My Hero is Gone

There will never be another Bart Starr. My hero list is down to zero.

Bart Starr has left this world.

In the famous song, Mrs. Robinson, Paul Simon sang, "Where have you gone, Joe Dimaggio, the nation turns it's lonely eyes to you." Dimaggio took it the wrong way until one day he and Simon bumped into each other in a restaurant. Dimaggio asked Simon, "Why did you write that - I'm still here, everyone knows I'm here?" Simon had to explain that the famous line was just lamenting where all the great heroes had gone.

If I can be self-indulgent for a bit, Bart Starr was the one and only great hero in my life. While at first that may sound a bit sad, understand that I have never been into hero worship - especially if we are talking celebrities, sports personalities, etc. There's a long list of criteria one would have to meet to make it to the top of my hero mountain. Only one person ever did - Bryan Bartlett Starr. 

I've been a Packers fan for 50 years (yes I'm that old) and I've never worn the number of another Packers player. Starr's jersey is the only one I have ever owned and the only one I ever will.

I was 10 years old when the Packers won the first Super Bowl. As a young boy in NJ, I had some knowledge of the Packers, but had never seen them play until that game - the first football game I remember watching from start to finish. Not a bad team, I thought - and boy that Bart Starr is good! Fast forward to the following season, with the Ice Bowl victory and the second Super Bowl win, and my favorite team and favorite player were chosen (little did I know - for life!). 

I grew up in a city environment, just a quick trip through the Lincoln Tunnel to Manhattan. Apartment buildings and two-family row houses with a skinny alley in between was the norm. We played our tackle football in the street or on a small patch of grass they called a "park" with a concrete sidewalk running though the middle of our "field." I always fancied myself the "offensive mind," diagramming plays into a loose leaf folder which was our "playbook" when we played against kids from "around the block." I would mostly play quarterback (I was the best of a bad bunch of throwers) and I always wore my #15 shirt. (I couldn't afford a real jersey back then).

On Saturdays, I would walk a few blocks to the local "candy store" and peruse the football magazines for pictures of Bart Starr. If I had money, I would buy a magazine just so I could rip out Starr's picture and tape it on my closet door. Admittedly, sometimes I didn't have the money and may have pilfered a magazine or two - but I HAD TO HAVE that Starr picture, so you understand, right?

High School came around and I played on the football team. The head coach of the team had a Vince Lombardi connection. When he was in High School, he played against the Vince Lombardi-coached St Cecelia's High School of Englewood NJ. The local Lombardi legend had grown quickly in NJ, and our coach would recount some Vince stories that had been told to him. Coach was famous for some impassioned half-time speeches, which I'm fairly sure were stolen from Vince. Regardless, this Lombardi connection, however faint, cemented my love for all things Packers.

I won't go into what made Bart so worthy of idolization, you surely know them all, and many have written about those things more eloquently than I could. For me, Starr was the reason I loved the game of football. Where else could it be ok for a man so filled with kindness and love for others, to turn into a cutthroat assassin for 60 minutes? The dichotomy of those two things always fascinated me - the football field was the only place I felt comfortable letting loose and wanting to kick someone's ass.

Starr could kick your ass on the football field and then be your best friend off of it. And make no mistake, Starr kicked plenty of ass, especially in the postseason. To this day, he still has the best postseason quarterback rating in NFL history. As ESPN's Mike Greenburg stated yesterday in a video tribute to Starr, Starr was Tom Brady 40 years before there was a Brady.

Sadly, none of Starr's football accomplishments had any real relevance the last few years. His medical issues (strokes, heart attacks, etc)  were the toughest opponent he ever had to go up against. By all accounts, he fought as hard to beat them as he did to win the famous Ice Bowl. But in the end, there was no lunge over the goal line to win this contest. 

As Vince would have likely said, Bart didn't lose this game, he just ran out of time.

Rest in Peace Bart. 

Me in my faux Starr jersey.

Me in my faux Starr jersey.

 

__________________________

"Jersey Al" Bracco is the Editor-In-Chief, part owner and wearer of many hats for CheeseheadTV.com and PackersTalk.com. He is also a recovering Mason Crosby truther.  

