Starr will live on in Packers memories
By Gene Kemmeter
Wisconsin has lost is double “r” star. Bart Starr, a mainstay of the Green Bay Packers from the late 1950s until the mid-1980s, died Sunday, May 26. He was 85 and in ill health the last few years, but his demeanor and relationship with fans will help him live on forever.
Every Green Bay Packer fan knows Bart Starr. He was the quarterback under coach Vince Lombardi who changed a lowly Packer team into one of the most successful in National Football League (NFL) history.
Starr, who was a 17th round draft choice in 1956 out of the University of Alabama, the 200th player selected, backed up Tobin Rote, Vito “Babe” Parelli and Lamar McHan, until the 1959 season after Lombardi took over as coach. Then it became his position until he retired in 1972 following a year in he saw little action because of arm surgery.
His performances at quarterback were legendary. He wasn’t as physically gifted as his successors at Packers quarterback like Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers, but he played the game the way Lombardi and other coaches wanted him to, winning 90 percent of the playoff games he played in. Lombardi called him “the smartest quarterback I ever saw.”
Honors came his way. He was the NFL Most Valuable Player in 1966, the Super Bowl MVP award the first two years of the game, a member of the All-Pro Team in 1966, a four-time Pro-Bowl selection and inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1977. There were many more.
The play for which he is most famous is probably the quarterback sneak at the end of the “Ice Bowl.” It was a play that will live forever in Packers lore: Starr took the center snap and went to his right into the end zone behind the blocks of Jerry Kramer and Ken Bowman to score the winning touchdown with 13 seconds remaining in the game. The result was a 21-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
Starr had numerous other memorable plays: His fourth-and-one calls where he would flip a pass over the line to an open receiver for a big gain. His long, arcing passes that receivers could run under. His ball-handling skills that faked defenders out of position. His ability to withstand brutal tackles and inspire his teammates to put forth extra effort for him.
Aspirations were high when he was announced as the head coach of the Packers in 1975, but his teams only advanced to the playoffs twice before he was let go in 1983. But his tenure as coach failed to hinders fans’ affection for the man.
Starr wasn’t only a football star. He was a gentleman.
For years, his teammates always praised him for strength in the face of adversity and his genuine friendliness. He was known for his charitable interests. He helped co-found Rawhide Boys Ranch, a facility in New London designed to help at-risk and troubled boys. The Bart Starr Award is presented annually to an NFL player who “best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.”
Starr was a periodic visitor to Stevens Point. He spoke at several events in Portage County. He was a member of the Sentry Insurance Board of Directors and regularly attended meetings in the city. Thousands of fans in the community cherish his autograph. He was a man who took the talents he received and worked to improve his life, as well as the lives of others.