Cal Football: Chase Garbers Lands on Unitas Golden Arm Award List

Jeff Faraudo

Opening a pack of football cards as a kid, I was greeted by a quarterback with a flat-top haircut, high-top shoes and a last name I could not pronounce.

I gave it my best shot: Johnny Uni-tazz.

Sorry, son. You failed the test. Eventually, I knew it was pronounced You-NIGH-tus. And it belonged to the greatest quarterback of the NFL’s early modern days.

Between now and when Chase Garbers finally gets to play a football game — hopefully in January if the COVID-19 pandemic slows — he will have plenty of time to learn the legacy of Unitas. The Cal redshirt junior has been named to the preseason watch list for the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award, given to a senior or upperclassman positioned to graduate with his class.

Garbers is assembling a nice resume himself, having posted a 13-2 record when he starts and plays more than half the game. He led Cal to a victory over Illinois in the Redbox Bowl last season and his 19 starts are the most among any returning Pac-12 quarterback.

Unitas is mostly overshadowed among the game’s greats these days, hidden behind the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and Joe Montana.

Chase Garbers is on the preseason watch list for the Johnny United Golden Arm Award

But in his era — his career spanned from 1956 through ’73 — Johnny U was peerless. He led the NFL in passing yardage four times, touchdown passes four times, was a three-time MVP, earned first-team All-Pro honors five times and was named to 10 Pro Bowls.

Unitas, who played college football at Louisville, led the Baltimore Colts to a 23-17 overtime win over the New York Giants in the 1959 championship game which came to be known as “the greatest game ever played.”

He was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and died in 2002 at the age of 69.

Garbers is among five Pac-12 quarterbacks on the Golden Arm watch list, joined by Jake Bentley of Utah, Anthony Brown of Oregon, Davis Mills of Stanford and Dorian Thompson-Robinson of UCLA.

Joe Burrow won the award — and the Heisman Trophy — last season after passing for 5,671 yards, completing 76 percent of his attempts and throwing 60 touchdowns to just six interceptions while leading LSU to an undefeated national championship

Even Johnny Unitas would be envious of season that spectacular.

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*** In the video, I talk about my brief but sad interview with Unitas:

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Follow Jeff Faraudo of Cal Sports Report on Twitter: @jefffaraudo

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