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Comments (42)

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CheesyTex's picture

May 27, 2019 at 02:32 pm

Eloquent and touching -- a wonderful tribute.

Well done, Jersey Al.

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jeremyjjbrown's picture

May 27, 2019 at 02:36 pm

It makes me lament how short life is. He could have just kept on going, and doing his good deeds.

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PeteK's picture

May 27, 2019 at 02:37 pm

Brady/Starr , a great analogy. An after thought at Alabama and the draft to a Hall of Famer in the pros. He didn't always have the best stats nor the most athletic ability, but boy he was a great leader.

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Lare's picture

May 27, 2019 at 02:38 pm

Bart Starr was a lot of things. And he excelled at all of them.

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IceBowl's picture

May 27, 2019 at 02:43 pm

Bart would never net such a small fish.

He was great for the Pack, Great for men.

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JerseyAl's picture

May 27, 2019 at 02:45 pm

haha! FYI, you can't tell from the picture but that was a yellow perch that was only 2 inches short of the state record at the time!

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4thand1's picture

May 27, 2019 at 08:59 pm

So the state record was 7 inches?

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Guam's picture

May 27, 2019 at 03:16 pm

Thank you Jersey Al for summing up so many of the feelings I had for Bart Starr. I was raised 50 miles from Green Bay and was a youngster during the Lombardi era. I bleed green and gold and Bart Starr was the epitome of my love of all things Packers.

Your article was a perfect tribute to a wonderful player and a better human being. Well done!

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Swisch's picture

May 27, 2019 at 03:59 pm

Well done, Jersey Al.
I like to think that Bart Starr's final lunge was into a much better place where every tear is wiped away.
Eventually, in this bittersweet world that can be quite cold, we all want to get the hell out of here, and into the warmth and welcome of our eternal home.
Whether or not there's a Packers pub in heaven, it seems to be a place of real camaraderie with authentic heroes like Bart Starr -- and, fortunately, us lesser mortals who seek to emulate them in good faith.

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Pack12's picture

May 27, 2019 at 03:27 pm

I started following football in 1965 and the Packers quickly became my favorite team. They had two bigger than life figures, Vince Lombardi and Bart Starr. If I am a football fan today it is because of Bart Starr. I also wore a Packer number 15 jersey and in my mind I was Bart Starr. Many years later I got to meet Bart and what stood out was what a classy human being he was. I saw him last in 2007 and he gave me all the time in the world and introduced me to his wife Cherry. I told him when I shook his hand, "I want to shake the hand of the greatest Green Bay Packer of all time". It is with a heavy heart that I say "RIP to the greatest Packer of all-time". Condolences to the Starr family.

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Mark S's picture

May 27, 2019 at 03:34 pm

It's hard to imagine that even with all of Bart's football achievements, so still unequalled, that his even greater legacy was the quality of man he was. And you pegged it right Jersey All man of stark contrast: a man's man, yet so gentle to everyone especially Cherry: an alpha male in a bruts game yet always polite & respectful: a quintessential leader yet the humblest of men. Truly a man for all ages, an icon & role model that never changed come fame, fortune, failure, tragedy and disability. And never once did he let us down in even the smallest aspect of his life. There have been & will be few like him. We need many more. RIP our 1 true Star

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Starr57's picture

May 27, 2019 at 04:45 pm

Very well said!
RIP Bart.

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Since'61's picture

May 27, 2019 at 04:58 pm

Thank you Jersey Al, great job. I’m a few years ahead of you but similar to you I played tackle football on the street and in an empty lot down the block from the home where I grew up in the Bronx.

Mickey Mantle was my first sports hero and Hornung and Nitschke my first favorite Packers but during the ‘66 and ‘67 seasons Bart eclipsed then both as my favorite Packer. This was reinforced further after the great dynasty collapsed and Bart was virtually all that was left. Yet he went on playing though various injuries and rallying the Packers to numerous victories during the ‘68, ‘69 and ‘70 seasons. I am still convinced that the Packers made the playoffs in ‘72 because Starr was guiding his successor, “Iron Hands Scott Hunter” with his coaching.

