Unitas hands off to Ruth Museum

Former Colts QB donates personal memorabilia

Pro Football

March 20, 2002|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Johnny Unitas has donated his personal collection of football memorabilia to the Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum in Baltimore, forging a partnership between two of the city's greatest sports treasures.

The Baltimore Colts legend and museum officials made the announcement at the museum during a news conference yesterday.

"I think this stuff should be here," Unitas said. "This is where I played all these years. The people of Baltimore have always been very gracious to me."

Museum officials are hoping that the addition of the Unitas collection will accelerate the museum's plan to extend into Camden Station, a now empty building located next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Camden Station is owned by the Maryland Stadium Authority.

In search for more room to display memorabilia and a more convenient locale for Orioles fans, the museum started talks with the stadium authority in 1997, according to museum chairman Bob Hillman, to extend into Camden Station.

Richard W. Slosson, executive director of the stadium authority, said that monetary problems and the lack of another tenant have made the museum's extension proposal an "idle" issue.

"We would like nothing more than to get it developed," said Slosson, who admitted that the building is in poor condition inside and would require massive renovations. "We just don't have the funds between the two of us to do it."

Hillman and Michael Gibbons, executive director of the museum, said they hope to have most of the items donated by Unitas set up in a temporary exhibit at the Babe Ruth Museum in time for football season. They eventually plan to set up a Unitas Wing in Camden Station.

Unitas said he considered giving more than 200 items to the BellSouth Johnny Unitas Museum, housed in the football complex at Unitas' alma mater, the University of Louisville.

However, he felt that the memorabilia was better suited for the Baltimore museum, which originally opened in 1974 as a shrine to the baseball legend, but has since expanded to become the official museum of the Orioles and the archives of the Colts.

Among the items in the museum's possession are the faded yellow jacket he wore for his 1979 Hall of Fame induction; game film of Unitas as a high school quarterback at St. Justin's High School in Pittsburgh in 1949; the Bert Bell Award presented to Unitas for his selection as the NFL Most Valuable Player in 1967; and the single-bar helmet he wore during the 1950s and '60s.

Of the helmet, which was marred by gouges and grass stains, the former quarterback cracked: "Somewhere on there, you can see marks on there from people not doing their jobs."

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