Bart Starr Was The NFL’s First Elite Quarterback

Football | 6/6/19

Bart Starr was drafted by the Green Bay Packers in 1956 and played there until 1971. During that time he established himself as the NFL’s first elite quarterback. One league MVP, three consecutive league championships, and two dominating Super Bowl performances will do that for an athlete! After he retired, Starr became the head coach for Green Bay but found that his success was fleeting. Still, his legacy as an NFL legend lived on well beyond his playing days. Tragically, Starr died in 2019 at 85-years-old. Here is everything you need to know about his life and the legacy he left behind.

He Didn’t Have A Relationship With His Father

bart starr growing up had a broken relationship with his father.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Growing up Bart Starr didn’t have the stereotypical relationship with his father. Starr’s dad was deployed to the Pacific Theater in 1942 during World War II. Upon coming home, Benjamin Starr found his son had become introverted.

Then, in 1946, their relationship took another hit when Starr’s brother stepped on a dog bone and got tetanus. He passed away from the sickness. Bart found it hard to reconcile with his father after that tragedy. Oddly enough, this broken relationship may have led the future Hall of Famer to take up football in the first place.

Football Wasn’t His First Choice

bart starr was a high school star who led his team to an undefeated season his junior year.
Alabama/Collegiate Images/Getty Images
Alabama/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

Bart Starr’s football career began and nearly ended, during his sophomore year at Sidney Lanier High School. He tried out for the team, made it, then quit two weeks later. His father then gave him the option to work in the family garden or play football again.

Starr decided to re-join the football team, and the decision was life-changing. As a junior, the team’s starting quarterback broke his leg. Starr stepped into the role and led the team to an undefeated record. The next year he was named an All-American and was bombarded with scholarship offers.

He Followed His Girlfriend To College… Sort Of

bart starr went to Alabama to stay close to his girlfriend at the time
Alabama/Collegiate Images/Getty Images
Alabama/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

During the recruitment process, Bart Starr strongly considered accepting an offer from the University of Kentucky. The school’s program was coached by Bear Bryant and was considered one of the best in the nation at the time.

Starr worried that moving to Kentucky would put him too far away from his girlfriend, Cherry Morton who was going to Auburn. Starr decided to turn down Kentucky to join a program closer to her location, committing to the University of Alabama.

His Alabama Career Was Less Than Memorable

bart starr injured his back and lied to Alabama about how it happened.
Alabama/Collegiate Images/Getty Images
Alabama/Collegiate Images/Getty Images

For a quarterback with the credentials of Bart Starr, it would be easy to assume he starred in college too. The truth is he rarely played in college. Early in his career, he injured his back during a college hazing accident.

Starr lied to the school and said he sustained the injury while punting. During the rest of his college tenure, the injury kept him from finding consistent playing time. When it was time for him to enter the NFL, he was taken in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL Draft.

He Signed With The Packers On One Condition

bart starr signed with the packers in 1956 after they agreed to pay him $1,000 up front
Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images
Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images

The summer of 1956 was not an easy one for Starr. He lived with his in-laws while he waited for the NFL season to start. At the time, Green Bay was offering him $6,500 to sign his contract. With inflation today, that would equal $59,900.

Starr told the Packers he would sign his rookie contract if they paid him $1,000 up front. The team agreed, and the future Super Bowl champion was placed on their roster as one of two back up quarterbacks.

The Arrival Of Vince Lombardi Changed Starr’s Life Forever

vince lombardi and bart starr joined forces on the packers in 1959
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

From 1956 until 1959, Starr backed up whoever the Packers put under center. When Vince Lombardi came to town, that man was Lamar McHan. Midway through his first season as the Packers head coach, Lombardi benched McHan for Starr.

Once given the chance to show his abilities, Starr never gave the job back. In his first full season as the team’s starter, Starr led them to the NFL Championship Game, where he lost to the Philadelphia Eagles. He would never lose in that same position again.

