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5 Things You Didn't Know About Johnny Unitas

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The NFL preseason's in full swing, but instead of handicapping battles for backup QB jobs, let's take a look at five things you might not know about one of the greatest signal callers of all time: Johnny Unitas.

1. He Could Go Both Ways

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When Unitas was a high school senior from Pittsburgh, nobody could really see that the halfback/quarterback combo would one day become an NFL legend. Notre Dame took one look at his six-foot, 138-pound build and decided against giving him a scholarship, so the son of Lithuanian immigrants ended up at the University of Louisville.

Unitas' collegiate career at Louisville, which wasn't even part of the NCAA at the time, largely consisted of him playing very well on mediocre-to-bad teams. During the 1952 season, however, the sophomore was all over the field. The team decided that its players would play both defense and offense, so in addition to playing QB, Unitas also served as a linebacker, safety, and return man. By all accounts the nimble Unitas was pretty tough as a safety, but his team slumped to a 3-5 record, including a humiliating 59-6 blowout at Tennessee.

2. He Could Have Been a Steeler

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Although Unitas enjoyed a solid college career, injuries nagged him his senior year and hurt his pro prospects. When the 1955 NFL Draft rolled around, the Pittsburgh Steelers eventually took Unitas with the 102nd pick, all the way down in the ninth round.

The Steelers already had three quarterbacks on the roster, though, and the team really only planned to carry three QBs throughout the season. The Steelers' coaching staff didn't give Unitas much of a chance to show his stuff, either. Art Rooney, Jr., part of the legendary family of Steelers owners, later said, "The coaches would run the quarterbacks through drills, and sometimes the whistle would blow before John even got a turn."

The Steelers ended up cutting Unitas after the last game of the 1955 preseason. The man they felt was a better fit for the third QB job, Ted Marchibroda, only started 11 games his entire NFL career, all of them in the Steelers' dismal 4-7 1956 season.

3. He Didn't Give Up, Though

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After the Steelers cut Unitas, things must have looked pretty grim for him. He had a wife and children, and he needed to make some cash to support them. Unitas took construction and steel work jobs around Pittsburgh to make ends meet while also playing QB for a local semipro team, the Bloomfield Rams. The Rams were quite literally a sandlot team; they had to sprinkle oil or water on the field to keep it from getting too dusty since there was no grass. For the whopping paycheck of $3 per game, Unitas also played safety and handled the team's punting duties while wearing a decidedly un-QB-like number 45 jersey.

Unitas was right to hang with it in the sticks for a season, though. In February of 1956, the Baltimore Colts asked Unitas and his Bloomfield teammate Jim Deglau, a lineman, to come to Baltimore for a workout. Although Unitas was cash-strapped and worried that a failed audition in Baltimore would effectively end his football career, he and Deglau borrowed gas money and hit the road.

Unitas, of course, played like Johnny Unitas in his audition. The Colts shelled out a whopping $7,000 to sign Unitas as their backup QB for the 1956 season.

4. He Wasn't Quite a Natural, Though

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Unitas began the 1956 season on the bench behind starter George Shaw, but that arrangement didn't last long. Shaw broke his leg during the Colts' fourth game, and Unitas found himself thrust into the spotlight against a very good Bears team.

Baltimore fans couldn't have liked what they saw in the early going. Unitas' first pass found its way into the hands of the Bears' J.C. Caroline, who ran the pick back for a touchdown. The jitters didn't calm down after this first play, either. On the next play from scrimmage Unitas ran into running back Alan Ameche during a bungled handoff and fumbled the ball back to the Bears. The Bears marched down the field for a score, just as they did when Unitas botched and fumbled a second handoff later in the game.

When the smoke cleared, Unitas' NFL debut ended in a 57-28 rout. It wasn't a total catastrophe, though; Unitas got his first NFL TD pass with a 36-yard strike to frequent target Jim Mutscheller.

5. He Didn't Lack Confidence

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Unitas' first major triumph was leading the Colts to victory in the 1958 NFL Championship Game, which would later become known as "The Greatest Game Ever Played" and is sometimes credited for propelling the NFL to greater national popularity. The score was tied at 17 at the end of regulation, which led to a sudden death OT.

Although Baltimore didn't start with the ball in OT, the Colts' defense forced a punt to put the ball in Unitas' hands. Unitas marched 80 yards down the field while calling all of his own plays, and Ameche punched the ball into the end zone with a one-yard run to win the championship.

