TERRE HAUTE —
Unitas was born in Pittsburgh and later drafted in the ninth round by the hometown Steelers after a less-than-stellar career at the University of Louisville.
One of four quarterbacks in camp in the summer of 1955, Unitas wasn’t given much of a shot to make the Steelers by coach Walter Kiesling.
Ted Marchibroda was the Steelers’ No. 1 choice in 1953. Marchibroda, who would later become head coach of the Baltimore Colts (1975-79) and Indianapolis Colts (1992-95), said Unitas’ presence at camp that year was hardly noticed, according to an excerpt from “Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas.”
“Kiesling was an introverted guy,” Marchibroda said, “who had very little correspondence with the players. It seemed all head coaches in the pros were more distant then, but he was more distant than most. I’m not sure Keez even knew that John was there. But to be honest with you, [veteran Jim] Finks and I hardly noticed him either. Later when we had reason to think back, Jim and I talked about it. What had we missed? Neither one of us could remember a single thing John had done.”
Unitas didn’t take the cut well.
“I have to admit, I was really, really ugly with Kiesling,” he was quoted as saying. “I called him every name I could think of. I regretted it, too … ”
Unitas later came across two job openings and took both, according to “Johnny U.” He began work with a pile-driving crew and with the Rams of Bloomfield, an inner-city enclave on the east side of Pittsburgh.
Unitas’ description of the games was similar to those offered by men who played for the Terre Haute Panthers.
“Basically, it was like pickup games,” Unitas said. “You know, you practiced maybe once a week. Half the guys didn’t have full uniforms.”