Back-To-Back Titles

bart starr won back to back championships against the New York Giants early in his career.
James Flores/Getty Images
James Flores/Getty Images

After losing the 1960 NFL Championship Game, Lombardi and Starr returned to the games biggest stage for the next two years. In both competitions, they faced the New York Giants and came out victorious.

Three years later, the coach and quarterback duo returned to the Championship game and won for the third time. The next year the NFL merged with the AFL, creating the modern-day National Football League. The new league split itself into the AFC and NFC, with the winners of each conference facing off in the Super Bowl.

Starr Took The New NFL By Storm In 1966

bart starr won the first super bowl against the chiefs by a score of 35-10
James Flores/Getty Images
James Flores/Getty Images

In the NFL’s first season, Bart Starr was everything his name advertised. He finished the regular season with 2,257 passing yards and 14 touchdowns against three interceptions. While those numbers don’t sound impressive today, they were more than enough to earn the quarterback league MVP honors back then.

In the postseason, Starr led the Packers to Super Bowl I, where he faced off against the Kansas City Chiefs. Green Bay dominated their AFC rival, winning by a score of 35-10. The next year, Starr made even more history with the Packers.

The Three-Peat

bart starr won three championships in a row making him the only qb in history to accomplish the feat
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Here’s something Bart Starr has done that no other quarterback in the history of the NFL has done: win three Championships in a row. Because his 1965 Championship came before the merger, it’s not usually counted in the record, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive.

Winning one Super Bowl is hard, and winning what amounts to three in a row is nearly impossible. Even Tom Brady, who has been to three straight Super Bowls before, didn’t win them all.

Starr Called His Own Plays

bart starr called his own plays none more famous than the quarterback sneak in the ice bowl to win the game
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

During his time with Vince Lombardi, Bart Starr was trusted by his legendary coach to call his own plays. No play made by Starr is more famous than the quarterback sneak he called during the “Ice Bowl” game of 1967.

Desperate to score and end the game, Starr suggested the play to Lombardi, who said, “Then do it, and let’s get the [word removed] out of here!” Starr could barely contain his excitement in the huddle and the Packers scored, beating the Cowboys 21-17.

He Sent Lombardi Out With A Bang

vince lombardi's final game in green bay was a super bowl victory against the Oakland raiders
Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images
Kidwiler Collection/Diamond Images

The third consecutive Championship game win in 1967 was a special one for Bart Starr. It was the last game Vince Lombardi coached in Green Bay, and his quarterback made sure to send him out of town with a bang.

The Packers faced the Oakland Raiders on that day, beating them easily by a score of 33-14. Lombardi was replaced with Phil Bengtson in 1968. The new coach lasted three seasons before giving up the job to Dan Devine. Five years later Devine left and a familiar face took over.

Bart Starr Became The Packers Head Coach In 1975

bart starr became the packers head coach in 1975 after dan devine left to pursue other opportunities
Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images
Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

When he retired in 1972, Bart Starr accepted a job with the Packers as their quarterback’s coach. His next big promotion came in 1974 when head coach Dan Devine left the Packers to pursue an opportunity with Notre Dame.

Starr was named the head coach of the Green Bay Packers on Christmas Eve in 1974, and it was seen as a real gift for fans of the team. The Packers signed him to a three-year contract, although he ended up staying for nine.

The First Five Years

bart starr was the general manager for five years in green bay and posted one winning season
Diamond Images/Getty Images
Diamond Images/Getty Images

For his first five years as the Green Bay Packers tenure, Bart Starr not only served as the team’s head coach but as the general manager, too. During those five seasons, Starr posted a winning record once, going 8-7 in 1978.

While the first five years weren’t the best, Green Bay continued to believe in Starr, keeping him on board as head coach, but taking away his general manager duties. The results were slightly better.

The Final Four Years

bart starr was fired by the packers after nine years as the head coach.
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

In Starr’s first year without the general manager title, the Packers went 5-10. It wasn’t the best season, but it wasn’t enough to get him fired. In 1981, Green Bay went 8-8. The improved record gave ownership enough confidence to stick with Starr.