The signature play of the drive was a long pass down the sideline from Unitas to his main receiving weapon, Hall of Famer Raymond Berry. After the game, reporters asked Unitas if making that kind of throw in a sudden death game was sort of dangerous. After giving it some thought, Unitas responded, "Nothing's dangerous if you know what you're doing."

'5 Things You Didn't Know About...' appears every Friday. Read the previous installments here.

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5 Things You Didn't Know About Ansel Adams

You probably know Ansel Adams—born on February 20, 1902—as the man who helped promote the National Park Service through his magnificent photographs, but there was a lot more to the shutterbug than his iconic, black-and-white vistas. Here are five lesser-known facts about the celebrated photographer.

1. AN EARTHQUAKE LED TO HIS DISTINCTIVE NOSE.

Adams was a four-year-old tot when the 1906 San Francisco earthquake struck his hometown. Although the boy managed to escape injury during the quake itself, an aftershock threw him face-first into a garden wall, breaking his nose. According to a 1979 interview with TIME, Adams said that doctors told his parents that it would be best to fix the nose when the boy matured. He joked, "But of course I never did mature, so I still have the nose." The nose became Adams' most striking physical feature. His buddy Cedric Wright liked to refer to Adams' honker as his "earthquake nose.

2. HE ALMOST BECAME A PIANIST.

Adams was an energetic, inattentive student, and that trait coupled with a possible case of dyslexia earned him the heave-ho from private schools. It was clear, however, that he was a sharp boy—when motivated.

When Adams was just 12 years old, he taught himself to play the piano and read music, and he quickly showed a great aptitude for it. For nearly a dozen years, Adams focused intensely on his piano training. He was still playful—he would end performances by jumping up and sitting on his piano—but he took his musical education seriously. Adams ultimately devoted over a decade to his study, but he eventually came to the realization that his hands simply weren't big enough for him to become a professional concert pianist. He decided to leave the keys for the camera after meeting photographer Paul Strand, much to his family's dismay.

3. HE HELPED CREATE A NATIONAL PARK.

If you've ever enjoyed Kings Canyon National Park in California, tip your cap to Adams. In the 1930s Adams took a series of photographs that eventually became the book Sierra Nevada: The John Muir Trail. When Adams sent a copy to Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, the cabinet member showed it to Franklin Roosevelt. The photographs so delighted FDR that he wouldn't give the book back to Ickes. Adams sent Ickes a replacement copy, and FDR kept his with him in the White House.

After a few years, Ickes, Adams, and the Sierra Club successfully convinced Roosevelt to make Kings Canyon a national park in 1940. Roosevelt's designation specifically provided that the park be left totally undeveloped and roadless, so the only way FDR himself would ever experience it was through Adams' lenses.

4. HE WELCOMED COMMERCIAL ASSIGNMENTS.

While many of his contemporary fine art photographers shunned commercial assignments as crass or materialistic, Adams went out of his way to find paying gigs. If a company needed a camera for hire, Adams would generally show up, and as a result, he had some unlikely clients. According to The Ansel Adams Gallery, he snapped shots for everyone from IBM to AT&T to women's colleges to a dried fruit company. All of this commercial print work dismayed Adams' mentor Alfred Stieglitz and even worried Adams when he couldn't find time to work on his own projects. It did, however, keep the lights on.

5. HE AND GEORGIA O'KEEFFE WERE FRIENDS.

Adams and legendary painter O'Keeffe were pals and occasional traveling buddies who found common ground despite their very different artistic approaches. They met through their mutual friend/mentor Stieglitz—who eventually became O'Keeffe's husband—and became friends who traveled throughout the Southwest together during the 1930s. O'Keeffe would paint while Adams took photographs.

These journeys together led to some of the artists' best-known work, like Adams' portrait of O'Keeffe and a wrangler named Orville Cox, and while both artists revered nature and the American Southwest, Adams considered O'Keeffe the master when it came to capturing the area. 

“The Southwest is O’Keeffe’s land,” he wrote. “No one else has extracted from it such a style and color, or has revealed the essential forms so beautifully as she has in her paintings.”

The two remained close throughout their lives. Adams would visit O'Keeffe's ranch, and the two wrote to each other until Adams' death in 1984.

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5 Things You Should Know About Robert Todd Lincoln
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Robert Todd Lincoln was Abraham Lincoln's oldest son and the only Lincoln child to survive into adulthood. While he didn't make quite the mark on history that his father did, Robert Lincoln had a pretty interesting life himself. Let's take a look at five things you might not know about him:

1. He Was on Ulysses S. Grant's Personal Staff

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Part of Abraham Lincoln's mystique lies in his humble roots as a self-made man who found education where he could. His eldest son didn't have to go through quite as many trials and tribulations to do some learning, though. Robert left Springfield, Illinois, to attend boarding school at New Hampshire's elite Phillips Exeter Academy when he was a young man, and he later graduated from Harvard during his father's presidency.

