NFL: Drew Brees’ 48 and John Unitas’ 47
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees set an NFL record Sunday night by throwing a touchdown pass in 48 consecutive games. He accomplished this in a 31-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Brees broke the previous record of 47 games set by hall of fame quarterback John Unitas with the Baltimore Colts.
The record of 47 games set by Unitas was thought to be unbreakable. He began the streak on December 9, 1956 against the Los Angeles Rams. The streak ended on December 9, 1960 against Los Angeles. In 1958 Unitas missed two games due to a rib injury suffered against the Green Bay Packers. At the time his streak stood at 21 games. One could make the case that the injury should have ended the streak.
Until Brees no one had thrown a touchdown pass in 40 consecutive games since Unitas. Brees began his streak on October 18, 2009 against the Carolina Panthers. He broke it almost four years later on October 7, 2012. Brees did not miss a single game during his streak.
During the five years that Unitas put together his streak he led the Colts to two world’s championships in 1958 and ’59. Brees has led the Saints to one Super Bowl title over the Indianapolis Colts in 2009.
Of course, the inevitable comparisons as to whose streak is better will emerge. There are those who will say Unitas put together the better run while others will side with Brees.
Unitas played quarterback in an era when all of the rules favored defense. His receivers could be knocked down all over the field until the ball was in the air. They could be hit hard and often when going for the ball. His offensive lineman could not use their hands to block. Unitas himself was fair game as defenders could hit him anywhere on his body well after the ball was thrown. Unitas played all of his games outdoors.
Brees plays in an era where receivers can not be touched five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. They pretty much have free reign over the football field as defenders can not hit pass catchers while they are going for the ball. Offensive linemen can use their hands to block now. And Brees is protected by rules which do not allow quarterbacks to be hit the way Unitas was. Brees also plays at least nine games a year in domed stadiums.
On the other hand, Unitas did not play against defenses as sophisticated or fast as the ones Brees faces. Johnny U also had three hall of fame players in important positions as teammates. They were split end Raymond Berry, flanker Lenny Moore and offensive tackle Jim Parker. Brees may be playing with a couple of future hall of famers, but we don’t know yet.
The bottom line is both men did something remarkable in their eras.
However, with today’s rules it just might be a little easier for someone to break the record set by Brees than the one which Unitas held for over 50 years.