Johnny U and the Babe

Two legends: Unitas and Ruth now are joined in one museum that should be in Camden Station.

March 25, 2002

"UNITAS we stand" -- along with Babe Ruth.

That banner (without reference to Mr. Ruth) hung proudly in Memorial Stadium during the 17 seasons that John Unitas, cool and gritty, led the Baltimore Colts and became the greatest quarterback of all time.

With the announcement last week of Mr. Unitas' decision to donate his collection of football memorabilia to Baltimore's Babe Ruth Birthplace and Museum, his legendary career will continue to speak across generations.

"I think this stuff should be here," Mr. Unitas said with typical directness. And we couldn't agree more -- particularly given that many artifacts of the Colts' more than 30 years here were taken by that thief in the night, former owner Bob Irsay, when he suddenly moved the team to Indianapolis in 1984.

Now some of the 200 items in the Unitas collection -- which include the gouged and grass-stained helmet he wore in the 1950s and 1960s -- will form a temporary exhibit in the small Babe Ruth Museum not far from Camden Yards. The exhibit is considered temporary by museum leaders because they see it filling a permanent wing of a much larger space they long have hoped to carve out of the former Camden Station, a can't-miss location by the ballpark.

The museum has the plans, exhibits and money to expand by 10 times, filling half the historic station.

But museum officials have been unsuccessfully dickering with the Maryland Stadium Authority for more than five years over moving into the badly deteriorated, almost 150-year-old station.

The authority now says state funding for $7.5 million in essential repairs is drying up; private developers may be considered. In any case, other tenants are needed.

A key factor in the years of delays has been Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos' desire to put his own restaurant in the station or otherwise have a strong say in what might join the museum there. At one point, those involved say, he blocked a state deal to bring a popular Baltimore restaurant there.

This project now should be put on the fast track. The museum and Camden Yards are a perfect pairing -- just like Mr. Ruth and Mr. Unitas.

More than just Baltimore's own, both men -- native son Ruth and adopted son Unitas -- forever changed their games.

Mr. Ruth, born above one of his father's saloons that sat where center fielders now roam Camden Yards, rescued baseball with his larger-than-life power and persona following the 1919 Black Sox scandal.

Mr. Unitas, out of the University of Louisville by way of Pittsburgh sandlots, led the Colts to the 1958 NFL championship, in what has been dubbed "the greatest game ever played" -- a contest widely credited with jump-starting our national obsession with professional football.

The two deserve to be honored together, and our memories -- of their storied careers, of Memorial Stadium, of the Orioles and Colts, and of Baltimore's rich sports life -- ought to be readily available right at Camden Station.

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