Legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr, whose legacy was founded not only on his championship-winning skills and smarts but also his dignity on and off the field, died Sunday.
Starr, who quarterbacked the Packers to five NFL titles during his time with the only team of his career from 1956 to 1971, died in Birmingham, Ala., the team announced. He had been in failing health since suffering a serious stroke in September 2014. He was 85.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer “was beloved by fans of not only his generation, but also succeeding ones,” the team announcement read.
“Maybe the most popular player in Packers history, Starr will be eulogized for being a consummate professional, a Good Samaritan and an exemplary role model,” the announcement continued.
Not that Starr didn’t have great success against many teams over his career, he was especially effective against the Vikings, who became an NFL franchise in 1961.
He threw for 3,001 yards, 25 TDs and 14 interceptions against the Vikings, completing 59.8% of his passes, an exceptional completion percentage for that era.
When pitted against Vikings standout passer Fran Tarkenton, Starr won 10 of their first 12 matchups before Tarkenton QB was traded to the New York Giants in 1967.
“This is a very sad day,” Tarkenton said Sunday. “Bart Starr is the greatest human being to ever play in the National Football League. He was a 17th-round draft choice. They didn’t say he was good enough, big enough, or strong enough. But he was. Nobody ever played the game as well as Bart Starr.”
A statement from Starr’s family, released by the team, read, “While he may always be best known for his success as the Packers quarterback for 16 years, his true legacy will always be the respectful manner in which he treated every person he met, his humble demeanor, and his generous spirit.”
Starr’s family said he “had hoped to make one last trip to Green Bay to watch the Packers this fall, but he shall forever be there in spirit.”
Packers President Mark Murphy said in a statement, “A champion on and off the field, Bart epitomized class and was beloved by generations of Packers fans. ... Bart could still fill Lambeau Field with electricity decades later during his many visits.”
The Packers chose Starr out of the University of Alabama in his native state with the 200th pick in the 1956 draft, and after Lombardi’s arrival in 1959, Starr led Green Bay to six division titles, their five NFL championships and wins in the first two Super Bowls.
But it was in the “Ice Bowl” on New Year’s Eve 1967 that Starr secured his legacy, scoring on a sneak with 16 seconds left to give Green Bay a 21-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys. The Packers went on to handily defeat the Oakland Raiders in the Super Bowl.
Starr was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.
“If you work harder than somebody else, chances are you’ll beat him though he has more talent than you,” Starr once said. He credited his head coach, Vince Lombardi, for showing him “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’s nine-season tenure as the Packers’ head coach, succeeding Dan Devine, was far less successful. The team finished 4-10 in 1975, his first season.
His only winning seasons were in 1978 (8-7-1), and in the strike-shortened 1982 campaign (5-3-1). The Packers made their lone playoff appearance under Starr that year, losing to Dallas in the second round.
Starr last coached the Packers in 1983. The 8-8 record gave him a career mark of 52-76-3.
Bart and Cherry Starr lost a son, 24-year-old Brett, in 1988 to cocaine addiction. They have another son, Bart Jr.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482