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John Unitas, shunned by the Pittsburgh Steelers, is the mover in the surprising strength of Baltimore. The rifle-armed kid from the steel country is the most effective passer in the NFL through the first four games


Much of the surprising early foot shown by the Baltimore Colts may be attributed to a cool, lanky youngster from the Pittsburgh steel country. There are, of course, contributing factors: a massive and mobile defensive line which puts terrifying pressure on opposing quarterbacks; a pair of rookie pass defenders who have performed much better than any rookie should, and a rookie linebacker who aids and abets them as if he had been around the league for years. But, finally, the Colts win on the same prime mover which operates all professional football teams—a great passer and ball handler at T quarterback.

For Baltimore, it is John Unitas, a tall, leather-tough youngster of 24 who was discarded by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1955 without a real opportunity to prove himself. The other day, sitting relaxed in the small apartment he rents in Baltimore, pleasantly bedeviled by Jan (2½) and John Jr. (15 months), Unitas was still puzzled by the short shrift he got from the Steelers. "I passed for three or four touchdowns in scrimmage and I got away on a couple of 30-yard runs, but they never let me play in exhibitions," he said. He is standard size for a pro quarterback—6 feet 1 and 195 pounds-and he wears his hair in a bristly blond crew cut. He smiles easily and often, and he took the chivying of his children with an easy, affectionate good nature. "I played semipro ball the rest of 1955," he remembered, rescuing a sugar bowl from John Jr. "Then the Browns were interested in me, but Don Kellett, general manager of the Colts, called and offered me a contract and I took it." Jan slipped on a throw rug and fell with a thump. Unitas picked her up and held her against his shoulder.

"The Colt offense wasn't hard for me to pick up," he said. "My college coach at Louisville teaches the same system as Weeb Eubanks. I just had to get used to making quicker handoffs because the pro backs are faster. Then coach has worked with me to teach me to throw a softer pass—hang the ball up there for the receiver, you know. This year, too, I have more confidence in myself and the team and I think they respect me, too. That helps."

Unitas has, in four games, thrown for 12 touchdowns and completed well over 50% of his passes, a phenomenal performance. He seems likely to continue as one of the best quarterbacks in the league, too.

On this particular afternoon, he put Jan down gently and pulled on an old University of Louisville sweater. "Guess I'll go look at some movies," he said. "You can learn a lot from game movies."



UNITAS cocks his arm for one of the passes which have riddled pro defenses.