In any case I doubt that we will see Starr’s like again.
To be paraphrase a line from Shakespears’s Julius Caesar, “This was the noblest Packer of them all.”
Thanks, Since ‘61

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Slim11's picture

May 27, 2019 at 05:35 pm

Like you and Jersey Al, I became a Packers fan, and Bart Starr fan, in childhood. Now, over 50 years later, nothing has changed.

When I was nine, my grandmother married her second husband. Her first husband, my grandfather, died before I was born. After, that I bought a book about Bart Starr because my mother told me my “new” grandfather was from Green Bay. I WORE THAT BOOK OUT!

As I got older, I got my hands on anything about Bart Starr and the Packers. I went to the college library and got my hands on old SI issues going back to the 1950s to learn more about him.

When Lombardi left Green Bay to join the Redskins, my mother said the Redskins would be a pretty good team now and maybe I should follow them. My response was “ he’s not a Packer anymore.”

The more I learned about Bart Starr, the more I wanted to be like him. In some respects, he was a role model my father couldn’t be. My father wasn’t a healthy man.

My sophomore year, I started trying to play football. That same year, I got his autograph following a Packers practice in Green Bay. I was hooked for life.

I learned about the Packers in the 1960s, followed them through the 70s and 80s, enjoyed the 1990s through now and will continue to follow Green Bay until I die. In my opinion, there will be no better ambassador for the Green Bay Packers than #15, Bart Starr.

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Rustyweezee's picture

May 27, 2019 at 05:22 pm

Beautiful, Al. I too am old enough (barely) to remember the first "Super Bowl". What I remember most is that my dad was more interested in his pool numbers than Starr & the game. But I was hooked, & loved the Lombardi era Packers players.

I remember Starr was one player who's age showed in his game as he neared retirement. I only bring it up because my older brother always wanted to turn the channel while they were losing and Starr's aging arm betrayed his inability to make completions anymore. But I refused to stop watching, hoping he'd somehow return to his MVP ability & complete those great passes again.

Tough lesson, but it was his and the Packers years of greatness that inspired that hope in me and probably the reason I stuck with the Packers for the dark decades that followed. Yes, Al we're old, but also pretty lucky to witness at least part of the Lombardi/Starr era. RIP Bart.

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Leatherhead's picture

May 27, 2019 at 05:52 pm

Bart was my childhood hero. Now my heroes call me Dad.

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JerseyAl's picture

May 27, 2019 at 06:02 pm

That's a beautiful sentiment, Old School. My definition of "hero" is likely different than yours, but that doesn't make either of us wrong.

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IceBowl's picture

May 27, 2019 at 06:04 pm

Old School,

That makes you a lucky man!

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Leatherhead's picture

May 27, 2019 at 07:03 pm

Yeah, I’m definitely blessed there. My oldest just got back from Qatar where he played a key role in wiping out ISIS. My youngest is preparing to do something incredible.

Bart was my childhood hero because of what he did on the field, and as I grew older I realized that who he was off the field deserved my admiration far more. A man. A good man.

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Tingham's picture

May 27, 2019 at 06:00 pm

Al. I feel exactly the same way.
I grew up in Chicago in the 60’s but had retained my my Packer love from previously living in Milwaukee. A good family friend had Packer season tickets in Green Bay and knew how much I loved the Packers so starting in 1966 when I was 11 they would have our family come up to Green Bay for the weekend to go to a Packers game. Oh, did I mention they lived directly across the street from Bart Starr? During the day I would play lawn football with Bart Jr and then the night before the game we would go to Bart’s house to sit with Bart, Cherry and the 2 boys. I can’t even begin to tell anyone what a thrill this was. Bart would sign pictures and footballs for me and teased me about being a Bears fan. But then he would sign things with my name and refer to me as the Windy City Packer Backer.

I can tell you from my friends stories Bart was everything that people say he was. He was an outstanding neighbor. Not Bart Starr the football player. Our family went up for Bart Starr day and my parents got to sit at the dinner the night before with Jerry Kramer and brought me home his autograph. I will never forget that game.

In 2002 while checking out of a hotel in New York City I ran into Bart in the lobby. I told him who I was and he spent a half and hour with him and Cherry talking outside the hotel. He gave me his business card and told me to contact him if I wanted any memorabilia. There will never be another Bart Starr.

RIP, Bart.

