ShareThis Page
Yokitis recalls Unitas’ greatness |

Yokitis recalls Unitas’ greatness

| Sunday, September 15, 2002 12:00 a.m

George Yokitis remembers the late, great Johnny Unitas. Back in the late 1960s, Yokitis was an outstanding quarterback at Blacklick Valley High School in Cambria County.

“When (Unitas) came to our high school to recruit me for his alma mater — the University of Louisville — the principal thought it was the biggest thing to hit the tiny town of Nanty Glo in a long time,” Yokitis recalled. “He got on the loudspeaker throughout the school and said, ‘George Yokitis, please report to the principal’s office. Mr. Unitas is here to see you.'”

When Yokitis got to the office, Unitas greeted him by saying, “There are only two Lithuanian quarterbacks I know of — you and me. We have to stick together.”

The deal was sealed. Yokitis headed off to Louisville and hoped to follow in Unitas’ footsteps. Unfortunately, things did not work out with coach Lee Corso. Yokitis transferred to Indiana (Pa.), where he led the 1972 Indians to an 8-1 record that included a big 31-14 upset of Ron Jaworski and Youngstown State. Later, the New York Jets signed Yokitis as a free agent, and he made it to the final cut in training camp before heading to Temple Law School, where he graduated first in his class.

“I wish I had stayed in closer contact with Johnny,” said a wistful Yokitis last week in the wake of Unitas’ death. “He was a real blue-collar guy. Despite his fame, he never changed. My dad was a coal miner who made a living the hard way. Johnny had that same no-nonsense demeanor. I remember when I signed with the Jets, he called to congratulate me.”

The thing that impressed Yokitis about Unitas was not so much his arm as his footwork.

“A lot of guys have big arms,” Yokitis said. “But not everyone knows how to avoid the rush and throw with their feet and legs under them.”

Yokitis, like Unitas, was not smooth when it came to scrambling.

“I never really liked to get hit,” he said. “I would rather throw it away or run out of bounds. But I understood about sidestepping the rush in the pocket. That’s the way Unitas did it. That’s the way (Dan) Marino did it. Neither one was fast, but they sensed the rush. They knew how to avoid it to buy an extra second or so. They always had their legs under them. Rarely were they off balance, and that was key to their accuracy.”

And then Yokitis paid Unitas his ultimate compliment: “We had two pictures on our living room wall in Nanty Glo: the Last Supper and Johnny Unitas. There were times when I was not sure which one had the higher status.”

  • How is it that Steelers coach Bill Cowher can criticize Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala so bitterly for the foolish penalty he took in the game against the Patriots Monday night• Cowher also took a bad penalty while fussing at the officials in the same game. Do the players take their key from the head coach• Apparently.

    Cowher gave his team a day to make preparations for the Super Bowl last January prior to the AFC Championship Game. Do you think his club took the opposition too lightly• I do, and so do thousands, maybe millions, of others. If Cowher wants his players to be disciplined and focused, maybe he should take his own advice and look in the mirror.

  • A lot of people have said the Patriots were lucky last year on their way to winning the Super Bowl. But, Monday night’s performance by the Steelers against the Patriots make me wonder if Pittsburgh wasn’t the luckiest team (at least in the AFC) last year. Think about it: Can you really believe the Steelers won 13 games in 2001?

  • Who does Cowher think he is fooling• When questioned recently as to whether Oliver Ross was tough enough to be the kind of run-blocker necessary at right guard, the Steelers coach seemed caught off guard, even surprised at the question. He was quick to defend Ross, but after watching Ross take a good whuppin’ Monday night in New England, I would say the only guy Cowher is fooling is himself.

  • I don’t care what the television ratings showed for the NFL Monday night game — it was better with John Madden as the color analyst. Dennis Miller was a total turn off, and while Dan Fouts did a yeoman-like job as color analyst, I have never been comfortable with three commentators in the booth. Momma said it best long ago: Two is company; three is a crowd. It is no more complicated than that.

  • Going into this evening’s Steelers-Raiders matchup, who would you rather have as your quarterback: Rich Gannon or Kordell Stewart?

    Speaking of which, despite what anyone says, I do not believe Stewart is as firmly entrenched as the Pittsburgh starter as might be perceived. Cowher loves Tommy Maddox — he thinks he’s cool under pressure and has a better command of the Steelers offense.

    If Stewart screws up again, look for Maddox sooner rather than later.

    Categories: News
  • TribLIVE commenting policy

    You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

    We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

    While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

    We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

    We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

    We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

    We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

    We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.