August 23, 2012

MVP Profile: Johnny Unitas, 1959

Quarterback, Baltimore Colts

Age:  26
4th season in pro football & with Colts
College: Louisville
Height: 6’1”    Weight: 190

Unitas was chosen in the 9th round of the 1955 NFL draft by the Steelers, but failed to make the team in the preseason. After playing semi-pro football, he was signed by the Colts to back up starting QB George Shaw. When Shaw went down with a broken kneecap four games into the ’56 season, Unitas got his chance, showed potential, and held onto the job. He broke out in 1957, leading the league in pass attempts (301), yards (2550), TD passes (24), and yards per attempt (8.5). The Colts contended and Unitas was selected to the Pro Bowl and received MVP consideration. It set the stage for a championship season in ’58, with Unitas leading the NFL with 19 TD passes despite missing two games due to injury and then leading the Colts to a title with a memorable overtime win over the Giants. Unitas was chosen to a second Pro Bowl and was a consensus first-team All-Pro for the first time.

1959 Season Summary
Appeared in all 12 games
[Bracketed numbers indicate league rank in Top 20]

Attempts – 367 [1]
Most attempts, game – 41 vs. Cleveland 11/1
Completions – 193 [1]
Most completions, game – 23 vs. Cleveland 11/1
Yards – 2899 [1]
Most yards, game – 397 vs. Cleveland 11/1
Completion percentage – 52.6 [5]
Yards per attempt – 7.9 [3]
TD passes – 32 [1]
Most TD passes, game – 4 vs. Cleveland 11/1
Interceptions – 14 [5, tied with Norm Van Brocklin]
Most interceptions, game – 3 vs. Chi. Bears 10/3, vs. Cleveland 11/1
Passer rating – 92.0 [2]
300-yard passing games – 2
200-yard passing games – 10

Attempts – 29
Yards – 145
Yards per attempt – 5.0
TDs – 2

TDs – 2
Points – 12

Postseason: 1 G (NFL Championship vs. NY Giants)
Pass attempts – 29
Pass completions – 18
Passing yardage – 264
TD passes – 2
Interceptions – 0

Rushing attempts – 2
Rushing yards – 6
Average gain rushing – 3.0
Rushing TDs – 1

Awards & Honors:
NFL MVP: AP, UPI, Bert Bell Award, Sporting News
1st team All-NFL: AP, NEA, UPI, NY Daily News, Sporting News
Pro Bowl

The Colts went 9-3 to finish first in the Western Conference while leading the league in total yards (4458), passing yards (2753), scoring (374 points), and touchdowns (51). Won NFL Championship over New York Giants (31-16).

Unitas continued to excel, although the Colts went into a brief decline. An outstanding play-caller as well as passer with a quick release, he was adept at throwing long, short, or in between. The 1959 season was part of a record 47-straight-game TD passing streak that ended in 1960. Unitas set then-NFL standards for pass attempts (5186), completions (2830), yards (40,239) and touchdowns (290) in a career that extended until 1973. He was an MVP twice more, was named to 10 Pro Bowls, and selected to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time team. Unitas had his #19 retired by the Colts and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Class of 1979.


MVP Profiles feature players who were named MVP or Player of the Year in the NFL, AAFC (1946-49), AFL (1960-69), WFL (1974), or USFL (1983-85) by a recognized organization (Associated Press, Pro Football Writers Association, Newspaper Enterprise Association, United Press International, The Sporting News, Maxwell Club – Bert Bell Award, or the league itself). Also includes Associated Press NFL Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year.

[Updated 2/7/14]