Jillian Unitas, granddaughter of NFL great, won’t mind seeing Brees break record

By Jaycob Ammerman | gargoyle@flagler.edu
Johnny Unitas’ streak of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown pass is an enduring NFL record that stood for more than a half century.

On Sunday, New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees just might break the record. And that would be fine with Jillian Unitas, the granddaughter of the late NFL Hall of Fame quarterback.

“My grandfather would appreciate Brees breaking his record, considering he is not only an outstanding quarterback, but an outstanding guy off the field,” said Unitas, 22, who graduated from Flagler College in 2011.

Other members of the Unitas family agree.

The quarterback’s son, Joe Unitas, sent Brees a letter, congratulating him on tying his father’s record.

“I’m a big fan of yours, and wish you the best Sunday night against San Diego . . .” read the letter, now posted on the Saints’ Facebook page. “When I look back on my father’s life, I remember a man who was much bigger than the game of football. The things he would appreciate most about you have nothing to do with football; it’s about who you are as a person. You’re a role model for today’s youth, a family man, and a humanitarian who cares for his community. My father would tell you these are the important things in life, not some record in a book.”

Brees tweeted back: “Thank you to Joe Unitas, son of Johnny Unitas, for the very kind letter. I’m honored & humbled to continue the legacy he established for all.”

The classy exchange between Brees and the Unitas family is a reminder that football isn’t just about sports; it’s about family; it’s about life.

That’s part of the legacy that Unitas left behind, Jillian Unitas said.

“He made sure his family came first, and he wanted us to experience everything together,” she said.

Sports have always been important in her life, but she said her grandfather’s success was sometimes a burden.

She played four years of volleyball at Flagler. She was a part of the 2009 team that finished runner-up in the NCAA Division II Women’s Volleyball Championship.

“The pressure was really hard on myself in sports because I didn’t want to disappoint the name that was on the back of my jersey,” she said.

Unitas died in 2002 at the age of 69, but remained a great source of motivation in her life.

“He led by example, and being able to spend a great deal of time with him rubbed off on how I approached my athletic career,” she said.

He also helped her develop a love for sports that influenced her path in life.

She is now a media manager for Andretti Sports Marketing in Indianapolis, Ind.

“Sports have definitely helped shape who I am and taught me a lot of great values,” she said.

And on Sunday, she and the rest of the Unitas family will be rooting for Brees, knowing if he breaks the 52-year-old record, Johnny U would be proud.

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