But that is only a small part of his legacy.
Starr’s grace, humility, courage and love for his wife, Cherry, and their family are what truly defined him. Starr died on Sunday in Birmingham. He was 85. A former Sidney Lanier and Alabama football player, Starr was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls and quarterback of the best team in the NFL at a time when football became America’s No.1 sport.
Born and raised in Montgomery, Starr moved to the Birmingham area after retiring from professional football and lived in Hoover. Charity work was his great passion beyond football, and the NFL’s Bart Starr Award, given to a player each year who "best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community,” honors Starr’s character.
Elevated to stardom from obscurity by legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, Starr helped build a dynasty in small-town Green Bay, Wis., that launched the NFL and professional football into the national consciousness.
Lombardi was a demanding man, and Starr would come to be known as the embodiment of what the Hall of Fame coach wanted in not only a player, but a quarterback: a pinpoint passer, sure of hand under center, and a confident field general who led his men with toughness and intelligence.
“We all tried to play up to 100 percent of our ability, and none of us quite made it” wrote former Green Bay right guard Jerry Kramer, “but Starr came the closest.”
It was Kramer who delivered the lead block for Starr’s touchdown run to win the “Ice Bowl,” one of the most famous games in football history. Amid a windchill of minus-46 degrees at Lambeau Field, the Packers defeated the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in the 1967 NFL championship game on Starr’s quarterback sneak. He scored with 16 seconds left.
That run was quintessential Starr, who was at his best in the postseason. He went 9-1.
"The quarterback’s job is to be a coach on the field,” Starr once said. “I’d say there are three things a quarterback must have. One, he’s got to have the respect of his teammates. Two, his authority must be unquestioned. And three, his teammates must be willing to go to the gates of hell with him.”
Starr’s only loss in the postseason was his first appearance, a 17-13 defeat to the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1960 NFL championship game. But in defeat a legendary team was forged. Starr and the Packers went on to win five NFL championships over a seven-year span, including three in a row and the first two Super Bowls.
While he won back-to-back Super Bowls, Starr preferred to wear his pre-merger, 1967 NFL championship ring in retirement. Inlaid with three diamonds, the ring signified the peak of greatness for Lombardi’s Packers, and of course that brutally frigid night in Green Bay.
Starr revered his legendary coach, who pushed his quarterback to greatness early in his professional career. For many years, Starr’s office desk in his Hoover home featured a picture of Lombardi and one of his famous quotes: "Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence."
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