Bart Starr (1934- ), a native of Montgomery, is best known as the starting quarterback for the Green Bay Packers of the National Football League (NFL) during Vince Lombardi's tenure as the team's head coach. Starr, who had an unremarkable stint at the University of Alabama, quarterbacked the winning teams in the first two Super Bowls, earning the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in both games. He also was selected as the NFL's MVP in 1966 and is the only player to lead a team to five NFL Championships. After his playing career, Starr served as head coach of the Packers. He was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1976 and into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
Bryan Bartlett Starr was born January 9, 1934, in Montgomery, the son of Ben and Lula Starr. As the son of a master sergeant in the Army Air Corps during World War II, Starr learned the value of discipline and order early in his life. He lived briefly in Columbia, Tennessee; Gainesville, Florida; and Ord Village, California, returning to Montgomery shortly before entering the first grade. Bart's younger brother, Hilton, died from an infection at age 11, when Bart was 13.
Starr became quarterback for Montgomery's Sidney Lanier High School as a junior in 1950. Sidney Lanier had one of the state's premier programs under head coach Bill Moseley, and Starr would earn all-state honors as a senior quarterback and punter. During the summer before his senior season in 1951, he received personalized instruction from University of Kentucky quarterback Babe Parilli, a move that enhanced his high school career and helped him earn scholarship offers from every Southeastern Conference school except Tennessee. He wanted to play for Kentucky coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, but his girlfriend, Cherry Morton, had decided to attend Auburn University. In part to please his father and in part to live closer to Morton, Starr accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Alabama.
He made the varsity team as the third-team quarterback as a freshman in 1952 and became the starting quarterback for coach Harold "Red" Drew's Crimson Tide as a sophomore, splitting punting duties with Bobby Luna and starting in the secondary. In May 1954, he married Morton. That summer, he developed a lower back strain while punting, an injury that would severely limit him his junior season and affect him throughout his career.
By 1955, J. B. "Ears" Whitworth became the head coach and benched Starr and most of the seniors in a disastrous 0-10 season. Surprisingly, the Crimson Tide's basketball coach, Johnny Dee, helped Starr land a spot in the Blue-Gray All-Star Football Classic in Starr's hometown. Unfortunately for Starr, however, the Gray team's coach sat Starr on the bench for all but a handful of plays. Undaunted, Dee called his friend Jack Vainisi, the director of player personnel for the Green Bay Packers of Wisconsin, who agreed to draft the quarterback, picking him in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL draft.
Starr won the starting job with the Packers in 1957 under Green Bay coaches Lisle Blackbourn and Raymond McLean. In that same year, he celebrated the birth of his son Bart Jr. In 1959, Green Bay officials hired Vince Lombardi as head coach. Starr, accustomed to an organized regimen under his father, was perfectly suited to the new coach's philosophy of strict discipline and a firm work ethic. In Starr, Lombardi had a quarterback who understood what he wanted and strove for perfection in execution.
In the 1960 season, Starr led Green Bay to the Western Division championship. From that year through 1967, Starr quarterbacked the Packers to a 62-24-4 record, winning six divisional titles, five NFL championships and the first two Super Bowls over the American Football League. During that era, Bart and Cherry Starr had a second son, Bret, and Starr took the Corvette he won as the Most Valuable Player in Super Bowl I and used it finance the Rawhide Boys Ranch in 1965, a Wisconsin home for disadvantaged and troubled youth founded by John and Jan Gillespie. Starr continues his financial and personal involvement with the charity today.
Starr was the epitome of what Lombardi wanted in a quarterback, a leader on the field who called almost every play and balanced a strong rushing attack with play-action passes. He was a three-time NFL passing champion and a four-time Pro Bowl selection. Despite these achievements, Starr never threw 300 passes in any season with the Packers, perhaps being the reason many considered him only an average passer. He did set an NFL career passing percentage record (57.4) in his 16-year career, however. Additionally, after losing the 1960 NFL title game to the Philadelphia Eagles in 1960, the Packers never lost another playoff game with Starr as its quarterback and Lombardi as its coach.
Lombardi's retirement after the win over the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II in 1968 and mounting injuries in subsequent seasons foreshadowed the end of Starr's playing career. Shortly after the start of training camp in 1972, he announced his own retirement. Head coach Dan Devine asked Starr to remain with the team as the quarterbacks coach, and this would be his only coaching experience when the Packers made him head coach and general manager in 1975. In his nine-year career as head coach, the team never won more than eight games. Starr was stripped of his general manager duties in 1982, and after an 8-8 season in 1983, he was fired as head coach. Starr has remained close to the Packer organization, serving as an honorary captain who participated in the coin toss for the National Football Conference championship game against the New York Giants in 2008.
Starr has spent much of his recent years as a motivational speaker, traveling throughout the country to speak about the Lombardi
era and the great coach he considered his most valuable mentor. In 1988, his youngest son, Bret, was found dead in his Tampa,
Florida, home at the age of 24, from a cardiac arrhythmia. In 1989, Starr moved back to Alabama, settling in Hoover. He would later become the chairman of Starr Sanders Projects, a company that developed medical centers for health care groups,
retiring from that position in 2006.
Maraniss, David. When Pride Still Mattered. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1999.
Starr, Bart, with Murray Olderman. Starr: My Life in Football. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1987.
Published January 15, 2009
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