“Bart Starr is one of the finest gentlemen you’d ever want to meet, but on the football field, he’d cut your heart out and show it to you.” – Zeke Bratkowski, to NFL Films
Bart Starr, who has passed away at 85 years old, lived a life of quiet discipline on and off the field. Underneath that quiet calm lied a raging desire to win. It led Starr to slice, dice, chop and quarter the hearts of NFL defenses for 16 seasons (1956-71).
Football is a game of controlled passion that often reaches rage, and Starr’s rage to win demanded him seeking perfection his whole career.
He didn’t reach that perfection, but he reached the greatest excellence any quarterback has in the ultimate determinant of a quarterback’s legacy: NFL championships.
– 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
Starr won five of them, more than any quarterback in the sport’s history until Tom Brady. He might have told you he could have won more. Such is the nature of someone with an underlying rage to be the best.
In 1959, Bart Starr’s search for perfection, implanted in his heart by new Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, turned around Starr’s languishing three-year NFL career. He had been a 17th-round draft pick from Alabama. In his first three years, his teams won just eight games.
These were among Lomberdi’s first words to his new Packers on a hot July 1959 night:
“Gentlemen, we are going to relentlessly chase perfection, knowing full well we will not catch it, because nothing is perfect. But we are going to relentlessly chase it, because in the process we will catch excellence…I’m not remotely interested in being just good.”
In conversation and speeches in his life, Starr often used that Lombardi quote to share the coach’s essence, one that became his drive.
Starr would often tell the story of how after that initial Lombardi oration, he rushed down to a pay phone and called the forever love of his life, his wife Cherry. Without hesitation, he joyfully blurted out “Honey, we’re going to begin to win.”
“I just felt very confident because of (Lombardi), that this could be a super opportunity, and he just had me working harder and harder every day,” Starr told 620WTMJ in a 2012 interview.
The hard work didn’t lead to an immediate beginning for Starr. He failed to win the permanent starting job under Lombardi until 1960, days before a game against the rival Chicago Bears.
“We were in a practice session on the field down below the stadium,” said Starr. “We finished the practice that day and were walking off, and he basically said, ‘I’m pleased how you’re progressing. I’m excited about this possibility.’ ”
Starr had the keys to the Lombardi offense permanently in his hands, in an era where quarterbacks drove the offensive playcalling much more than they do today. In that first permanent start at quarterback, Starr would face the pressure of a Chicago defense that gave up fewer than 100 passing yards per game that year.
He more than doubled that total in an aerial quarterbacking masterpiece.
“Because of the training, the preparation and the strong feelings we had with Coach Lombardi, we were able to succeed,” Starr said.
He completed 74 percent of his passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-13 Packers blowout. He remained the starting quarterback in Green Bay for the next 11 seasons.