After completing his undergrad degree, Robert stuck around Cambridge to go to Harvard Law School, but that arrangement didn't last very long. After studying law for just a few months, Lincoln received a commission as a captain in the army. Lincoln's assignment put him on Ulysses S. Grant's personal staff, so he didn't see much fighting. He did get a nice view of history, though; Lincoln was present as part of Grant's junior staff at Robert E. Lee's surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.

After the war ended, Lincoln moved to Chicago with his mother and brother and wrapped up his legal studies.

2. The Booth Family Did Him a Favor

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In 1863 or 1864, young Robert Lincoln was traveling by train from New York to Washington during a break from his studies at Harvard. He hopped off the train during a stop at Jersey City, only to find himself on an extremely crowded platform. To be polite, Lincoln stepped back to wait his turn to walk across the platform, his back pressed to one of the train's cars.

This situation probably seemed harmless enough until the train started moving, which whipped Lincoln around and dropped him into the space between the platform and train, an incredibly dangerous place to be.

Lincoln probably would have been dead meat if a stranger hadn't yanked him out of the hole by his collar. That stranger? None other than Edwin Booth, one of the most celebrated actors of the 19th century and brother of eventual Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth.

Lincoln immediately recognized the famous thespian "“ this was sort of like if George Clooney pulled you from a burning car today "“ and thanked him effusively. The actor had no idea whose life he had saved until he received a letter commending him for his bravery in saving the President's son a few months later.

3. He Had a Strange Knack for Being Near Assassinations

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Lee's surrender wasn't the only history Lincoln ended up witnessing, although things got a bit grislier for him after Appomattox. As he arrived back in Washington in April 1865 Lincoln's parents invited him to go see Our American Cousin at Ford's Theater with them. The young officer was so exhausted after his journey that he begged off so he could get a good night's sleep. That night, of course, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln's father, and Robert Todd was with the celebrated president when he passed away the next morning.

By 1881, Lincoln's political lineage and prominence as a lawyer qualified him for a national office, and he became Secretary of War under the newly inaugurated James A. Garfield. That July, Lincoln was scheduled to travel to Elberon, New Jersey, by train with the President, but the trip never took off. Before Lincoln and Garfield's train could leave the station, Charles Guiteau shot the Garfield, who died of complications from the wound two months later.

Oddly, that wasn't all for Lincoln, though. Two decades passed without a presidential assassination, but Lincoln's strange luck reared its head again in 1901. Lincoln traveled to Buffalo at the invitation of President William McKinley to attend the Pan-American Exposition. Although he arrived a bit late to the even, Lincoln was on his way to meet McKinley when anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot the president twice at close range.

Following these three bits of bad luck Lincoln refused to attend any presidential functions. He dryly noted that there was "a certain fatality about the presidential function when I am present."

4. He Realized His Mom Was a Little Nutty

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Mary Todd Lincoln is fairly widely renowned today for being mentally ill, but it wasn't quite such an open secret when she was still alive. Robert, however, realized that his mother needed psychiatric help so she didn't become a danger to herself or an embarrassment to her family, so he had her involuntarily committed to a mental hospital in 1875 following a hearing that declared her insane.

Mary Todd was none too pleased about this plan. She not only snuck letters to her lawyer to help her escape from the institution, she also wrote newspaper editors in an effort to convince the public of her sanity. Mary Todd's ploy worked; at a second sanity hearing in 1876 she was declared sane and released from the Batavia, Illinois, sanatorium to which she'd been confined. However, by this point she'd been publicly humiliated and never really patched up her relationship with Robert before her death in 1882.

5. He Made Some Serious Dough on the Railroads

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Once he got his legal practice up and running, Lincoln found a particularly lucrative clientele in the booming railroad industry. He spent most of his career working as a corporate lawyer for various railroads and train-related companies; the only breaks were his four-year stint as Secretary of War under Garfield and successor Chester A. Arthur and a four-year hitch as a minister to Britain under President Benjamin Harrison.

One of Lincoln's major clients was the Pullman Palace Car Company, for which he served as general counsel. When founder George Pullman died in 1897, Lincoln became president of the company, and in 1911 he became chairman of the Pullman Company's board. His lofty position in one of the country's most lucrative companies made him a millionaire and enabled Lincoln to build a sprawling estate, Hildene, in Manchester, Vermont.

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