This past weekend, Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints set a new record in the National Football League - 48 straight games with a touchdown pass.
He broke a record that stood for almost half a century - and, from the clips we saw, was a bit unaware of the man whose record he broke. . . .
Johnny Unitas was every child's hero in the late 1950s through the 1960s. Every kid who picked up a football imagined himself throwing a strike to Raymond Berry as the Baltimore Colts marched to another victory.
Johnny U was the epitome of the American Dream - a child of the steel mills of Pittsburgh, he was not a product of the big-college system. He did not come from a well-to-do-family. In fact, his father died when he was 4.
He spent a good, but not spectacular, college career at the University of Louisville. He was drafted late (in the ninth round) by his hometown NFL team - the Pittsburgh Steelers - but did not survive training camp.
He was playing on a bushleague team in the suburbs of Pittsburgh when Baltimore coach Weeb Ewbank summoned him to be a backup for his starting quarterback. When the now unknown starter, George Shaw, was injured early in the 1957 season, Unitas was on his way.
He was the quarterback in the "greatest game every played" - the Colts' victory over the New York Giants 17-14 in overtime in 1958. He threw an incredible 290 touchdown passes - including in 47 straight games.
Most importantly, he single-handedly is responsible for the success of the NFL today. Until Johnny U came along, the NFL was not on television regularly - it was certainly not "must see" TV. But, all of a sudden, everybody wanted to see the gambler from Baltimore - he was known for long passes on third-down-and-short yardage situations - and that sold big TV contracts and tons of season tickets.
More than an NFL legend, Johnny Unitas was a good man. When we worked for a newspaper just north of Baltimore (in York, Penn.), the word in the newsroom was that if any cause involving children needed a celebrity, Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson would appear.
Later, our niece worked in the same building with Johnny U. She never saw him play football. But she saw him day after day, smiling, signing autographs - and genially greeting co-workers in the building where he had his office.
So, Sunday, Drew Brees surpassed his record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass. We can only hope that Brees' lifetime record as an admirable, compassionate human being will equal Johnny Unitas'.
* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.