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Starr, Bart

Bart Starr

1934-

American football player

Hall-of-Fame quarterback Bart Starr led the Green Bay Packers to six division championships, five NFL championships, and two Super Bowl titles; he was Most Valuable Player for Super Bowl I and Super Bowl

II, and NFL Most Valuable Player in 1966. He later coached the Packers for nine seasons, from 1975 to 1984.

Determination Pays Off

Born Bryan Bartlett Starr in Montgomery, Alabama in 1934, Starr was one of two children of U.S. Air Force master sergeant Benjamin Bryan Starr and homemaker Lulu Inez Tucker. His father ran the household with the same discipline and insistence on responsibility that he demanded from his squadron, and at his father's insistence, Starr attended school at Hurt Military Academy.

Starr enjoyed playing baseball with friends in a vacant lot during the summers, but in the fall he played football, often imagining that he was playing in a championship game. His football hero during this period was Harry Gilmer, a star tailback at the University of Alabama, and he dreamed of throwing as well as Gilmer did.

At Baldwin Junior High in Montgomery, Alabama, Starr played wingback, as well as running back, blocker, and receiver. The school often used the "box formation," devised by famed Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne . By the time Starr entered Sidney Lanier High School in 1949, his coach, Bill Moseley, noted that Starr was not particularly talented for the game. His personality was a factor in this: Starr was notably modest and quiet, and his coach believed he was too shy to be a good quarterback. However, Moseley did praise Starr's focused concentration on football, as well as his determination to become a good player.

In 1951, Starr began receiving special coaching from Vito "Babe" Parilli, an All-American quarterback at the University of Kentucky. Parilli taught Starr basic skills and encouraged him to feel confident in himself. Under Parilli's tutelage, Starr began dreaming of becoming a star player for coach Paul "Bear" Bryant at the University of Kentucky.

Chronology

1934 Born January 9, in Montgomery, Alabama
1949-52 Attends Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery
1951 Receives special coaching from Vito "Babe Parilli"
1952-56 Plays college football for University of Alabama
1954 Marries Cherry Louise Morton
1954-55 Benched because of back injuries
1955-56 Benched after spraining his ankle
1956 Drafted by Green Bay Packers, plays backup quarterback
1957 Called up to active duty in U.S. Air Force, but discharged because of back injury
1957 Resumes playing for Green Bay Packers
1959 Vince Lombardi becomes coach of the Packers
1960 Packers win Western Division title, lose NFL championship
1961 Becomes Packers' star quarterback; Packers win division title and NFL championship
1962 Leads NFL in passing; Packers win division title and NFL championship
1964 Leads NFL in passing
1965 Packers win division title and NFL championship
1966 Leads NFL in passing; Packers win division title and NFL championship
1966 Named NFL Player of the Year; Packers win division title and NFL championship
1967 Packers win division title and famed "Ice Bowl" NFL championship
1967 Packers win Super Bowl I
1967 Named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl I
1968 Packers win Super Bowl II
1968 Named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl II
1971 Undergoes shoulder surgery
1972 Retires from play, but remains on team as quarterback coach
1973 Officially retires from Packers, becomes sports analyst for CBS
1975-84 Head coach of the Packers
1976 Elected to Alabama Sports Hall of Fame
1977 Inducted into National Football Hall of Fame
1984 Starr and his wife Cherry move to Phoenix, Arizona
1988 Starr's son Bret dies; Starr and Cherry move to Birmingham, Alabama
1988-present Becomes chair of a real-estate investment firm
1988-present Devotes time to charitable and nonprofit organizations

Starr improved so much that at the end of his senior year of high school he was selected for the All-Star team. Every college in the Southeastern Conference except Tennessee tried to recruit him to play for their team. Starr was still interested in playing for Bryant at Kentucky and visited the school with some of his friends, but Starr's father urged him to stay closer to home and play for Alabama. In addition, Starr's girlfriend's school was close to the University of Alabama, and the issue was decided: he would accept a football scholarship from Alabama.

