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Bart Starr, Packers legend who led team to first Super Bowl titles, dies at 85

Mike Kupper and Sam Farmer, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Football

The greatness of Bart Starr almost never happened.

The 17th-round draft choice nearly walked away from the Green Bay Packers -- a franchise he would quarterback to five league championships and victories in the first two Super Bowls -- before his career even got off the ground.

"Bart didn't think he was going to make the team, literally was going to leave training camp, and (coach Vince) Lombardi talked him back into staying," said Joe Horrigan, executive director and historian of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "It was the little town that couldn't, the coach who had been rejected, and the quarterback who no one thought could be who he was.

"If you were making a movie, and you put all those ingredients in it, you shook it up and poured it out, it would be the Green Bay Packers and Bart Starr would have the leading role."

Starr, who had been in failing health since suffering a stroke in 2014, died Sunday in Birmingham, Ala., where he was born and raised, the Packers announced. He was 85.

"The Packers Family was saddened today to learn of the passing of Bart Starr," said Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy. "A champion on and off the field, Bart epitomized class and was beloved by generations of Packers fans. A clutch player who led his team to five NFL titles, Bart could still fill Lambeau Field with electricity decades later during his many visits. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Cherry and the entire Starr family."

 

Born Bryan Bartlett Starr on Jan. 9, 1934, Starr became an all-star quarterback in Montgomery at Sidney Lanier High School, then accepted a scholarship at the University of Alabama, where his career stalled.

The Packers, who traced their history in the National Football League to 1921 and had won six league championships under legendary founder-coach Curly Lambeau, were a team in disarray when Starr joined them in 1956. They hadn't had a winning season in nine years and were on their third coach -- soon to be fourth, then fifth -- in that span.

Starr certainly wasn't viewed as a franchise savior. That he was in the NFL at all was surprising, since he had played little in his junior and senior seasons at Alabama, thanks to a back injury, then a coaching change and a new offensive system. But Johnny Dee, Alabama's basketball coach who had helped out with the football team, thought Starr might have possibilities and recommended him to Jack Vainisi, his former Notre Dame classmate and director of player personnel at Green Bay. Vainisi took a chance, drafting him as a backup.

"It was obvious they thought I was not going to stay," Starr told the Los Angeles Times in 1987. "In our first photo session, they gave me No. 42. (Quarterback numbers typically are single digits through the teens.) On my first bubble-gum card, I was No. 42."

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