Johnny Unitas

Johnny Unitas

How Johnny Unitas Became A Leader On And Off The Field

Johnny Unitas is the greatest quarterback of all time.

It’s no coincidence that he’s also one of the greatest leaders of all time.  And some of the greatest leaders come from the most humble beginnings.

From growing up during the Great Depression, to getting cut from his first NFL team, to throwing a pick-six in his first NFL game…

Johnny U refused to give up on his quest for greatness.

Sports transcend life, and there are many lessons to be learned from the legacy that Johnny Unitas left behind.  John Unitas Jr. is the President of the Unitas Management Corporation and the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation, Inc.

John seeks to uphold his father’s legacy every chance he can, and that includes what “The Golden Arm” accomplished off of the field. Stories of work ethic, humility, and a desire to give back to the community.  In this episode of the Cannonball Mindset, we sit down with John Jr. to discuss his father’s legacy!

Humble Beginnings

Johnny Unitas was born during the Great Depression and his father passed away when he was very young.  His mother worked 2 jobs to make ends meet, and they did not have a lot of extra money. He loved playing sports, but at the same time he developed a talent for working hard; he saw that his family would need to work together in order to survive.

John Unitas Jr. understands the importance of family, and that was instilled in him by his father.  John Jr. believes that how a person responds to adversity has to do with how they were raised. People tend to get lost if they are not without proper leadership from their parents.  They don’t have that base of support they can count on.

“Consistency, persistence, being relentless in life. All those things help you move forward and help you become a better leader.” – John Unitas Jr.

People need the love, praise, and accolades from their friends and family around them.  John Jr. had this growing up. He was never forced follow in his father’s path, but he had the right framework to allow him to be confident in his own decisions.

John Jr. was a ballboy with the Baltimore Colts and grew up quickly in that environment.  It was a humble job that didn’t pay much, but he loved it. It was the camaraderie with the players and hard work that he enjoyed the most.  He eventually knew he wasn’t going to follow his father into the NFL, but the lessons he was learning along the way allowed him to withstand some of the storms in his life he would later face.

Johnny On The Field

Johnny Unitas exuded confidence on the field.  He was always the alpha dog of the huddle. You didn’t talk in the huddle unless your name was Johnny Unitas.

But this confidence was not arrogance.  He wanted to win more than anything, but he wanted to win the right way.  Johnny’s authenticity and desire to put in the work drew his teammates in close around him.  

He had high expectations for the players on his team.  Since Johnny prided himself in not only knowing his own assignments, but the assignments of everyone around him, he had no tolerance for those who didn’t know how to do their job.  You had to be prepared in order to play with him.

“As a General or a leader in a huddle or a classroom or in a corporation, you must know your personnel, you must know where you’re going.” – John Unitas Jr.

Today, there are examples of NFL organizations that prepare the way that Unitas prepared, but they are few and far between.  Pillars of success in the NFL like New England, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore are consistently great, but there are far more examples of poorly run franchises.


There is a reason that people still bring up Unitas to this day: his character left a lasting legacy.  

Every year since 1987 The Golden Arm Award has been given to college quarterbacks that exhibit the same talent, leadership and intelligence that Unitas was famous for.  There are 11 current winners of that award that still play in the NFL. No winner of that award has ever had to give the trophy back in wake of a scandal. These are men of character, just like the man the award is named after.

Johnny’s life after football was all about giving back.  And the organizations that John Jr. runs provide that opportunity.  They provide the chance for students to continue their education and do what Unitas loved: play more football.

This post is based on a podcast interview with John Unitas Jr. from the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Educational Foundation, Inc. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Leadercast Podcast.

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