UPDATE: Another evocative comment from fellow Massachusetts boy Jack Crane:
October 1970, Baltimore Colts vs. Boston Patriots, Harvard Stadium. I recall freezing my butt off watching Johnny Unitas pick away at the Pats towards victory, and Joe Kapp throwing the ball at the stars, literally straight up into the air. The Colts would go on to win the Super Bowl. The Pats could only look forward to a #1 draft choice in 1971. We would soon hear the thrilling play-by-play call at the new Schaefer Stadium, “Plunkett to Vataha!” And years later, I was cheering on my teenage hero as the East San Jose chicano kid, raised by blind parents, came off the bench as a back-up quarterback to lead the Raiders to Super Bowl victories in 1980 and 1983.
Jim Plunkett had an opportunity to drop out of Stanford and enter the Pros early. He certainly could have used the money having come from a very poor family, but decided to stay and graduate because he had been tutoring Chicano kids to work hard and stay in school, and wanted to set an example.
And how Vataha could catch a bomb floating over his shoulder without barely looking back, will always remain an enchanting puzzle…
This year’s NFL draft is set to begin in a few short hours, and, according to many pundits, it’s a strong year for quarterbacks.
Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford is widely predicted to be the first pick, while Jimmy Clausen, Colt McCoy and Tim Tebow could all be picked before the first round is over.
As a kid growing up in Brookline, I feasted again and again on Dave Anderson’s Great Quarterbacks of the NFL.
The book contained profiles of legendary QBs like Slingin’ Sammy Baugh, the Texan who doubled as a record-setting punter, Bart Starr, who overcame early career stumbles to lead Green Bay to five championships, including the first two Super Bowl. Sid Luckman, the son of Jewish immigrants who attended Columbia and led the Chicago Bears to unprecedented glory, got a chapter.
So, too of course, did Johnny Unitas, the standard-bearer from Western Pennsylvania held most of the passing records before Fran Tarkenton, Dan Marino and Brett Favre passed him.
I drank in their exploits, memorized their statistics and the anecdotes about their careers.
Someday Bradford, Clausen and the rest may inspire their own books. For now, though, when seeing their freshly scrubbed faces and neatly pressed suits, I’ll think about the legends of my childhood and the gridiron glory they earned.