I couldn't stop staring at his hand.
I couldn't stop staring at his hand. The hand that had thrown so many touchdown passesâ€”the hand that had passed the Colts to victory in the Greatest Game Ever Playedâ€”was a mangled claw. He held the Sharpie in his closed fist, yet still managed to scratch out one perfect autograph after another. He was presented with all manner of memorabilia and other objects to sign, and did so with grace and patience. One man sheepishly handed over a white cap with the words _Indianapolis Colts._ Despite having denounced the Colts' midnight move and the entire franchise, Johnny Unitas signed the hat, and did so with a smile.
Unitas had come to my workplace, an auto dealership, to help publicize a sale. It was a typical deal for a retired sports hero: Come out, meet the people, sign some autographs. God knows how many times he had been through the whole routine, but he did it once again that day with an admirable good nature.
I was introduced to him, and we spoke briefly. I wasn't exactly sure what to say to a man whose playing career ended two years before I was born, so I told him about how I'd been watching him in NFL films shows my whole life, and that I thought he was the best quarterback in history. In retrospect, I realize that someone in his position has probably heard such things thousands of times, but he simply thanked me. I didn't even request an autograph. After looking at his hand, irreparably damaged after countless collisions on the gridiron, I couldn't bring myself to ask.