number, and I made a one-handed catch on the sideline for a first down at the Bears' 7. We score, and I am emotionally distraught. I said, 'Mr. Unitas, why did you go to me a third time?' He said, 'Because I knew you were going to catch the damned ball.' "
Unitas scorned the Indianapolis Colts but had a soft spot for an employee of the Irsays. As a boy in New Orleans, Kelley idolized Unitas from the day his father brought home his autographed photo. The adulation grew as Kelley became a sports publicist, for none other than Indianapolis. When Unitas appeared at a 1997 fund-raiser in Richmond, Ind., Kelley offered to take him to the airport in Dayton, Ohio, 65 miles away.
"I told him my name, what I did, and he was fabulous company," Kelley said. "The hour trip went by in four minutes. A year later, the Colts played the Ravens in Baltimore. I was the advance man, and checked into my hotel in the Inner Harbor late Wednesday night. I called John and asked if we could arrange to meet for lunch that Friday. He said, 'Why don't you just come out to the house tomorrow?' He meant Thanksgiving dinner with his family.
"He gave me directions to the house in Baldwin. I couldn't sleep, so I drove the route at 4 a.m. to make sure I wouldn't get lost, then went back to the hotel. He was smoking a turkey when I arrived. He asked if I wanted to see his memento room. Two hours later I walked out and said, 'Wow.' "