The 1982 season was shortened by a strike, and Green Bay went 5-3. The record was good enough to get them into the playoffs for the first time in a decade. They were eliminated by the Cowboys. Another 8-8 record followed, leading to the firing of Bart Starr after nine years.

His Post Green Bay Career

bart starr almost coached again in arizona in 1984 but the state was not awarded a new franchise by the NFL
Focus on Sport/Getty Images
Focus on Sport/Getty Images

In 1984, Bart Starr planned to return to the sidelines as the head coach of the Arizona Firebirds. The team was a proposed expansion franchise for the NFL, and ownership believed that reeling in Starr would guarantee them a spot in the league.

Unfortunately for Starr and the state of Arizona, the NFL rejected the expansion franchises proposal. For Starr, it was his last chance to be a coach in the NFL. When he returned to Alabama, he started his second life as a successful businessman and dedicated husband.

The Rawhide Boys Ranch

bart starr founded the rawhide ranch boys club in 1965 and donated his corvetter to help fund it
Arty Pomerantz/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images
Arty Pomerantz/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images

In 1965, Bart and Cherry Starr opened the Rawhide Boys Ranch to help young, at-risk males in Wisconsin. When Bart was gifted a Corvette for being named the Super Bowl MVP, he donated the car to help fund the ranch.

The Starr’s remained involved with the Rawhide Boys Ranch until 2017, and made sure to go to as many events as possible. In 1971, Bart and Cherry also started the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation in honor of the iconic head coach.

Hall Of Fame Induction

bart starr was inducted into the hall of fame in 1977
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

Bart Starr was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. It was an easy call for the one time league MVP and two time Super Bowl MVP. No quarterback in Packers’ history is as decorated as Starr.

At the time of his retirement, Starr’s numbers put him in historic territory. His 24,718 career passing doesn’t look like a lot today, but when he was starting, the NFL was a running league. He also played 196 games, which was a Green Bay record that stood until 2003.

He Was Honored By A President

bart starr and richard nixon meeting in DC for the first time
Bettmann/Getty Images
Bettmann/Getty Images

In 1970, President Richard Nixon spoke these words about Bart Starr at a reception honoring him, “the sixties will be described as the decade in which football became the number one sport in America, in which the Packers were the number one team, and Bart Starr was proudly the number one Packer.”

Starr had his number retired by the Packers shortly after hanging up his cleats. Today, he is one of six Green Bay icons who will never have his number worn again. The other five are Brett Favre (4), Ray Nitschke (66), Tony Canadeo (3), Reggie White (92), and Don Hutson (14).

Health Issue Crept Up On Him

bart starr at the super bowl breakfast in 2013 just before his health started failing him
Robin Marchant/Getty Images
Robin Marchant/Getty Images

Late in his life, Bart Starr’s health began to waver. In 2014, he had a stroke and one year later he underwent stem-cell therapy as part of a clinical trial. Through his struggles, he managed to stay in the public eye, even attending Brett Favre’s jersey retirement ceremony.

Sadly, on May 26, 2019, Starr’s health got the best of him and he passed away. It was reported that his death was caused by his failing health, which he had struggled with since his stroke.

The Leader Of The Pack

bart starr and aaron rodgers at the super bowl breakfast in 2014
Joe Kohen/Getty Images
Joe Kohen/Getty Images

There is no doubt that Bart Starr was the NFL’s first elite quarterback. Upon retiring, he led the league in several statistical categories. He had the best completion percentage of all-time, a 9-1 postseason record, and the highest postseason passer rating (104.8).

To honor him, the NFL named an award after Starr, which is given to the player who displays the most outstanding character every year. The first-ever recipient of the award was Steve Largent of the Seattle Seahawks in 1989. In 2019, defensive end Calais Campbell was given the incredible honor.