Collision of Wills: Johnny Unitas, Don Shula, and the Rise of the Modern NFL

COLLISION OF WILLS                                  JACK GILDEN

In their seven years together, quarterback Johnny Unitas and coach Don Shula, kings of the fabled Baltimore Colts of the 1960s, created one of the most successful franchises in sports. Unitas and Shula had a higher winning percentage than Lombardi’s Packers, but together they never won the championship. Baltimore lost the big game to the Browns in 1964 and to Joe Namath and the Jets in Super Bowl III—both in stunning upsets. The Colts’ near misses in the Shula era were among the most confounding losses any sports franchise ever suffered. Rarely had a team in any league performed so well, over such an extended period, only to come up empty. 

The two men had a complex relationship stretching back to their time as young teammates competing for their professional lives. Their personal conflict mirrored their tumultuous times. As they elevated the brutal game of football, the world around them clashed about Vietnam, civil rights, and sex. Collision of Wills looks at the complicated relationship between Don Shula, the league’s winningest coach of all time, and his star player Johnny Unitas, and how their secret animosity fueled the Colts in an era when their losses were as memorable as their victories


The author takes you back in time when the football was played by a different set of rules than what we are shown today. He does that while also describing what was going in our country at the time as well. Looking back I think they go hand in hand, for on Sunday’s we watched football at least I did with my father. Then during the week, we watched the Vietnam war or maybe riots going on somewhere else, or some important figure being killed, and then by the end of the 60’s walking on the moon. During all of this, the Green Bay Packers were winning, as were the Baltimore Colts. The Colts had Johnny U and he called all of his own plays and he could do no wrong on the football field, but all of a sudden they could not beat the Packers and most importantly they did not beat the Jets. For me, the sixties were a lot of things and one of them was football and the different leagues. The AFL was young and brash and threw the ball, and they had a guy named Namath and he was something and when the Jets beat the Colts the game of football was changed forever, but so was the Colts and Shula and Unitas. You are shown the history of the game Webb Ewbank who was the head coach of the Colts when they won the greatest game in 1958 and the championship in 59 would be fired years later and be hired by the Jets and yes be the coach to beat the Colts in another important game in football. Yes, Shula would be fired and then coach the Dolphins and would lead them to three straight Super Bowls winning two one is the perfect season. You get all of that backstory, plus the trade of franchises by Rosenbloom, who would take over the Rams and Robert Irsay would take over the Colts. Eventually, both franchises would end up moving. The Rams after Rosenbloom’s death which his children always thought was suspicious but could not prove anything. This is just a small part of this book and yes I knew some or most of it but it was a great read for me who remembers a different time and a different game than one that is being played today. I received this book from I gave it 5 stars. Follow us at

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