Biographies of sports heroes usually come in one of two forms. The first is a very shallow, quick, surficial look at the life and sporting career trying to earn a few dollars on the fame of a particular player. The other is a truly in-depth look and accounting of the life and times of that sports hero. This biography is clearly in the second category. It does a phenomenal job of bringing Bart Starr to life for the reader.
Starr’s early life was marred by the death of his brother and subsequently was estranged from his father. He became a star football player in high school but even there struggled with injuries but by his senior year was an All American. Unlike most star athletes, however, he was more introverted and self-reflective.
Being an Alabama high school football star he wound up at the University of Alabama. There he was an on again off again starter and after a back injury his junior year he hardly played as a senior. His pro football prospects certainly seemed dim.
With recommendations from Alabama’s basketball coach Green Bay selected Starr in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL draft.
Again Starr started out as a back-up and then as an on again, off again starter for the Green Bay Packers. When Vince Lombardi took over as coach of the Packers in 1959 it took some time for him to win over the coach’s trust as the starting quarterback, but he eventually did. And the rest is a glorious history of championship football as the starting quarterback for arguable the greatest dynasty in NFL history.
One of the best parts of the biography for football fans is of course Starr’s role as the leader of the Green Bay Packers from 1960 to 1971, with five NFL championships, two of which were Super Bowl’s I and II. This is a superlative career in an era where quarterbacks called their own plays and defensive backs could mug receivers down the field.
The book does a fantastic job of detailing Starr’s early struggles and his overcoming those struggles to become the undisputed field general and leader of the team other than Lombardi. It also details his unique relationship with the tough minded Vince Lombardi who ultimately embraced Starr as his quarterback and trusted him in the most critical on-field situations. While there were a lot of great moments for the team the infamous Ice Bowl where Starr changed the play and called a quarterback sneak to win the NFL championship against the Dallas Cowboys in one of the coldest games every played was thrilling relayed in the book. And the pressure on the coach to win the first Super Bowl, and the second one is well told here.
This biography also brings out Starr’s unique qualities as a human being. A very modest, honest, player who didn’t curse or go carousing with the guys, he nevertheless earned the respect of the players around him. The biography really brings out this humble side of Starr and how it juxtaposed to that of his bombastic head coach and other players. But he was a very tough competitor on the field, demanding the respect of all around him, including that of his head coach.
Another endearing quality to Starr’s life is he married his high school sweetheart and love of this life Cherry Morton and remained a faithful husband. The love affair between these two is interwoven through the biography and is refreshing.
After his career he jumped into coaching and broadcasting. He eventually became the head coach of a then struggling Green Bay Packers team from 1975 to 1983. Unfortunately his stint as a head coach did not go quite like his football career. He ended up with a 52-76-3 record as a head coach and the pressures of the job, especially after such a fantastic run as a player, was difficult. He even admitted he probably was initially in over his head but did not want to quit.
And finally a tragedy. Starr lost his son to drug abuse in 1988 after Starr and his wife constantly did everything to help him overcome the demon. He eventually moved to Florida and fell back into his drug habit. After not hearing from his son Bart flew to Florida and found him dead in his house. This was obviously a very tragic and painful time in Bart Starr’s life.
The only quibble I have with the book is the claim that Bart Starr is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. With his five NFL championships and great record as a player, the author makes a great argument. I am not sure where I would place Bart Starr and he deserves to be mentioned as one of the greatest of all time but I would not place him at the top. But I did enjoy the statistics are arguments on his behalf.
Any football fan will enjoy this well written and thoughtful biography of one the greatest quarterbacks of all time, one of the winningest quarterbacks of all time, and one of the humblest and good natured athletes of all time.