CRAWFORD | What to do with Johnny U? Statue must move in PJCS ex - WDRB 41 Louisville News

  • Where do you think the Johnny Unitas statue in an expanded Papa John's Cardinal Stadium should be located?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    In front of the Central Avenue entrance to the stadium, to be incorporated with CardMarch
    47%
    296 votes
    On the Norton Terrace inside the South end of the stadium
    9%
    57 votes
    In front of the stadium, facing Floyd Street
    11%
    72 votes
    As part of a plaza with other statues honoring program greats, like Howard Schellenberger, Tom Jackson, etc.
    33%
    211 votes

CRAWFORD | What to do with Johnny U? Statue must move in PJCS expansion

Posted: Updated:
The Johnny Unitas statue in front of the Howard Schnellenberger football complex will be relocated in the next stadium expansion. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) The Johnny Unitas statue in front of the Howard Schnellenberger football complex will be relocated in the next stadium expansion. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)
The BellSouth Johnny Unitas Football Museum will be relocated after the stadium's new expansion. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford) The BellSouth Johnny Unitas Football Museum will be relocated after the stadium's new expansion. (WDRB photo by Eric Crawford)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — The Johnny Unitas Football Museum and statue in the north end of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium were focal points of the facility when it was built in 1998.

Now, change is coming. I asked University of Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich about the future of the museum and statue during last week’s announcement of a $55 million stadium upgrade that will displace the statue, and perhaps discontinue the museum until an alternate facility can be found.

“The Johnny Unitas statue is our primary goal right now,” Jurich said. “We want to find the very best place that we can put it. We’re going to have to move it. There’s no question about it.”

It’s not the first statue of Unitas to find itself on the move. The Baltimore Ravens moved a Unitas statue last year to make room for a statue of Ray Lewis.

Jurich said he’ll seek fan input before making a decision on U of L’s statue, which was sculpted by Frederick Kail of Lutherville, Md., who also fashioned the Unitas statue in Baltimore.

“We want to put it in the best place we can,” Jurich said. “So we’re going to be open for suggestions. We’ve asked our architects. We’ve asked the people who’ve been working on the projects for some great ideas, too, to give us some options.

“One of the biggest complaints we’ve had is that people can’t get to the Unitas statue,” Jurich said later. “That’s why a lot of the suggestions we’ve had have been to put it out front somewhere where people can touch it. That’s going to be one of our alternatives. But we want to go where popular demand wants it, because it’s such an important part of this place.”

Jurich said that some kind of plaza where fans can gather around the statue is a possibility.

My suggestion - put the statue in a spot where players will file past it on the way into the stadium during their “CardMarch.” That would put it on the south end of the stadium, in front of the Central Avenue entrance and the new Academic Center currently under construction - or wherever the team will enter the stadium when that construction is complete.

That would keep alive the U of L tradition of touching the Unitas statue before taking the field, and might allow fans to get in on the tradition, as well.

At least one fan group has been pretty active in its “Free Johnny U” campaign in recent years, disapproving of the statue being covered by an inflatable tunnel when the team takes the field.

What does the Unitas statue signify? I don’t like to let opportunities pass without bringing this up.

Unitas was not a heralded football player when he came to the University of Louisville. He was only 6-feet tall, 138 pounds when he arrived in town, having lost out on a scholarship to his hometown University of Pittsburgh when he failed the entrance exam.

A year after he came to U of L, then-president Philip G. Davidson decided to de-emphasize sports and significantly cut the amount of athletic aid issued and tightened the academic standards for athletes already there.

Unitas had to knuckle down, but he did, to keep his scholarship. Fifteen others weren’t able to. The losses meant players had to play two ways, and Unitas -- who would go on to be one of the great quarterbacks in NFL history -- also played linebacker or safety on defense and returned kicks and punts.

Unitas didn’t lead Louisville to football greatness. He had some memorable moments. He also took an incredible beating. His senior year was curtailed by injury.

But Unitas earned a degree. He built his body up. He displayed the toughness and character and work ethic that would mark his entire career and post-football life.

U of L named a dormitory after him. It named its football museum after him. It retired his number. It erected a statue.

What he did, rising to the highest levels of his field after humble beginnings, is emblematic of everything the university is about. The stadium is built over a former environmental brownfield. The university itself went from a city college to state university to member of the Atlantic Coast Conference with a booming urban campus.

Louisville has not been blessed with a long football tradition, but it has been blessed with some extraordinary people, none more than Unitas and Lenny Lyles, also memorialized with a statue in front of the Cardinal Park athletic complex.

The future of the museum is uncertain with the stadium expansion coming. But it needs a new home. The current design subjects the displays to full sunlight most of the day, and many of the exhibits have become faded. Located within the football complex itself, it’s not accessible to fans, like the museum in the KFC Yum! Center is. A new home for these displays would be welcome at some point down the road.

Meanwhile, what to do with Unitas’ statue is no small conversation. I would encourage everyone to get involved.

UPDATE: Since first published, a few suggestions have been most prominent from folks on Twitter and Facebook. I've included those in a poll above.

1. Place Unitas' statue in the party deck inside the stadium. I'm not in favor of this. First, Unitas was decidedly not a "party guy," and I think it kind of does a bit of a disservice to his memory. As well, it doesn't allow players frequent access to the statue, because they're rarely there.

2. Place the statue between the green lot and the south entrance to the stadium, where fans and players will pass it during CardMarch. This was my proposal.

3. Place him along a walkway from Central Avenue to the Stadium, to include statues of other U of L football legends, including Howard Schnellenberger, Tom Jackson, and others.

4. Out in front of the stadium, facing Floyd Street.

Keep the suggestions coming!

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