Bart Starr, a Green Bay Packers legend who became the first quarterback to win five championships, died Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama, at the age of 85.
The Packers announced the news late Sunday morning. He had been in poor health since 2014, when he suffered two strokes and a heart attack.
Starr played with the Packers from 1956 through 1971 and continues to be one of the most beloved players the NFL has ever seen. His game-winning sneak in the Ice Bowl is immortalized in the great moments of NFL history.
His family released the following statement, via the Packers website:
“We are saddened to note the passing of our husband, father, grandfather, and friend, Bart Starr. He battled with courage and determination to transcend the serious stroke he suffered in September 2014, but his most recent illness was too much to overcome.
“While he may always be best known for his success as the Packers quarterback for 16 years, his true legacy will always be the respectful manner in which he treated every person he met, his humble demeanor, and his generous spirit.
“Our family wishes to thank the thousands of friends and fans who have enriched his life – and therefore our lives – for so many decades and especially during the past five years. Each letter, text, phone call, and personal visit inspired him and filled him with joy.
“His love for all of humanity is well known, and his affection toward the residents of Alabama and of Wisconsin filled him with gratitude. He had hoped to make one last trip to Green Bay to watch the Packers this fall, but he shall forever be there in spirit.”
Starr’s legendary career includes Ice Bowl win
Before Tom Brady and Joe Montana, Starr was the epitome of a championship quarterback.
Starr led one of sports’ most famous dynasties, the 1960s Packers, to five NFL championships. He was MVP of Super Bowls I and II.
Starr’s most famous moment came in the brutal cold of Lambeau Field in the 1967 NFL championship game against the Dallas Cowboys. The temperature was 13 degrees below zero and the Packers trailed 17-14 with five minutes left. Starr marched the Packers down to the 1-yard line in the final minute, and then told coach Vince Lombardi during a timeout that he could get enough footing to score on a quarterback sneak. Starr got in the end zone, the Packers moved on to Super Bowl II, and the “Ice Bowl” became one of the most famous games in NFL history.
Starr, Lombardi an odd pairing
Starr started his pro career in 1956 at the age of 22 after being drafted in the 17th round out of the University of Alabama.
He was an unlikely star for Lombardi’s Packers. Starr hadn’t established himself as a viable NFL quarterback before 1959, when Lombardi arrived in Green Bay. By the end of the 1960 season, Starr was leading the Packers in an NFL championship game loss against the Philadelphia Eagles.
That loss to the Eagles was Starr’s first postseason game. It would end up being his only postseason loss.
Starr never lost another elimination game, winning each of his final nine playoff games. Starr led the Packers to championships in 1961, 1962, 1965, 1966 and 1967. The final two seasons were the first two years of the Super Bowl era. In 10 career playoff games, Starr threw for 15 touchdowns and just three interceptions.
Starr was also an unlikely match for Lombardi because the men were much different. Starr was always known for being a calm and polite man. Lombardi was never known for being calm. One time after Lombardi yelled at Starr in front of the team, Starr asked if the coach could criticize him privately if he needed to because he couldn’t lead the team if the coach was going to undermine him like that. Lombardi didn’t yell at Starr in front of the team after that, and the two went on to become arguably the most successful coach-quarterback combination in NFL history.
He retired after a 16-year career that consisted of 24,718 yards, 152 touchdowns and a 94-57-6 record. He later served as the Packers head coach in the late ’70s and early ’80s.
Starr was inducted to the Packers Hall of Fame and Pro Football Hall of Fame 1977, his first year of eligibility. His No. 15 was retired two years after he retired.
Although Starr was mild-mannered in public, he was known as a tough quarterback, mentally and physically.
Starr battled back from his 2014 health scares and was part of a Lambeau Field ceremony when fellow Packers legend Brett Favre had his number retired on Thanksgiving in 2015.
Commissioner Roger Goodell issues statement
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell issued a statement shortly after Starr’s passing.
Goodell’s statement read, “Bart Starr was one of the most genuine, sincere people I knew. He personified the values of our league as a football player, a family man, and a tireless philanthropist who cared deeply about helping at-risk kids. Above all, he was a wonderful human being who will be remembered for his kindness and compassion. On behalf of the entire NFL family and football fans all over the world, we send our heartfelt condolences to his wife, Cherry, his family, and the Green Bay community. He will be sorely missed.”
Frank Schwab contributed to this report.
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