Former University of Alabama quarterback Bart Starr, who went on to become one of the National Football League's all-time greats with the Green Bay Packers, died Sunday in Birmingham.
He had been in failing health since suffering two strokes and a heart attack in 2014. Starr was 85.
Even though his name is synonymous with professional football, Starr wasn’t known for his quarterbacking prowess at Alabama. In fact, his most notable award while on the Capstone was being selected to the first-ever Academic All-SEC team in 1953, as a sophomore.
Starr was born in Montgomery, but his family moved around a lot before his father’s National Guard unit was activated for World War II. He chose Alabama in part to appease his father, but also so he could continue to see his high-school sweetheart, Cherry Morton, who would attend Auburn. After his sophomore year, when Starr helped lead the Crimson Tide to the Cotton Bowl, and he ranked second nationally in punting with a 41.1 average, they secretly eloped.
A back strain sidelined Starr for most of his junior season, and after new coach J.B. “Ears” Whitworth wanted a more mobile quarterback his senior year, Starr sat through much of an 0-10 season. He hardly even punted due to a severe ankle sprain.
Starr was a 17th-round draft selection of the Packers in 1956, and saw limited playing time until the team brought in a new coach, Vince Lombardi. Together, they helped create one of pro football’s great dynasties.
“Coach Lombardi showed me that by working hard and using my mind, I could overcome my weakness to the point where I could be one of the best,” Starr said.
From 1960 through 1967, Bart's record as a starter was an amazing 62-24-4, and the Packers won six divisional, five National Football League, and the first two Super Bowl titles. Perhaps his most famous play came on a simple dive in the famous Ice Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Championship game of 1967. Playing in unbelievably cold conditions in Green Bay, the game came down to one play, when instead of handing off Starr kept the ball and scored the winning touchdown. Two weeks later, the Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II, 33-14, in Lombardi’s final game
“Bart Starr stands for what the game of football stands for: courage, stamina and coordinated efficiency,” Lombardi said. “You instill desire by creating a superlative example. The noblest form of leadership is by example and that is what Bart Starr is all about.”
Even though Starr is not in the all-time top 50 in any individual statistical category, he was a three-time NFL passing champion and played in four Pro Bowls. He finished his 16-year career with 24,718 passing yards, 152 touchdowns, and 138 interceptions while completing 57.4 percent of his passes.
In addition to 196 games as a player, Starr coached the Packers from 1975-83, and his numerous honors include the NFL Award for Citizenship and the Byron “Whizzer” White Award. In 1977, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“Anyone can support a team that is winning, it takes no courage. But to stand behind a team to defend a team when it is down and really needs you, that takes a lot of courage,” Starr said.