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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The statue of former University of Louisville quarterback Johnny Unitas will continue to overlook the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium field, albeit from a different location.
The statue, which has been a focal point in the north end zone at field level since the stadium opened in 1998, had to be relocated with the “Coming Full Circle” stadium expansion that will add 10,000 chairback seats, dramatically enhance the football complex, and create a unique look in the end zone.
The statue’s new perch on the Norton Terrace at the elevated south end of the stadium will continue to have Unitas loom over the stadium field and also allow Cardinal fans an opportunity to view and photograph the statue up close. It previously had been positioned in an area inaccessible to the public.
“We asked our fans for input into options on where we would relocate this wonderful representation of one of the greatest football players in history,” said Tom Jurich, UofL Vice President and Director of Athletics. “This placement overlooking the field will continue to celebrate Johnny Unitas’ legacy and will also grant our fans better viewing options. His work on the football field is immortalized by a statue in our stadium, but Johnny Unitas the person will continue to be immortalized in our hearts forever.”
A temporary base is currently in place for the statue, displaying the original four base plaques. A new granite base for the statue is still in production and will be added later. In addition, the new base will contain the fan names and inscriptions that were engraved on the brick pavers that surrounded the statue in its former position.
The bronze statue of Unitas, which stands seven feet tall and weighs 1,000 pounds, was unveiled in September 1998 when the stadium opened, and Unitas was present for the event. Accomplished artist Frederick Kail of Lutherville, Md., produced the sculpture.
The late Unitas had a storied history, which earned him recognition by many as the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
An 18-year veteran of the NFL, Unitas played his collegiate career at the University of Louisville (1951-54), passing for 3,007 yards and 27 touchdowns. Unitas, who wore No. 19 as a professional, had his No. 16 collegiate uniform retired at Louisville, the lone number retired by the Cardinals.
He began his 18-year pro career with the Baltimore Colts in 1956 and played there until joining the San Diego Chargers for his final season. He completed 2,830 of 5,186 passes for 40,239 yards and 290 touchdowns during his NFL career. He threw a touchdown pass in 47 consecutive games.
In commemorating the NFL’s 25th, 50th and 75th anniversaries, Unitas was selected as the greatest quarterback of all time. A Pro Bowl participant 10 times and a three-time Most Valuable Player honoree, Unitas was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1979. He died on Sept. 11, 2002.