Baltimore says farewell to NFL great Unitas

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

BALTIMORE -- With the wail of bagpipes filling the cathedral and his coffin covered in white lilies and roses, Johnny Unitas was remembered as "the greatest," a quarterback who made the impossible possible.

Before more than 2,000 relatives, fans and friends, the Hall of Famer was honored Tuesday as a leader who forever changed the NFL and made everyone around him better. Unitas died Wednesday of a heart attack at 69.

Former Baltimore Colts receiver Raymond Berry, Unitas' most frequent target, told the crowd his teammate was a "once-in-a-lifetime quarterback."

"You elevated all of us to unreachable levels, whether we were in the stands or on the field," Berry said.

Berry was joined at the Cathedral of Mary Our Queen by NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick and players Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Michael McCrary. Also attending were former Baltimore Colts teammates Art Donovan and Tom Matte, and Mayor Martin O'Malley.

"He was mythic," Tagliabue said. "He symbolizes football, and, more importantly, he symbolizes leadership."

Outside the cathedral, a small plane flew overhead with a banner that said, "Unitas We Stand" in big red letters. Near the coffin stood a painting of Unitas walking into the distance in his No. 19 blue Colts jersey.

Unitas' six sons were the pallbearers. Chad Unitas choked back tears as they prepared to take the coffin out of the hearse and a bagpiper played "Edelweiss."

"We remember the cheers that rang out from 33rd Street, celebrating a man in black hightop shoes," said Cardinal William Keeler, the archbishop of Baltimore, recalling Unitas' glory days at Memorial Stadium.

"He humbly and generously dealt with everyone, whether a grandson beginning to play football or a fan seeking an autograph. He led and he touched others by his integrity and loyalty."

The memorial service and funeral Mass were open to the public. The cathedral, which seats about 2,200, was filled by the time the Mass began.

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