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Swisch's picture

May 27, 2019 at 09:52 pm

Wow!!!
Thanks for sharing, Tingham, and thanks to the other fans here who have shared personal experiences with Bart Starr.
These are priceless stories for me to learn about, and add even more to my admiration for this Packers legend.

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nostradanus's picture

May 27, 2019 at 06:32 pm

Same here Al, 15 is still my number and I have met Bart Starr several times, he has always been polite and gracious. A great man.

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NC-Packerfan's picture

May 27, 2019 at 06:38 pm

Al, I was also an out of state kid who started pulling for the Packers and remember watching the Ice Bowl and Super Bowl II although my parents loved Roman Gabriel from NC. Back in 2001, I found out that you could send items to be autographed down to Bart in Birmingham, AL along with a donation to the Rawhide Boys Ranch which he strongly supported. When the items didn't come back when promised, I called late after closing hours to leave a message for his assistant and Bart answered the phone and when he realized it was the person from NC, he started apologizing for the delay. Then he asked if I had kids playing football. He apologized again and the items arrived that week with 3 additional photos autographed personally to myself and for each of my two sons along with another apology. That is the kind of man he was. Total class!!

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stockholder's picture

May 27, 2019 at 06:54 pm

Starr was my hero too. I'm glad I wasn't the only one. I had to wear a jersey with 15 on it. If you didn't live in Green Bay, you couldn't get Starrs. I do have one now. It's not game worn, but is autographed and framed. I now feel like a piece of my childhood has disappeared. You said it so very well. Thank You.

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LeotisHarris's picture

May 27, 2019 at 06:59 pm

Well done, Al. You and I are the same age. Growing up in Wisconsin I don't know how I could have had a hero other than Bart Starr. He was my hero, too. As all of you have written, he was such a class individual, kind to all, and tough as anyone at his core. So resilient.

A framed number 15 Packers jersey hangs in my "Packer room" in our home. On the 5 is written, in Starr's distinctive handwriting, 'To Leotis, a devoted fan'; an anniversary gift from my wife long ago. Cried when I opened it. Felt very much like crying when I learned Bart had moved on. What a man. What a life!

And, Al, if the photographer hadn't chopped off your legs in that great pic, would be see bell bottom jeans?

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JerseyAl's picture

May 27, 2019 at 07:30 pm

No, those were my standard Lee jeans. By the time that picture was taken, bell bottoms had faded. Plus, I was never exactly a stlye icon - Lee jeans and flannel shirts were my choices for most of my HS and College days.

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Bure9620's picture

May 27, 2019 at 07:36 pm

I'm a bit younger as I was a kid when Favre was in his prime. But Bart Starr was part of why my love of the Packers has become what it is. RIP

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Tundraboy's picture

May 27, 2019 at 08:24 pm

Beautiful.

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barutanseijin's picture

May 27, 2019 at 08:57 pm

I didn't live in Wisconsin when i was very young, but i got a book on Bart from school, read it and became a a fan. He was past his prime by then, playing only occasionally. I'd get excited all the same.

His coaching tenure put a few dents In the halo. Looking back on it, you could argue that he got a lot out of a bad hand, coming in to the job after the Hadl trade. He unloaded Hadl and got a capable QB in Lynn Dickey. As GM he also drafted hall of famer James Lofton. The bottom really fell out after he was relieved of his GM duties. That was when the Packers started drafting Rich Campbells & guys who said they wouldn't play in Green Bay.

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Rossonero's picture

May 27, 2019 at 09:31 pm

Great tribute, AI. I really enjoyed that. While Bart was well before my time, just talking to my Dad about him lets me know how incredible he was as a player and as a man.

How lucky we are as Packers fans to have such a noble example to be forever woven into the fabric of Packers history and lore. R.I.P, Bart.

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ScaryGary's picture

May 27, 2019 at 09:36 pm

Fortunate enough to meet Bart in 91' in cedar rapids, IA was only 11 and remember being annoyed by waiting in line so long to meet him. he talked, took photos, and sign autographs for everyone who waited. I'm grateful now. GoPackGo!

