Bart Starr’s offensive numbers pale in comparison to those of modern quarterbacks, and even other legends of his own time.
Don’t let those numbers fool you into missing Starr’s greatness.
In an era when quarterbacks were starting to reach 4,000 yards passing in a season, Starr never came close to that milestone.
His top mark was 2,438 yards in 1962. Aaron Rodgers nearly doubled that in just one campaign (2011), with 4,643. (All stats courtesy Pro Football Reference.)
– Packers legend Bart Starr dead at 85 years old
– Gene Mueller’s blog: Bart Starr – A legend passes, another link to glory gone
– Bart Starr’s legacy, part 1: A chase for perfection
– Bart Starr’s legacy, part 2: Winning, not stats, defined Starr
– Bart Starr’s legacy, part 3: Competitive fire and comebacks
– Bart Starr’s legacy, part 4: 1967- Ice in his veins, fire in his heart
– Bart Starr’s legacy, part 5: Post-Lombardi – his coaching failure and a moment of forgiveness
– Bart Starr’s legacy, part 6: Kindness, presence, attitude, an impact of love
Big touchdown pass totals also aren’t on Starr’s stat sheet. He never threw for more than 16 overall TD’s in a season. In 2011, Rodgers nearly tripled Starr’s best year with 45.
The totals for Starr’s regular season stats aren’t big.
In comparison, his post-season stats, leadership and penchant for winning big games were huge.
“The measure of the player is how well he plays under pressure when you have to win,” said Starr in a 1984 NFL Films interview.
No quarterback in NFL history has ever performed better in such must-win games in the postseason.
Starr’s career passer rating in 10 postseason games: 104.8. That’s higher than Aaron Rodgers, Brett Favre, Joe Montana, Tom Brady or any other quarterback in the game’s annals.
No quarterback in NFL history has a better postseason winning percentage: 9-1 (90%).
The statistic that matters most: no quarterback had ever won more championships until Tom Brady – five.
There are those who will argue that the Packers offense under Vince Lombardi was “Run to Daylight,” not throw through daylight. In their view, Starr supposedly shouldn’t get as much credit for winning as other quarterbacks.
In some ways, they would certainly be correct. For most of Starr’s career, the Packers had a two-time MVP in Paul Hornung and the only man to beat Cleveland Browns legend Jim Brown for an NFL rushing yards title, Jim Taylor.
Even with that talent, they depended on Starr’s arm in the biggest games. He delivered.
The 1961 NFL Title Game against the New York Giants was his first postseason work of art, though he reportedly was suffering from nerves before painting such a championship picture on the canvas of Lambeau Field.
The book “Vince” by Michael O’Brien cites the story, which happened before the 1961 NFL Title Game at then-City Stadium against the New York Giants. (It’s a story Starr later denied, perhaps in truth, perhaps in self-effacement.)
“In his office before the game, Vince was chatting with his New York friend Dr. Anthony Pisani when Bart Starr arrived. Starr, recalled Pisani, was as ‘nervous as a hen on a hot quilt.’ To settle him down, Vince placed a reassuring arm around his quarterback and said, ‘I don’t want you to do anything else today except what you’ve been doing all year. And I know you can do it.’ “
He did it to the tune of 10-17 passing for 164 yards and three scoring throws, for a passer rating of 130.9. With his passing, the Packers had the game in control from early on. They won 37-0.
“Today, you were the greatest team in the history of the National Football League,” Lombardi was often quoted to have said in the postgame locker room to Starr and his teammates.
It was in these pressure games where Starr embodied the Vince Lombardi philosophies of teamwork, self-sacrifice, leadership, poise, confidence and command. He even revealed such character by standing up to his normally domineering general of a coach, who eventually put complete trust in his top lieutenant.
The 1962 championship tussle between the squads in New York was the only one where Starr’s passing didn’t make a major effect. The gale-force winds at Yankee Stadium didn’t allow for much throwing. Starr’s decision-making and play-calling were his greatest assets in the Packers’ 16-7 victory.
After Starr suffered through two injury-laden seasons, the Packers were hoping to return to the championship column in 1965, but Taylor was aging and Hornung was injured.
It was in the 1965, 1966 and 1967 seasons where Starr cemented his on-field legacy. He piloted the Packers to an unmatched three consecutive NFL titles during the league’s modern era. (The 1929-31 Packers also achieved the feat in the era before NFL title games and Super Bowls.)
Without taking unnecessary risks through the air (just three interceptions in 1965), Starr expanded the importance of the big-play passing game in the Lombardi attack.
Six times that year, Starr threw touchdown passes of longer than 40 yards. That’s more than Aaron Rodgers threw in his Super Bowl season of 2010.
The Packers rode his passing, along with a turnover-creating defense, to the NFL Championship Game against Cleveland. Starr showed incredible toughness, a Lombardi-taught character, in starting the game despite a severe rib injury.
He sacrificed his pain to toss a 47-yard touchdown pass to Carroll Dale in the first quarter. The rest of Starr’s teammates picked up the rest of the slack in delivering a 23-12 victory and the third NFL title of his career.