There he stood, waiting for his flight. It was Monday morning after the 1991 NBA All-Star Game recently played in Charlotte, North Carolina. My brother Cliff and I had been the guests of Miller Brewing Company. We first toured the Roger Penske Racing facility, where they built their Indy cars and NASCAR’s. Rusty Wallace’s major sponsor was Miller Brewing. Then we attended the NBA Jam which included the Three-Point Shoot Out contest, the Slam Dunk contest and the Legends Game. On Sunday, the West beat the East and Charles Barkley was chosen MVP of the NBA All-Star Game. On Monday, I flew from Charlotte to Atlanta to change planes for my trip home to Corpus Christi, Texas. The fellow standing there was Bart Starr. I approached him with caution out of respect. I was excited. When I stuck out my hand to shake his, I noticed my hand was shaking. After introducing myself, I told him how sorry I was to hear about his son Bret who had recently passed away from a cocaine addiction. Although I imagine it was hurtful to talk about, I could not have said anything better. Sometimes God puts words in our mouth for others. Starr perked up like a Roman candle. He thanked me for my thoughts and told me that he and his wife Cherry were finding it difficult to deal with his loss. We spent about ten minutes talking about family, the real estate business, restaurant business, and traveling. Then his plane began boarding. We said our good-byes. It wasn’t until after he had left that I realized that neither of us had mentioned the Green Bay Packers or NFL football. We had exchanged business cards and wished each other a great flight. About three weeks later I received a color lithograph rolled up inside a container. It said it was from Bart Starr. When I opened the container I pulled out a beautiful 36X24 inch picture of Starr in uniform. It was autographed with his name in black ink. Interestingly, something told me to turn the photo over and on the back, Starr had written, “Dear Andy, Thanks for asking.” Bart Starr was thanking me for asking about his son. It still gives me chills to look at that picture. It was the first and last time I ever met Bart Starr.
There is no doubt that life rarely offered him an easy path. Starr was one tough son of a gun. He suffered a stroke in 2012 while giving a speech in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2014, a heart attack followed with multiple seizures. Bart underwent stem cell treatment in 2015 and got some better in 2016. He returned to Green Bay only a couple of times, in November of 2015 when Bret Favre’s #4 was retired and in October of 2017 for the Packers’ 50th Anniversary of the 1967 Championship season.
Bart Starr threw his last pass in life on May 26, 2019. He was 85 and died from a stroke he had suffered earlier. He was living in Birmingham, Alabama, with Cherry, his wife of more than sixty-five years. He is also survived by a son, Bart Starr Jr., and three granddaughters. Their youngest son, Bret, who is mentioned above, died of cocaine overdose in 1988 at the age of 24.
Generous until the end, in 1965, Bart and Cherry started the Rawhide Boys’ Ranch in New London, Wisconsin. This facility still helps at-risk and troubled youth in the state of Wisconsin.
Starr will always be remembered for his part in the “Ice Bowl” played at Lambeau Field against the Dallas Cowboys on the final day of 1967. This game would crown the NFL Champion. With Green Bay trailing 17-14 in the frigid cold, Starr comes to the sidelines to speak with Lombardi. It was third and goal at the Dallas two-foot line. Starr suggests he keep the ball and run it himself. Lombardi answers, “Then do it, and let’s get the hell out of here.” With 16 seconds left in the game, Starr scores behind guard Jerry Kramer’s and center Ken Bowman’s block, and the Packers won 21-17. It was the stuff legends are made from.
It’s funny, Starr had always wanted to be the best but never quite felt he was one of the best. There is one thing for sure, he was a better man than he was a quarterback, but still received unconditional love from fans and friends alike. The game of football was better for having Bart Starr under center. He would be happy with that.