Super Bowl I MVP Bart Starr

Fifty-two years ago today, an American sports tradition was born.

Super Bowl One on January 15th, 1967 pitted the Green Bay Packers against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Packers won, as quarterback Bart Starr was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.

But early on, it was anything but certain that Starr would even make it in the NFL.

Bart Starr was born in Alabama in 1934. He was good at ,many sports, including baseball as well as football, but his ambition was to someday be part of the NFL. But as he told me in 1987, there were big obstacles in his way:

Bart Starr with Bill Thompson, 1987

“I was injured my final two years of college, and quite frankly had some serious doubts as to whether I would be able to play professional football, which had been a dream of mine from the time I started in college. Believe it or not, I really wanted to play professional football. I wasn’t sure I could. I worked extremely hard to make it in the pros. I was a 17th-round draft choice, and the odds of making it are against you.:

But Bart Starr was well-trained in how to handle challenge and adversity.

I said, “You say that you were prepared for the hard-driving Vince Lombardi by your childhood.:

Bill, I was, because I had grown up under the very firm ‘iron hand,’ if you will, of a tough master sergeant. And when media people like you would ask me through the years if it were difficult to play for Coach Lombardi, I’d say, no, it was a piece of cake! And they’d look at me like I was nuts. And then I would quickly say, growing up and playing for a Ben Starr was tough! And that’s what I meant by it.

He was tough, he was extremely tough. And only after our first son arrived did he become more of a teddy bear. It was amazing what those grandchildren did to him, and for him.”

In spite of his upbringing under the master sergeant, Bart Starr had to probe himself in the NFL, and to Coach Vince Lombardi:

My first couple of years, Bill, were a struggle. He wasn’t convinced that I was his quarterback. I had to earn his trust and his respect and his confidence, and that was fine. I did all that. And I think that made the relationship even stronger.

“Plus, I stood up to him at a time when I felt that I needed to, and I believe that earned me even more respect from him. He had just blistered me in front of the team at a practice session one day, for an interception which really wasn’t a clean interception. The ball was tipped, which can happen, and was picked off, and he just leveled me, verbally.

“So i asked to see him after the practice session, and went inside and said, Look, Coach, I can take the chewing if I have that coming, fine. But when you have seen later that it might have been a mistake, you apologize to me here in the privacy of your office, but you blistered me in front of my teammates. If you are asking me to be the kind of leader that you say you are, apologize to me out therein front of them. Or, don’t blister me in front of them, chew me out in here if I have it coming, but do it privately.

He did after that. He never berated me in front of the team ever again, and we developed a very strong longlasting relationship.”

Their partnership led to great things — and string of championship titles — for the Green Bay Packers.

“As you know, we won five in seven years. No one’s ever done that. And those bring back a lot of great memories.”

“You really had a dynasty,” I said.

“We did,” Starr replied. “I don’t like that term, but I guess in a sense we certainly did.”

But not all great things end well. Starr’s release by the Packers after a long career as player then head coach was something that still bothered him years later:

“It was not handled with class, and I regret that because it’s a good organization. I had a love affair with that organization for many, many years. Because of that incident, my relationship with the organization and the team is a damaged one, and it’s something I regret.”:

Now the NFL annually awards the Bart Starr Award, to a player of outstanding character.

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