In the minds of many, Bart Starr is the best quarterback in Green Bay Packers history.
For all the great seasons Brett Favre produced, and all the phenomenal numbers Aaron Rodgers is generating this year, Starr is still on top of the only list that matters with five championships.
The pundits will argue that Starr was surrounded by the best talent and that his physical skills pale in comparison to Favre and Rodgers. The funny thing is, Starr would be the first to agree with them.
His leadership skills as the Packers’ quarterback in the 1960s can be matched only by his humility nearly 50 years later.
No wonder Starr year after year receives the loudest ovation, by far, on alumni day when former players are introduced at Lambeau Field.
It took Starr nearly five years to become the established starter after being drafted by the Packers in the 17th round in 1956. Rodgers didn’t become a starter until his fourth season, so I asked Starr during a telephone interview Tuesday whether comparisons could be made.
“No, because I didn’t have his talent,” Starr said.
Ever humble, Starr’s place in NFL history is secure. He is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and two-time Super Bowl MVP. But he would rather not dwell on his achievements.
At age 77, he continues to inspire young people, as he did this week when he returned to receive an award and speak at his alma mater, Sidney Lanier High School in Montgomery, Ala., as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and Allstate “Hometown Hall of Famer” program.
“I don’t treasure the awards nearly as much as I treasure the relationships that we had with our coaches and teammates,” Starr said in reflecting on his storied career. “I’ve always believed and still do the most important relationship is with the people. That’s No. 1.”
Starr’s message to kids everywhere centers on attitude. “I think it’s a word that’s very, very powerful for all of us,” he said.
Starr said he never got discouraged during his early years in Green Bay when he was warming the bench. “Being a low-round draft choice, you really did have to wait your turn,” Starr said.
He learned important lessons in patience and perseverance.
“It comes back to that attitude thing,” he said.
“When things aren’t going exactly how you’d like for them to, or you don’t get enough opportunities and so forth, you are able to control how you’re going to continue to move forward successfully.”
Starr holds a special place in his heart for Green Bay.
“Having lived there for 31 years, Green Bay will always be our adopted home,” he said. “So when we come back it truly is a wonderful experience.”
Starr watches every Packers game, although sometimes it’s on tape delay.
He won’t say the NFL’s offensive friendly rules make it easier to play quarterback now than in his day. He admits he at times took a beating on game days and that rules protecting players are a good thing.
Starr stays in touch with Rodgers via email. “I don’t know when I’ve ever seen anyone who is a better person, and an exceptional player,” Starr said of Rodgers.
The feelings are mutual.
“What I admire most about Bart is that when people talk about Bart Starr, a man who had an unbelievably decorated career on the field, usually the first thing they talk about is the kind of man he is off the field,” Rodgers said. “And that says a lot about his character and the way that he’s carried himself and the way he’s lived his life.”
When asked what advice he would offer Rodgers, an emerging superstar, Starr replied: “I don’t know that he needs any advice from me because he seems to have it under control.”
Packers fans can only hope that Rodgers will follow Starr’s example when it comes to handling success.
— email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeVandermause.