Dougherty: Bart Starr a possibility for Packers reunion weekend

Pete Dougherty
Packers News
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Bart Starr and wife Cherry Starr during a visit to Florida in September 2017.

Don’t be surprised if Bart Starr makes a return trip to Lambeau Field in the next couple of months.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback didn’t attend a game in 2016, but if his recent improved health holds up, his family wants to bring him to a Green Bay Packers game this season.

“I’m pleased to report he’s at about his best level of the year right now, which is great,” said Starr’s son, Bart Jr. “We’re really, really grateful. First half of the year not so good, but the third quarter of the year, July, August, September he made tremendous strides.”

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The elder Starr last attended a Packers game on Thanksgiving Day in 2015, the night Brett Favre’s retired No. 4 was unveiled on the north façade at Lambeau. Starr, who turned 83 last January, made that trip after recovering from a heart attack as well as multiple strokes and seizures in late 2014.

The Packers have only one home game this month, on Oct. 22 against the New Orleans Saints. That’s the weekend the Packers Hall of Fame is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an event at the Lambeau Field Atrium. The Packers play twice at home the following month, on Nov. 6 against Detroit and Nov. 19 against Baltimore.

On Saturday, Oct. 21, the day before the Saints game, the Packers Hall will not only celebrate its 50th anniversary but also will honor the Packers’ 1967 championship team that Starr quarterbacked. The ’67 Packers won the most famous game in franchise history, the Ice Bowl against Dallas for the NFL title, and then defeated the Oakland Raiders in Super Bowl II.

The event at the Lambeau Atrium will include video highlights from the ’67 season, a life-size statue of Starr, and appearances by nine of Starr’s teammates from that team: Jerry Kramer, Marv Fleming, Boyd Dowler, Carroll Dale, Ken Bowman, Zeke Bratkowski, Bob Long and Chuck Mercein.

Starr Jr. said the trip from Alabama to any game is contingent on his father’s continued good health, and that the family won't decide until early in the week of a game whether to attend.

“That would be great to have a chance to see some of (his former teammates) when we’re up in Green Bay, if we do get to Green Bay,” Starr Jr. said.

Starr has been in ongoing recovery from the heart attack, strokes and seizures in ’14. Among his treatments were two sets of an experimental stem-cell procedure, the first several weeks before attending the Thanksgiving Day game in 2015, and the other late in the summer of ’16.

In the last few months, his health improved noticeably after doctors began weaning him off several medications that had been prescribed by various specialists. He’d been on as many as seven or eight medications, and the combination was hindering his cognitive functioning. He’s now taking only absolutely essential medicine.

“As we’ve proceeded this year, the greater the weaning off those medications, the greater the response,” Starr Jr. said.

Starr can walk very slowly with the help of a cane and companion. He also attends physical therapy three times a week. He doesn’t initiate conversation but responds when spoken to.

He was well enough recently to take about a 4½-hour trip by car from his home near Birmingham, Ala., to visit Bratkowski, his former backup quarterback, in the Florida panhandle.

“He’s able to stand up a little bit longer than he was,” Starr Jr. said. “Also, cognitively, he is able to carry on a little better conversation than he was. Even if it’s someone brand new that he’s never met, it’s really nice to see him engage with that person and say hello and wish them well. We’re seeing those sorts of things that really weren’t there last year and earlier this year.”

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The Starrs haven’t been in recent contact with the company that performed the experimental stem-cell treatments, Stemedica. But Starr Jr. said they likely will call sometime soon to see whether researchers there have good reason to think a third round would help his father.

Medical experts say it’s too early to know whether stem-cell treatments such as Starr has undergone actually help stroke victims. Stemedica has been conducting clinical trials in Mexico for several years — that’s where Starr went for his treatments — and last year expanded them to the United States as part of the regulatory process to prove whether the treatments are safe and effective.

While the Starrs decide whether to try that, they think that one of the best medicines is taking Starr to a Packers game at Lambeau Field.

“When he was in Florida (recently), there are Packers fans everywhere; they saw him and came up and talked to him and were wishing him well,” Starr Jr. said. “My mom (Cherry Starr) said he responded so well to that, they were talking to him about how much they enjoyed watching the Packers over the years, it really lifted him up. If that was the effect down in Florida, what would it be in Green Bay?”

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