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A Monumental Vision: Fred Kail's Walkway of Legends

August 12, 2008

By Jim Henneman

It has been almost six years since the unveiling of Fred Kail’s most prized sculpture, the 14-foot bronze statue of John Unitas that stands majestically in front of the main entrance to M&T Bank Stadium.

Now he would like nothing more than to see the rest of his envisioned project completed -- one that would include a “bookend” statue of Brooks Robinson at the primary entrance to Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

The proposed “Walkway of Legends,” utilizing the 250-yard path that connects the football and baseball showplaces at the Camden Yards Sports Complex, is more than just a dream for Kail. Indeed, it represents a promise he made to Unitas more than 10 years ago that remains unfulfilled.

Art Donovan
(Courtesy of Fred Kail)

After creating a statue of Unitas for the University of Louisville, a job he was hand-picked for by his longtime friend, Kail was thinking it would be even more appropriate that something similar be done in Baltimore. 

“They love John in Louisville, but heck, he spent most of his time there looking at the sky,” Kail said, a reference to the Cardinals’ limited football fortunes of that bygone era. “He became a legend in Baltimore; it just seemed to me that something should be done here.”

An award-winning sculptor and designer, Kail first crossed paths with many of the Colts who would become close friends while a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

After the Louisville project, Kail put in motion the idea of a statue at the football venue at Camden Yards. It was not met as enthusiastically by Unitas as it was by others in the community.

With the help of several civic leaders, most of whom pledged $25,000, the funding was quickly put into place, but still needed Unitas’ OK. 

“John was very hesitant,” Kail said. “And I wouldn’t have pursued it without his consent. He told me, ‘I don’t want to be the only one down there.’ He said if we were going to do this, we had to ‘do something for the guys who made it possible for me to get there.’”

Which is how Kail’s idea of the “Walkway of Legends” got its start. 

Gino Marchetti
(Courtesy of Fred Kail)

“I promised that day to pursue what John had asked and subsequently came up with the concept of the walkway connecting the two stadiums,” Kail said. “The idea was that it would be dedicated to Baltimore sports fans, while acknowledging our sports heroes of the past in a beautiful setting that would be privately funded. John was very enthusiastic in his support of that concept.”

The Unitas statue was a $250,000 project, with about $35,000 given to the foundation that bears the legendary quarterback's name. 

“John saw the first prototype and made some suggestions,” Kail said, “but tragically he didn’t live to see the finished product.” 

Unitas died a few weeks before the unveiling in October 2002, and shortly thereafter, in keeping with his promise, Kail began putting together a comprehensive plan, complete with descriptions, photos, schematic drawings and even a prospective budget for the proposed “Walkway of Legends.”

Lenny Moore
(Courtesy of Fred Kail)

Designed to complement the Camden Yards complex by enhancing the existing walkway with floral planters, trees, plaques, benches and statues, the project would be dedicated to Baltimore’s sports fans while honoring the city’s football and baseball Hall of Famers. 

“I think it could be a magical place, even a tourist attraction, while at the same time serving to connect fans and athletes of the present with our sports heroes of the past,” Kail said.

As drawn up, the original concept had each end of the walkway anchored by bronze sculptures depicting a football fan at one end and baseball fan at the other -- with a Brooks Robinson statue serving as the “anchor” to Oriole Park just as the one of Unitas does at M&T Bank Stadium.

Within the 250 yards that would comprise the walkway, statues of the initial Hall of Fame honorees would be erected, phased in over a period of years as funding allows. In addition to Robinson, the Orioles are represented in the baseball Hall of Fame by Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. Jim Parker, Art Donovan, Lenny Moore, Gino Marchetti, John Mackey and Raymond Berry represent the Baltimore Colts, while the recently retired Jonathon Ogden and Ray Lewis are expected to be the first Ravens honored.

(Courtesy of Fred Kail)

Kail's promise to Unitas lives on with the dream of seeing the walkway completed, but despite much initial favorable reaction, the project could best be described as still being in its infancy. And taking it to the next level, which in effect would be to the drawing board and planning stages, could be even more complicated than drawing up a plan for private funding (all of which is addressed in the proposal).

Kail’s plan calls for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation to serve as the managerial and administrative trustee for the project, as it did for the funding of the Unitas statue, and be compensated accordingly. The proposal is as thorough as it is creative, addressing every facet of the walkway concept.

Before anything can happen at , the Ravens, Orioles and the Maryland Stadium Authority have to be on board, something that has proven to be an ambitious undertaking in the past. Nevertheless, that should not be insurmountable, assuming the project can generate sufficient public, civic and corporate support.

Kail got his start as a MICA student by creating figurines of the Colts, the first ever in the National Football League, long before licensing became an issue. He later became close friends with many of the players whose images he captured and the proposed “Walkway of Legends” is more a labor of love than it is a project in progress for almost a decade.

(Courtesy of Fred Kail)

In his dream there is a vision of a beautifully landscaped, park-like setting paying homage to Baltimore’s sports heritage and heroes, a fitting attraction for the “City of Monuments.” 

In that dream, of course, a promise has been kept and Kail is no longer tormented by the words that prompted it:

"I don't want to be the only one down there."

Issue 3.33: August 14, 2008