Edson: Hey, Young Athletes: Be Like Bart Starr

A couple weeks ago, a Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback passed away at age 85.

He was Bart Starr. And while he didn’t accumulate great numbers or have a particularly strong arm, all he did was win championships for legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi.

As a kid growing up in the 1960s, I followed the NFL closely, watching as many games as I could on TV.

There was no doubt Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts was the best pure quarterback of the decade. But there was also little double that Bart Starr was the perfect quarterback to run the show for the Green Bay Packers.

Why? Because while Starr was highly competitive and skilled, he realized he and his Packers teammates had to fit into Lombardi’s system. That means it was all about “we” and not about “I.”

That was fine with Bart Starr because that was the kind of person he was anyway.

If you look at Starr’s career statistics, you won’t be blown away. After all, he wasn’t picked until the 17th round by the Packers in 1956. He never threw more than 10 touchdowns passes in a season until his 6th year in the league.

Even then, the most touchdowns passes he threw in a season was 16. And one of the years he did that – 1961 – he also threw 16 interceptions. By the way, the Packers won the NFL championship that season.

So it was Lombardi’s genius that molded the Packers into a championship team. But it was Starr’s steady hand at the helm – and in the huddle – that made sure the Packers never got rattled.

That was never more evident than in the famous Ice Bowl Game, when Starr directed his team the length of the field in -13 below temperatures to beat the Dallas Cowboys. The winning play was a quarterback sneak that only Starr and Lombardi knew was coming.

Starr was rightfully celebrated as a championship quarterback. After all, he was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls.

But he was the first to tell you that the Packers secret formula was a team effort. He and his teammates also put winning ahead of individual achievements.

The irony is that in doing so, an astounding 12 of those Packer players from the 1960s are in the Hall of Fame. Six on defense, six on offense.

Starr’s offensive line included three future Hall of Famers – Forrest Gregg, Jim Ringo and Jerry Kramer. The backfield was Starr, fullback Jim Taylor and halfback Paul Hornung. All three of them are also Hall of Famers.

The Packers, as a team, bought into The Lombardi Way. It’s a way that more young athletes should buy into.

That is, always put the team first. You do that by being a good teammate, practicing as hard as you play and doing the little things that make the difference between winning and losing.

It’s the way Bart Starr lived his life. He was a model person – and quarterback – that more young people would be wise to emulate.

Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.