He was a diehard Green Bay Packer fan- an attribute he had passed along to Eddie- living in a Packer Shrine in the Las Vegas desert of my youth. Packer logos everywhere in the household. A Packer helmet lamp, Packer clock, Packer wall placards and pennants trumpeting their Super Bowl I and II victories, Packer coasters ("Use 'em or get the hell outta my house!...Ok Mr. Dodge, don't blow out an artery") and more Vince Lombardi knic-knacs festooning the shelves than in the NFL Hall of Fame.
He lived Packers and if you weren't a Packer fan, you were a commie.
Actually, Pol Pot wearing a Bart Starr jersey would have been treated more civily in the Dodge household than pre-pubescent Colts fans, I'd imagined. Wouldn't have been threatened at the top of his lungs about coaster-usage, I'm pretty sure.
And old man Dodge didn't suffer any noise about Johnny Unitas being better or more important to the history of the NFL than Starr or Lombardi or Jim Ringo or Donny freaking' Anderson, not for a second- even if the topic was never broached in his household, which it wasn't (apparently Eddie would relay football discussions we had in private over Topps trade-a-thons to his dad just to give me grief, the miserable Packer-mole..)
Unitas wasn't even playing for the Colts anymore at that time and I was too young to have remembered ever seeing him play, but I certainly knew of him and all his amazing accomplishments on the gridiron. And so did Darth Dodge, as the countless derisive epitaphs he hurled at the man with the flat top would attest.
Such was the power of the Unitas Legend.
The Rosenbloom Colts were before my time. I grew up with the Irsay Colts (ie: Bert Jones, Lydell Mitchell and the slow erosion of a once-great team to a laughingstock circus of inneptitude) but being a good Coltfan I could recite Unitas lore probably as well as anyone in attendance in Yankee stadium in 1958. Knew his records, knew all his teammates. And had certainly soaked in all the countless NFL Films Unitas tributes with John Facenda exclaiming the glories of the Golden Armed One in that eloquent Thurston Howell III basso-profundo voice:
"With hunched shoulduhs and black hi-top shoes, The Mastuh Of His Domain calmly suhveyed the battlefield amidst the approaching onslaught of defenduhs.."
Woo...heady stuff, boy.
Unitas was The King.
He was the Elvis and Babe Ruth of Pro Football as we know it, but as any Ravens fan can tell you, he transcended far beyond that old #19 Colts uniform.
Unitas' acceptance of the Ravens was a Godsend to Art Modell, and he'd probably be the first to tell you that. In my mind, it was a signal to Baltimore football fans that we no longer had to feel shame and embarrassment over the scurrilous way the NFL forced us to reclaim our rightful place in the league. As much as Cleveland didn't deserve to lose the Browns, we didn't deserve to be without an NFL team, either. Like Cleveland, we had contributed too much to this league to be shunned or settle for some "museum". We were two victims for whom reparations have now finally been paid. Unitas put this league on the map, and he was all for Baltimore and Baltimore NFL football. Seeing him on the sidelines meant we were home again, regardless of the multitudes of smarmy and self-righteous media detractors.
He will be sorely missed at Unitas Stadium on Sundays, but never ever forgotten.
Unitas was the NFL's God, and if you weren't moved by his passing- regardless of your team affiliation- you're not a real football fan and I would suggest contacting Danny Snyder on the availability of Redskin tickets so you can be with your own ilk.
And sorry, Herr Dodge..
Unitas was the best that ever was.
I say so, and the world outside of your freaky Packer temple says so.
Now take this Lynn Dickey football card and John Brockington Slurpee cup and stick 'em up your green and yellow wazoo, you old fartknocker.
(R.Maniac, Rant Legend can be found moderating the AFN North Rantatorium at http://citadel.ezboard.com/fnflfrm2 Tread carefully now!)