Meet me Monday in the commissioner’s office
High tops were good enough for Johnny U.
Steamboat Springs — Dear readers. It is with considerable regret that I inform you this may be the final column I write for the Monday edition of this newspaper. In truth, I have no desire to give up the column writing business.
However, I feel compelled to go forth and seek my destiny.
By the time you read this, I will be on a big bird winging its way to the Big Apple, where I intend to apply for the job of commissioner of the National Football League.
At this writing, I lack concrete evidence that the current commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, has left the position.
But I feel certain that he will tender his resignation before the end of the day, after presiding over what must surely be the biggest public relations blunder of the year.
When Mr. Tagliabue steps up to the microphone and sobs out his regrets, I will be there waiting to carpe the diem.
Many of you are aware that Johnny Unitas, possibly the greatest quarterback of all times, passed away last week.
The same Johnny Unitas who played for the Baltimore Colts and tormented my Green Bay Packers with those unstoppable sideline passes to Raymond Berry.
The same Johnny Unitas who stubbornly wore black high-top cleats that were meant for a defensive lineman.
The same shoes that are now encased in a cube of Waterford crystal. The same shoes that threaten to erase Mr. Tagliabue’s signature from the side of every official NFL pigskin.
Here’s the deal, in case you had not heard.
A young quarterback named Peyton Manning now quarterbacks Johnny U’s Colts. Never mind that Unitas played in Baltimore and Mr. Manning plays on an indoor carpet in Indianapolis.
The uniforms look the same, and that’s what matters.
Manning never saw Unitas fling a football in the direction of the aforementioned Berry. Yet, he remembered this week that his father, Archie Manning, also a retired NFL quarterback, had spoken of Mr. Unitas in reverential tones, and even mentioned him as being among his childhood heroes while growing up in Mississippi.
If you’ll permit me to speculate, I can imagine Archie Manning, (the father) as a child, pretending he is Johnny Unitas .
Out in the back yard on a cold November evening, when the sun has already sunk into the bare limbs of the (choose one: oak, sycamore, cypress, banyan) trees, Manning drops back.
He ducks under the rush of Willie Davis, his eyes boring intently into the eyes of his tight end, who is blanketed by Ray Nitschke.
Next, he pivots on his heel and triggers a tight spiral to the right sideline.
Berry is using his body to shield the ball from Herb Adderly as he stabs to tiptoes into the frozen turf. First down!
To get to the point, Peyton Manning (the son) had the grace this week to announce that he intended to wear black high tops during his team’s game against the Miami Dolphins as a tribute to Unitas.
It was destined to become one of the feel good moments of the entire NFL season. But then the league office stepped in.
“No, no, no,” some suit proclaimed. “Black high tops are not on the list of official apparel of the modern NFL. We cannot allow this to happen.
“If we allow Mr. Manning to wear non-regulation shoes, why the next thing you know, linebackers will be asking to wear kilts from J. Crew on game day!”
Peyton Manning (the son) had the good sense to know when to back down; he didn’t want his quest to wear the black high tops to become a distraction for his team.
This wrong must be righted. So, with mixed emotions, I plan to show up at NFL headquarters this afternoon dressed in my best (only) suit to assume my new role.
And when I’m in charge of the NFL:
n Touchdowns will no longer be awarded unless the offensive player actually touches the ball down in the end zone, just like in rugby. No more of this silly “the ball broke the plane” nonsense.
n Players who find the end zone and fail to execute a satisfactory touchdown dance will be penalized 5 yards on the ensuing kickoff.
n No more kicking of extra points. It’s a two-point conversion or nothing.
n I will ban illegal motion penalties. Offensive linemen get to wiggle their butts all they want. If the defensive players can’t stay on their side of the line of scrimmage, tough mouth guards.
n Oh yeah, and black high tops. Each year on the NFL Sunday closest to Sept. 12, all players will be required to wear old-fashioned cleats.
This column is for you, “Johnny Unitas we stand!”
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