During Starr's freshman year, in 1953, Alabama and Syracuse competed in the Orange Bowl; Alabama won 61-6. Starr, playing third quarterback, threw 29 passes in the game and completed 17 for 170 yards. Partly as a result of this performance, in the following year, Starr became the team's starting quarterback. His punting average was 41.4, the second-highest in the Southeastern Conference; only Zeke Bratkowski of Georgia beat him.

On May 8, 1954, Starr married Cherry Louise Morton; they would later have two children.

In the 1954-1955 season, Starr was out of play because of back injuries. Alabama scored 4-5-2 without his contribution. In 1955-1956, Starr was benched again after spraining his ankle; Alabama then lost ten games in a row, ending the year with 0-10.

Drafted by Green Bay Packers

The basketball coach at Alabama, Johnny Dee, convinced the personnel director of the Green Bay Packers to suggest Starr as a prospect, and in January of 1956, the Packers chose Starr in the seventeenth round of the National Football League (NFL) draft. He was the 200th player chosen overall. In early summer of that year, Starr graduated from Alabama with a bachelor's degree in history, and began his professional football career with rigorous training.

Starr was backup quarterback to Tobin Rote for his first four years with the team. According to the St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture, observers repeated the old criticisms of him: his "arm was weak and he was too passive and nice to develop the presence necessary for a championship quarterback."

In his first season, 1956-1957, Starr made forty-four attempts and completed twenty-four, with two touchdowns and three interceptions. The Packers had a 4-8 record in that season.

After that season ended, Starr, who has been commissioned in the Reserve Officer Training Corps when he graduated from college, was called up to active duty in the U.S. Air Force. He was assigned to Eglin Air Force Base near Panama City in Florida. However, a physical exam soon revealed his back problems, and he was discharged. He returned to Green Bay and the Packers.

In 1957-1958, Starr and his mentor Babe Parilli, who had come to the Packers when Tobin Rote was traded to the Detroit Lions, took turns as quarterback. The Packers completed the season with a 3-9 record. Packers coach Lisle Blackburn was released and was briefly replaced by Ray "Scooter" McLean, but during McLean's tenure, the team only won one game.

On February 4, 1959, Vince Lombardi became coach of the Packers. He would later become the most famed coach in the team's history, largely because of his all-encompassing attitude toward the game as a microcosm of life, and his insistence on winning. During his first year, the Packers finished with a record of 7-5.

Awards and Accomplishments

1960 Packers win Western Division title, lose NFL championship
1961-62, 1965-66 Packers win division title and NFL championship
1962, 1964, 1966 Leads NFL in passing
1963-64 Throws 294 passes with no interceptions, setting NFL record
1966 Named NFL Player of the Year
1967 Packers win division title and famed "Ice Bowl" NFL championship
1967 Packers win Super Bowl I; named Super Bowl Most Valuable Player (MVP)
1968 Packers win Super Bowl II; named Super Bowl MVP
1976 Elected to Alabama Sports Hall of Fame
1977 Inducted into National Football Hall of Fame

Lombardi initially agreed with earlier assessments of Starr's potential. Like Blackburn, he badgered Starr, telling him he would have to become more assertive. In time, however, according to the St. James Encyclopedia, "Lombardi recognized that Starr's future depended on quiet encouragement instead of public humiliation," and Lombardi changed his tactics for dealing with Starr. The quiet encouragement worked. Starr blossomed as a player, and wholeheartedly accepted Lombardi's famed drive to win. In addition, because Lombardi was volatile and aggressive, Starr's quiet focus and firm but modest demeanor provided the perfect balance for the team. According to the St. James Encyclopedia, Starr later said, "Everything I am as a man and a football player I owe to Vince Lombardi. He is the man who taught me everything I know about football, about leadership, about life. He took a kid and made a man out of him, with his example, with his faith."

On December 17, 1960, Starr quarterbacked while the Packers beat the Los Angeles Rams 35-21 to win the Western Division title; they later lost the league title to the Philadelphia Eagles.

In 1961, Starr became the team's star quarterback. On December 31, 1961, Green Bay played a championship against the New York Giants at the Packers' stadium, Lambeau Field, winning with a score of 37-0.

