- The Washington Times - Friday, September 13, 2002

More than 21,000 fans of Johnny Unitas yesterday signed an online petition imploring the Baltimore Ravens to rename their stadium after the Hall of Fame quarterback, who died of a heart attack Wednesday. Team sources said, however, that current NFL economics will prevent that from happening.

Within hours of Unitas' death, fans began posting signatures at petitiononline.com saying that the renaming would "honor Mr. Unitas and his contribution to Baltimore in particular and football in general." But Ravens spokesman Kevin Byrne said, "We are not addressing this today."

Since the stadium opened in 1998, Ravens officials have said repeatedly that they would like to name the stadium after Unitas, former Baltimore mayor and current state comptroller William Donald Schaefer or some other illustrious Marylander. But the revenues from a naming rights contract are needed for the Ravens to remain competitive. Half the league's teams have naming rights deals for their current or future homes, with several additional teams actively searching for similar accords.

Ravens sources said yesterday the team's long-held stance has not changed in the wake of Unitas' death.

The Ravens previously held a $105.5million stadium naming rights contract with PSINet Inc., but the Internet company's bankruptcy filing led to the dissolution of that deal earlier this year. The team is now seeking a new naming rights sponsor, and is calling the facility "Ravens Stadium" in the interim.

Unitas spent 17 years with the Baltimore Colts, but he angrily denounced the franchise when it moved to Indianapolis in 1984. When the Ravens came to Baltimore from Cleveland before the 1996 season, Unitas began cheering for the new home team.

A memorial service will be held for Unitas on Tuesday morning, but Modell and the Ravens plan to remember "Johnny U" in a tribute of their own Sunday before Baltimore plays host to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Ravens Stadium.

"There were many who resented us being here," Modell said. "But not John. He was Mr. Baltimore. He embraced our family and our franchise."

A filmed tribute will be aired on the video replay boards shortly before kickoff, and a logo will be painted on the sideline at the spot where Unitas stood for almost all the team's home games.

The Baltimore Marching Ravens band, which performed as the Baltimore Colts Marching Band when the franchise played in Baltimore from 1953 to 1983, will perform the Colts' fight song.

A moment of silence will follow before the playing of the national anthem.

The Ravens had planned to honor Unitas before his death. The team will continue with plans to unveil a 19-foot statue of the quarterback in front of the stadium on Oct.20, before Baltimore hosts the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"He deserves every tribute he gets," said Hall of Fame running back Lenny Moore, a former teammate of Unitas. "He won't be here to appreciate it, but he knows what's going on."


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