1956 Johnny Unitas NFL Debut Program - Colts vs. Eagles

From the book, Johnny U: The Life and Times of John Unitas by Tom Callahan. Although Unitas enjoyed a solid college career, injuries nagged him his senior year and hurt his pro prospects. When the 1955 NFL Draft rolled around, the Pittsburgh Steelers eventually took Unitas with the 102nd pick, all the way down in the ninth round.


The Steelers already had three quarterbacks on the roster, though, and the team really only planned to carry three QBs throughout the season. The Steelers' coaching staff didn't give Unitas much of a chance to show his stuff, either. Art Rooney, Jr., part of the legendary family of Steelers owners, later said, "The coaches would run the quarterbacks through drills, and sometimes the whistle would blow before John even got a turn."


The Steelers ended up cutting Unitas after the last game of the 1955 preseason. The man they felt was a better fit for the third QB job, Ted Marchibroda, only started 11 games his entire NFL career, all of them in the Steelers' dismal 4-7 1956 season. After not even getting off the bench with the Steelers, Unitas signed with the Baltimore Colts as a street free agent in February 1956.  The Colts would essentially bring Unitas into their training camp as an extra body.


On August 11, 1956, in front of an essentially sold-out Hershey crowed of 17,575, John at last made his NFL debut. 


Future Baltimore Colts & New York Giants general manager recalls being a high school freshman and getting a chance to attend the game.  Growing up in Hershey, Ernie had no affection for the Eagles and actually was became a Colts fan after seeing the Colts beat the Eagles in a pre-season game in 1954.  Young Accorsi was excited to see George Shaw perform that day in August of 1956 after coming off a sensational rookie season in 1955.


Ernie recalled, “I’m sitting on the Colts’ side with my best friend, and I’m happy, they’re winning (they ultimately won, 24-13), and then suddenly they take Shaw out and put in this awkward-looking number 19 with rubber bands on his sleeves.  The public announcer pronounces his name, “YOU-knee-tASS.”  What is this? I’m 14 and I’m bitching.  But a man sitting close to me says, "Calm down kid. You should have seen this guy in the Blue-White game." I did calm down.  I watched him closely.  I was a scout at the age of 14.  I was just a kid.  But I’m telling you, he threw lasers over the field.”


Unitas would go on to back up Shaw until the fourth game of the regular season, when he was pulled after an injury.  The rest, as they say; is history.


Offered is the program that started it all in NR MT condition!  The center roster pages are loose from program, but can be easily stapled back in. A must for any Unitas or Colts Collector!

Item: 13221

Price: $295.00
1956 Johnny Unitas NFL Debut Program - Colts vs. Eagles