Starr soon became known as one of the most efficient passers in football history. His constant study of player behavior in films of games allowed him to set NFL records for the lowest percentage of passes intercepted in a season (1.2 percent), fewest interceptions in a full season (3), and lifetime passing completion percentage (57.4 percent). In 1964 and 1965, he threw 294 passes without an interception, setting another NFL record.

In 1965, the American Football League was established, and many Green Bay players left the relatively remote Wisconsin town to play for other franchises. Starr, however, had become involved in various opportunities in Wisconsin, including television commercials and car dealerships, and he decided to stay in Green Bay.

Throughout the 1960s, Starr quarterbacked the team to win six Western Division title games, five league championships, and two Super Bowl wins.

Starr was named Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl I in 1967, and Super Bowl II in 1968. He led the NFL in passing in 1962, 1964, and 1966. In 1966 he was named NFL Player of the Year.

The Ice Bowl

Starr's most famous move occurred on December 31, 1967, in the final minutes of the 1967 NFL championship, against the Dallas Cowboys. This game, later famed as the "Ice Bowl" because it was played at fourteen degrees below zero with a wind chill of forty-nine below, tested both players and fans in the Packers' outdoor stadium. The testing began before the players arrived at the stadium: some of them couldn't start their cars and had to hitch rides to the stadium. At the Cowboys' hotel, the doors were frozen shut and had to be kicked open.

On the first play of the game, referee Norm Schachter's whistle froze to his lip. After that, plays were yelled instead of whistled. The halftime show was canceled when a band member's lip froze to his horn during the rehearsal.

Career Statistics

Passing Rushing
Yr Team ATT COM YDS COM% TD INT RAT ATT YDS AVG TD
GB: Green Bay Packers.
1956 GB 44 24 325 54.5 2 3 65.1 5 35 7.0 0
1957 GB 215 117 1489 54.4 8 10 69.3 31 98 3.2 3
1958 GB 157 78 875 49.7 3 12 41.2 25 113 4.5 1
1959 GB 134 70 972 52.2 6 7 69.0 16 83 5.2 0
1960 GB 172 98 1358 57.0 4 8 70.8 7 12 1.7 0
1961 GB 295 172 2418 58.3 16 16 80.3 12 56 4.7 1
1962 GB 285 178 2438 62.5 12 9 90.7 21 72 3.4 1
1963 GB 244 132 1855 54.1 15 10 82.3 13 116 8.9 0
1964 GB 272 163 2144 59.9 15 4 97.1 24 165 6.9 3
1965 GB 251 140 2055 55.8 16 9 89.0 18 169 9.4 1
1966 GB 251 156 2257 62.2 14 3 105.0 21 104 5.0 2
1967 GB 210 115 1823 54.8 9 17 64.4 21 90 4.3 0
1968 GB 171 109 1617 63.7 15 8 104.3 11 62 5.6 1
1969 GB 148 92 1161 62.2 9 6 89.9 7 0 8.6 0
1970 GB 255 140 1645 54.9 8 13 63.9 12 62 5.2 1
1971 GB 45 24 286 53.3 0 3 45.2 3 11 3.7 1
TOTAL 3149 1808 24718 57.4 152 138 66.0 247 1308 5.3 15

Nevertheless, the game went on as scheduled. The Packers, who lived in the cold Wisconsin climate and who were used to playing at the team's frigid Lambeau Field, were ahead 14-0 early in the game. However, as the weather deteriorated, the Packers fumbled twice, allowing Dallas to score a touchdown and a field goal. In the fourth quarter, Dallas added another touchdown. With 4:50 left in the game, the Packers were losing, seventeen to fourteen. By this time, the temperature had dropped to eighteen below zero and the wind was forty miles per hour. Over 50,000 fans huddled in their parkas in the stands, waiting for the outcome.

Starr called a time out, his last. The playing field was now a sheet of ice. The team's only chance was to pass: an incomplete pass would stop the clock, allowing the Packers to set up a field goal, tying the game and sending it into overtime. A completed pass would allow them to win. Starr consulted with Lombardi. According to a writer for ESPN Sports Center, Lombardi said, "Run it, and let's get the hell out of here." Starr returned to the huddle.

