|Manning closing in on Unitas' franchise record for touchdowns|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 18 October 2007 11:05|
The deliberate steps, the hunched shoulders, the way Manning carries himself on the field. It's pure Johnny U., almost down to the legendary 2-minute drill.
So perhaps it's fitting that the two greatest quarterbacks in Colts history are linked in the team's record books. Manning needs three touchdown passes to break Unitas' franchise record (287), a number some people, including Moore, contend does not necessarily make Manning the better player.
``I'm happy for Peyton and I mean that in all sincerity,'' said Moore, a Hall of Fame running back who played with Unitas in Baltimore. ``As a former player, I truly admire his ball playing. ...
``But Peyton Manning is no Johnny Unitas. The game has changed tremendously over the years, and if the game was played the way it is now, what Johnny U. would have done is unbelievable.''
What Unitas did then is still amazing.
Of the top 10 quarterbacks in yards passing and the top seven in TD passes, Unitas and Fran Tarkenton remain the only vestiges to the pre-merger days.
Too young to watch Unitas play live, the 31-year-old Manning still recalls his father, Archie, citing Unitas as his favorite quarterback because of his ability to run the hurry-up offense and produce heroic comebacks.
It became the model for Peyton's era. He now relies on the no-huddle as his base offense, changes plays at the line of scrimmage - like Unitas used to in the huddle - and incorporates his teammates in much the manner Unitas did.
Back then it was revoluationary. Now it's trendy.
Even the offensive components have a familiar look. Unitas relied on an array of Hall of Fame teammates such as Moore, John Mackey and Raymond Berry, while Manning's supporting cast has included Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James, the franchise's new career leaders in receiving and rushing.
Manning credits Unitas for ``defining the position'' for future generations. He once offered to wear a pair of Johnny U's trademark black hightops as a tribute after Unitas died Sept. 11, 2002. The NFL said no.
So despite the numbers, last year's Super Bowl MVP still finds it humbling and awkward to be mentioned in the same sentence as Unitas.
``I think he did a lot to change the true passing game in the NFL,'' Manning said Thursday. ``I always feel a little uncomfortable when my name is mentioned in the same statistical category as him.''
He'd better get used to it.
Already the franchise leader in completions (3,246), Manning is likely to pass Unitas for two more Colts records - attempts and yardage - in the next month. He needs 56 more passes and 864 more yards to surpass both.
And with some good fortune, Manning will soon be the Colts' career leader in victories, too. Unitas won 119 games as a Colt, while Manning has 97 wins in 47 fewer games entering Monday night.
Of course, the NFL regular season was shorted in Unitas' days.
Judging from Moore's description of Unitas, however, the two might be more similar than it appears on the field.
``Johnny studied the game and watched films,'' Moore recalls. ``He and Raymond Berry took it to the nth degree about how you can do this, when you can do this or why you should do this. Johnny called things in the huddle you just wouldn't believe.''
``I think Peyton's a one of a kind,'' Colts tight end Dallas Clark said. ``I think he really revolutionized the game by bringing the offensive coordinator type mentality to the position. Not just getting the call to him, but he has the capability of seeing something and getting us out of bad plays.''
As Manning continues to chase records, the debate among Colts fans cuts deeper than merely determining the better quarterback.
Unitas was the face of the old Colts from 1956-72 and remained loyal to Baltimore even after team owner Robert Irsay moved the franchise from Maryland to Indianapolis in 1984. When the Colts returned to Baltimore in 1998, Manning remembers seeing Unitas on the Ravens' sideline.
Manning embodies the new Colts: efficient, smart and a proficient scoring machine. Since being drafted No. 1 in 1998, he's taken Indy to the playoffs seven times, reached the AFC championship game twice and won his first Super Bowl ring in February.
Both players were rewarded with two league MVP awards.
Yet the franchise records remain a contentious subject, especially in Baltimore where many fans and ex-Colts still believe Unitas' marks belong.
``They'll be agitated saying that Johnny Unitas' record is now Peyton Manning's record,'' said Moore, another Baltimore loyalist. ``But they'll get over it.''
In the coming weeks, Manning will have a chance to catch Unitas not once but twice on the TD list.
Unitas finished his career with 290 TDs, ranking sixth all-time. Manning is seventh at 285.
But no matter the numbers, the comparisons, the mannerisms or the accolades, even Manning acknowledges he's no John Unitas.
``Mainly because of the influence he had on my dad and so many quarterbacks, you sort of keep him in his own category,'' Manning said. ``He's arguably the greatest quarterback to play the game.''