SAN FRANCISCO - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell recently offered a special invitation to the MVP of Super Bowls I and II.
He wanted Bart Starr and his wife Cherry to attend Super Bowl 50 with him on Sunday at Levi’s Stadium.
“I wanted so much for Bart to be able to do that,” Cherry Starr told USA TODAY Sports by phone this week from their home in Alabama. “I would have given anything.”
Unfortunately, the former Green Bay Packers quarterback is on the mend from a broken hip and is unable to accept the invitation. It’s the latest sad turn in a string of recent health setbacks for him, but Starr, 82, has bounced back from worse and is bouncing back once more, Cherry Starr said. In the last year and a half, Starr suffered:
» Two strokes, a heart attack and several seizures in September 2014.
» A bronchial infection last summer with a heart rate that hit 200 beats a minute and nearly killed him.
» Frustrating limitations after each of those episodes, including barely being able to walk or feed himself.
Yet he still battled back with therapy and even tried experimental stem cell treatments in Mexico on two occasions.
His comeback attempt later seemed to peak last Thanksgiving, when he made a triumphant return to Green Bay for a ceremony honoring Brett Favre, another legendary former Packers quarterback.
“He’s very tough,” said Zeke Bratkowski, Starr’s backup quarterback with the Packers, including during those first two Super Bowls in 1967 and 1968. “He’s the ultimate gentleman, but he’s very physically tough. And he was that way when he played. He’s very mentally tough also.”
Now he’s showing it again after even more setbacks — a bout with the flu, another infection and the hip injury.
In December, Starr dropped his toothbrush at home and ended up breaking his hip when he fell trying to retrieve it. “It’s been a real setback for him,” Cherry Starr said. “It really has.”
The good news is it wasn’t a bad break. He’s been in a wheelchair for six weeks and is beginning therapy to stand up and walk. X-rays show he’s healing, and Starr hasn’t complained of any discomfort recently, said Cherry Starr, who noted her husband’s “very high pain threshold.”
“If his progress had continued at that point (of his hip injury), there’s no question we’d be out there with you right now (at the Super Bowl),” Cherry Starr said. “I wish we were. I’ve been a little bit sad knowing we can’t be there, and of course Roger has been so sweet checking in on us on a weekly basis. He’s just been so precious.”
The Starrs still have special plans this weekend. On Saturday in San Francisco, Bart Starr Jr. is scheduled to present the Bart Starr Award to Thomas Davis, the Carolina Panthers linebacker. Thomas is battling back from his own broken bone — in his arm — but plans to play in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos.
The Starr Award was created to “honor the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community,”
Meanwhile, Bart and Cherry Starr plan to watch Sunday’s game with Bratkowski and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, who are planning to drive from Florida to spend the weekend with them.
The couples have been friends for around five decades.
“I have nothing but great love for him,” Bratkowski told USA TODAY Sports. “He’s going through this physical thing, and I hope that he continues — after he gets through some of these setbacks — that he can continue to get up and work out, because he was making a lot of progress. … All of his teammates love him and are all very concerned, just hoping and praying things go and get more positive as he keeps going on.”