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LASVEGAS-TOM's picture

May 27, 2019 at 11:00 pm

I was Privileged to have seen Bart Starr's entire career. He represents my youth. I watched him play as a Kid, a Teenager, & a young man. He represents the definition of confidence. He may not go down as the Best QB to play the game, but he was one of them. Why?? Because he got the job done. When the chips were down, you could count on Bart Starr. That's what separates the Good from the Also Rans. I'm proud to say: "I saw Bart Starr play"
LVT

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Sir Charles's picture

May 27, 2019 at 11:47 pm

Good article, Al. I felt the same as you all about Bart. He was the best QB ever was and I believe, ever will be. His play didn't deteriorate because of age but because of 300 lb clowns falling on him to knock him out of the game and hurt his ribs. It was open season every week. I don't have a hero but if I would have one it would be Bart. He was a great QB and a great man.

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Vet1976's picture

May 27, 2019 at 11:59 pm

Wonderful tributes all! As a youth, living in GB in the '60s, just off Broadway, the Packers were everything to our small community. I fondly recall the commercials of Mr. Starr and his wife Cherry, promoting the Rawhide Boys Ranch. Even at the tender age of 10, I knew that they were genuinely caring people. Bart Starr and the rest of the Packer crew gave so much of themselves to our community, and they kicked butt on the football field too. Mr. Starr was bigger than football; a great man that gave of himself freely. My our Lord hold you tight Mr. Starr and bring comfort to your family and friends.

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IshpemingPackAttack's picture

May 28, 2019 at 01:31 am

Bart Starr was a true gentleman. That is a rare occurrence. When I was around 12 years old I wrote Bart a letter asking him if I could please get an autograph. He sent me a hand written letter with an autographed picture included. I was in heaven!! I am 58 years old now and it is still fresh in my mind. It was such a special moment in my life. Bart Starr is a Packer legend for his play on the field. What is more important is that he will be remembered even more for the man that he was off of the field. He was a TRUE GENTLEMAN. He will be truly missed.

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Bart_Starred's picture

May 28, 2019 at 04:28 pm

Thanks for sharing the warm memories Al. I grew up not too far from you—out on Long Island, NY. When I was 7 years old, a friend who was a little older than I, was teaching me how to play football. This friend tended to root for whoever happened to be winning at the time, and in the 60’s we all know who that was. Ok, sounds good, I’ll root for the Green Bay Packers. I remember coming home and telling my older brother that my hero was “Bob Starr”. “Bart!” he corrected me. A couple years later I purchased a book about Bart Starr and even at that young age I remember being impressed not only with his abilities as a football player, quarterback and leader, but I was struck by the obvious decency, humility and faith of the man. There were other athletes I looked up to as a youth; Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, etc., but none left the overall impression on me that Bart did. The experiences I’ve had rooting for this team of ours for over 50 years, the memories and friendships created, the lessons I’ve learned and the joys I’ve experienced are primarily because of one man: Bart Starr. Thank you Bart and may the Lord Bless you for all eternity.

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Nick Perry's picture

May 28, 2019 at 06:07 am

Thank you Al!

Al doesn't write as much as he used to when I first started reading ALLGBP.com or here at CHTV but I wish he would. Excellent piece Al.

Rest in peace Bart Starr...

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AndrewInAtlanta's picture

May 28, 2019 at 07:10 am

Well done Al. It’s a sad time indeed

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I bleed green more's picture

May 28, 2019 at 07:47 am

A lot of us young fans are now old fans. I remember black and white tv. Yup it was my job to see what direction the wind blown antenna was pointed, no rewind. I missed several plays but reading all your post makes my day.

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stormin's picture

May 28, 2019 at 11:20 am

A true legend and roll model, thanks for the memories Bart !

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ILPackerBacker's picture

May 28, 2019 at 01:01 pm

It would be a good time to remind people of what Kramer wrote about Lombardi passing.

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tm_inter's picture

May 28, 2019 at 02:13 pm

I arrived in Wisconsin in 1966, in time to witness the Super Bowl I & II, as well as the Ice Bowl.

I remember Bart Starr as an unassuming, soft-spoken quarterback who simply did his job very well, albeit unspectacularly, unlike the flamboyant Joe Namath.

I will always have fond memories of Bart Starr and the mighty Packers of the mid-sixties.

R.I.P. Bart.

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