The Green Bay Packers have had their share of great players. But long before Aaron Rodgers and Brett Favre were even born, there was a little known quarterback out of Alabama whose professional career was at a serious crossroads, until he caught the eye of legendary head coach Vince Lombardi.
If you meet Bart Starr today, you’ll see an aging, gray-haired man who, other than his taller than average 6’1” stature, unassumingly blends into a crowd. You would never guess that he has a statue in the pro football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But talk to him and you’ll start to discover the man who led the Packers into battle for nearly two decades.
Like many who led successful careers, Bart had a not so happy childhood. When he was younger, his relationship with his father was strained, to say the least. He was an introverted child who didn’t really show his feelings too often. His father, on the other hand, wanted him to show more passion and emotion.
When he was in high school, Bart tried out for the football team but quit shortly after. His father gave him the option of either going back to play football or work in the family garden, so obviously Bart chose football. I mean, come on. Gardening?
But through it all, he credits his family and especially his father for teaching him valuable life lessons.
“I was raised in a very strong Christian family, and my father was a strict disciplinarian,” Starr said. “He was a military man. And so I learned those lessons from him about discipline and respect for others.”
It was that discipline that kept him believing he would find success in football someday, even as he had an up and down career at the University of Alabama. Eventually, through the recommendation of Alabama’s basketball coach (of all people) to Jack Vainisi, the personal director of the Packers, Starr was scouted and selected by the Packers in the 17th round of the 1956 draft.
His first years in the NFL were largely uneventful as he spent most of his time as a backup and played sporadically. At this point, it seemed that any kind of future in football was a long shot. However, in 1960, Vince Lombardi took over as head coach and decided to go exclusively with Starr as the starting QB. Lombardi had studied Starr and was impressed with his mechanics and his decision-making ability.
Lombardi believed that Starr could be his guy, and we all know what happens when a coach believes in his quarterback (look at Bill Walsh/Joe Montana).
Starr ended up winning several championships, including being named MVP of Super Bowls I and II. He was named to the 1960s all-decade team, and the Packers have since retired his #15.
Though it all, Starr’s wife Cherry has stood by his side. The two met when they were in high school and eloped during Starr’s initial years with Green Bay. Needless to say, he’s very grateful to have someone like her.
“I was very grateful and blessed to have met my wife when we were both in high school together,” He said. “We go back a long time. And I’ll always be grateful to have my first date with her and begin to get to know her.”
His relationship with the Packers has remained strong ever since his retirement in 1971. He joined the coaching staff immediately after his retirement and had a brief stint as head coach. Even today, he has relationships with the organization and the players, most notably the team’s current young gun Aaron Rodgers.
“I don’t know if there’s been anyone I’ve ever admired more,” Starr said of Rodgers. “And we love him as a person, you meet him and you instantly like him. He’s that type of person. And so we’re out here rooting for him every day, every game because he is a quality person, one that you’d like to be identified with.”
It’s funny to think about Bart and Discount Double Check just hanging out, especially since Starr was 50 when Aaron was born. Talk about totally different generations and eras. So a question one might ask is, what does someone from a different time say to someone in this one? And a better question is, would the young kinds even understand what this old geezer was talking about?
Whatever the case may be, Starr has an important message for the young players today.
“I just believe all of us need to be aware how much we can give to our communities, our society, our surroundings, areas away from the actual field of football,” He said. “There’s so much that, because of who you are and who you can become acquainted with that you have to offer, I don’t think we should pass on those.”
Giving back to the community and helping others is something that transcends eras, cultures, and race. So with a message like that, it doesn’t really matter what time you’re from because it applies everywhere.
It’s great to see that Starr has stayed loyal to his franchise even as the years have passed and vice versa, which is something that I feel the current NFL and it’s business-minded ways lack. Other teams should emulate the Packers relationship with Bart with their respective players too. Some do, but overall there seems to be a lack of it.
Maybe that’s what makes Green Bay such a great organization.
Or maybe I’m just blowing smoke.
By Giovanni Galindo
Follow Melissa and Giovanni on twitter @Melissa_PPI and @giogalindo