In addition to being steel and coal country, the hills of Western Pennsylvania have produced some of the best quarterbacks of all time. Today we discuss six. All were born and raised within an hour of Pittsburgh and all are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
George Frederick Blanda played 26 pro football seasons, more than any player in history, and played in four different decades. A member of the AFL All-Time Team, Blanda once threw for a record seven touchdowns in a game. Raised in Youngwood, a coal-mining town 36 miles southeast of Pittsburgh, he played for Paul “Bear” Bryant at Kentucky before being drafted by the Chicago Bears. He led the Houston Oilers to the first two AFL championships in 1960 and 1961. In 1970, Blanda was named AP Athlete of the Year after leading the Oakland Raiders to six consecutive last-minute victories. A quarterback, linebacker and place kicker, Mr. Blanda still holds 11 pro football records, including most career extra points.
John Constantine Unitas was a four-time NFL MVP who held the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass for over half a century. “Johnny U” invented the two-minute offense and revolutionized the quarterback position. The greatest player in Baltimore Colts history grew up in Pittsburgh’s Mount Washington neighborhood and attended St. Justin’s High School before playing collegiately at Louisville.
Bear Bryant called Joseph William Namath the best athlete he ever coached. A three-sport standout at Beaver Falls High School, 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, Namath was the first-round pick of both the AFL’s New York Jets and St. Louis Cardinals of the NFL. After signing a three-year, $ 427,000 contract [the then-richest in football history] with the Jets, “Broadway Joe” was named 1965 AFL Rookie of the Year. The wildly popular Namath was largely responsible for the NFL-AFL merger and engineered perhaps the biggest upset in pro football history when he directed the Jets to a 16-7 victory in Super Bowl III over Unitas’ heavily-favored Baltimore Colts.
In 14 seasons in San Francisco, Joseph Clifford Montana led the 49ers to four world championships. The eight-time Pro Bowler was twice named NFL MVP and was voted Sportsman of the Year, Athlete of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year during his illustrious career. A three-time Super Bowl MVP and 1977 National Champion at Notre Dame, “Joe Cool” was the consummate winner. Born in New Eagle, he was raised in Monongahela, a coal mining town south of Pittsburgh. Montana was an all-state football and basketball performer at Ringgold High School. In four Super Bowls, Montana threw 122 passes. Eleven went for touchdowns and none were intercepted – still an NFL record.
Born in Pittsburgh, James Edward Kelly grew up 60 miles northeast of the Steel City in East Brady. The 6’3”, 226-pound Kelly was offered a scholarship to play linebacker for Joe Paterno at Penn State, opting instead for Miami University, where he helped build the Hurricane program into a college football juggernaut. Kelly was a member of the spectacular quarterback class of 1983 – with six quarterbacks taken in the first round. Three, including Kelly, Dan Marino and John Elway ended up in Canton. A member of the USFL All-Time Team and the best quarterback in Buffalo Bills history, “Machine Gun” led the Bills to a record four-straight Super Bowls and operated the no-huddle offense better than any signal-caller ever to play the game.
Daniel Constantine Marino Jr. is a Pittsburgh guy through and through. Born and raised in the South Oakland neighborhood, he was a standout at Central Catholic before becoming an All-American at Pitt. With a quick release and powerful arm, Marino played in nine Pro Bowls over 17 NFL seasons, all with the Miami Dolphins. He led the Dolphins to the playoffs ten times and is one of the most prolific passers in history, as he rewrote the record books. A member of the College Football Hall of Fame, Marino was voted NFL MVP, Comeback Player of the Year, Walter Payton Man of the Year and Rookie of the Year during his epic career.
On this date in 1994, Jim Kelly was 13-of-22 for 130 yards in leading the Buffalo Bills to a 21-11 victory over Dan Marino’s Miami Dolphins. Marino was 20-of 43 for 212 yards and a touchdown.