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Johnny Unitas in NFL History

Johnny Unitas (1933-2002) was perhaps the first great quarterback of the NFL's modern era. While leading the Baltimore Colts to three championships between the late 1950s and early 1970s, Unitas became the first player ever to throw for more than 40,000 yards. A three-time League Player of the Year, Unitas set a record that may never be broken by throwing at least one touchdown pass in 47 straight games. He was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979.

Unitas' most heralded performance came in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, a comeback win over the New York Giants remembered ever after as "The Greatest Game Ever Played." The game—one of the first NFL matchups broadcast to a large national television audience—was the first pro football game ever to go into overtime. (The rules had only recently been changed to allow overtime games.) Unitas led a last-minute drive to a game-tying field goal to put the game into overtime, then marched the Colts 80 yards down the field for a game-winning touchdown in the extra period. The thrilling 1958 game helped to popularize the NFL into a major American sport in the 1960s.

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