Starr took the snap from center Ken Bowman. Bowman, along with guard Jerry Kramer, stopped Dallas tackle Jethro Pugh. Starr sneaked behind Jerry Kramer, who was on the one-yard line, and dove into the end zone, scoring a touchdown with only 13 seconds to go and winning the championship.

"We were supremely confident," Starr reflected in the ESPN Sports Center article. "We were never arrogant. I think there's a huge difference. I think arrogance can bury you, but confidence can put you right on the edge of invincibility."

In 1971, Starr underwent surgery on both shoulders and missed the first ten games of the season. In July of 1972, he decided to retire from play, although he remained on the team as quarterback coach for the rest of the year.

In 1973, Starr officially retired. He became a sports analyst for the CBS network. In 1975, Starr became head coach of the Packers, a position he held until 1984. In 1976 Starr was elected to the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, and in 1977 he was inducted into the National Football Hall of Fame. In 1984, Starr and Cherry moved to Phoenix, Arizona, where they and others hoped to start a new NFL team.

In July of 1988, Starr and Cherry became uneasy because they had not heard from their younger son, Bret, who was then 24 years old. Bret was recovering from an addiction to cocaine, and called his parents daily. After three days passed with no contact from Bret, Starr flew to Tampa, where Bret lived, to check on him. "I just had a gut feeling that something was wrong," Starr told Loren Mooney in Sports Illustrated. Tragically, he found his son dead on the floor in his apartment. An investigation revealed that Bret had died from irregular heart rhythms, a complication of his addiction.

As a result of this loss, Starr's older son, Bart Jr., told his parents that he thought it would be a good idea for them to move to Birmingham, Alabama, where he lived and worked as an investment advisor. He wanted them to be together as a family. Starr and Cherry agreed, and moved to Birmingham nine months later.

Starr became chair of Starr Sanders Projects, a subsidiary of Healthcare Realty, a real estate investment firm, and director of Barry, Huey, Bulek, and Cook, an advertising firm. He and his wife frequently saw their son, and his family. Starr told Mooney, "They are really our family. We'll always be indebted to Bart Jr. for bringing us back."

Starr is still considered a hero both in Wisconsin and in his home state of Alabama. As a writer noted in the St. James Encyclopedia, "To many, he will always be the hard-working conscience behind the Packer dynasty."

Where Is He Now?

Starr is still working as chair of Healthcare Realty Management, and told an interviewer in Biography, "I'm very happy where I am." He is still deeply honored by the recognition he receives from fans, especially when those fans are so young that they weren't even alive during his heyday. In addition to working for Healthcare Realty, Starr devotes much of his time to charitable and nonprofit organizations, and is also a motivational speaker.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Address: c/o Celebrity Speakers and Entertainers, 23852 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 401, Malibu, CA 90265. Phone: 800-516-9090. Online: www.speakerbooking.com.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Books

"Bart Starr." St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture. Detroit: St. James Press, 2000.

Vinson, Betty B. "Bart Starr." in Scribner Encyclopedia of American Lives: Sports Figures, edited by Arnold Markoe. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2002: 391.

Periodicals

Mooney, Loren. "Bart Starr, Green Bay Packers Legend: August 25, 1975." Sports Illustrated (October 12, 1998): 24.

Stapleton, Arnie. "Memories of Packers-Cowboys Ice Bowl Game Remain Frozen in Time." Rocky Mountain News (January 4, 1998): 9C.

Other

"Bart Starr." Biography.com. http://www.biography.com/ (November 20, 2002).

"Catch a Shining Starr in the Ice Bowl." ESPN Sports-Center (January 16, 1999), http://espn.go.com/ (November 20, 2002).

Green Bay Packers. http://www.packers.com/ (November 15, 2002).

Pro Football Hall of Fame. http://www.profootballhof.com/ (November 20, 2002).

Sketch by Kelly Winters

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