Collision of Wills

Collision of Wills

Johnny Unitas, Don Shula, and the Rise of the Modern NFL

Jack Gilden

352 pages
11 photographs, index


October 2018


$29.95 Pre-order

About the Book

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.

Author Bio

Jack Gilden is a past winner of the Simon Rockower journalism award.  His work has appeared in Orioles Magazine, the Baltimore Sun and Evening Sun, and the Baltimore Jewish Times.  He also consults businesses about their messaging and teaches writing at the college level. For more information about the author visit


"A revealing look behind the scenes of one of the game's most idolized players, and one of its most triumphant coaches—and how the two men won with remarkable consistency despite their sheer contempt for each other."—Michael Olesker, Baltimore Jewish Living

“The Baltimore Colts of the 1960s are one of pro football’s great underreported stories. The fact that Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers took their headlines and championships doesn’t make them any less fascinating. With passion for the subject, extensive reporting, and sharp analysis, Jack Gilden brings to life Johnny Unitas, Don Shula, their team, their era, and their city. I thought I knew everything about Baltimore sports after covering them for more than three decades, but Collision of Wills taught me a lot.”—John Eisenberg, former Baltimore Sun sports columnist and author of The Streak: Lou Gehrig, Cal Ripken Jr., and Baseball’s Most Historic Record

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
1. A Legend Departs and an Ambitious Young Man Arrives
2. Rise and Fall of the Colts
3. Complicated Men
4. Shula Encounters Unexpected Problems
5. The Colts’ Greatest Season Yet
6. Black, White, and the Browns
7. Story Lines
8. The 1964 Championship Game
9. The Conflict
10. Love Is Also a Collision Sport
11. Unprecedented Success
12. Changing Times
13. War
14. 1968
15. Super Bowl III
16. Denouement

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