By Chris Havel
Special to Event USA
Packers’ Hall of Fame quarterback, MVP of Super Bowls I, II dies Sunday at 85
GREEN BAY, Wis. – One of the great joys of covering the Green Bay Packers the past three decades has been the privilege of interviewing the larger-than-life figures from the Sixties.
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Getting to know Fuzzy Thurston, Willie Davis, Ray Nitschke and other Packers greats from that era was akin to having your childhood idols brought to life.
I will forever treasure the beers and laughs with Fuzzy, the fascinating discussion about the media – in particular radio – with Willie D, and the unvarnished look at life’s highs and lows over breakfast at the Golden Basket with Nitschke.
God bless all of those Packers greats.
Today, that goes double for Bart Starr.
The Packers’ legendary quarterback died at age 85 Sunday in Birmingham, Ala. I shed more than a few tears at the news despite knowing this day would eventually come. I still get goosebumps at the thought of being in his presence.
It is similar to how I felt when President George H.W. Bush walked past me at Whistling Straits during the 2004 PGA Championship. Regardless of political (or sports) affiliation, one knows when they’re in the presence of someone special.
So it was with Starr.
Several of my most favorite writing projects involved him.
In the early 2000s I wrote a Press-Gazette article detailing the remarkable longevity of the 1960’s era Packers players. At a time when pro football players were dying from CTE and other football-related illnesses, Vince Lombardi’s Packers hung tough.
With the average life expectancy of 1960s era football players at or about 55 years of age, most of those Packers had lived well beyond that. In fact, it was nothing short of miraculous.
I interviewed Starr and several of his teammates for the story, which was well-received by Packers fans.
It seems a reader sent a clip to Starr, who in turn sent a signed, handwritten letter thanking me for remembering his teammates, and for noting how blessed he felt to still have so many with us.
Starr also wrote with effuse praise and enduring affection about men such as Henry Jordan, Dave “Hawg” Hanner and Lionel Aldridge – all who had long since passed.
His “thank you” note rates among the most thoughtful, sincere compliments I have ever received.
Several years later, I was contracted to write the book Lombardi: An Illustrated Life.
One of my tasks was to interview Starr, and to inquire if he would be willing to author the foreword.
I reached Ruth McKlosky, his longtime secretary, by telephone. She politely asked me to explain what I would need from Mr. Starr. About a minute in I heard a kind, familiar voice say, “Thanks, Ruth … Chris, this is Bart Starr. How can I help you?”
We chatted about Coach Lombardi, the book project and the possibility of Starr writing the foreword. All told the conversation lasted perhaps a half-hour, with me diligently taking notes the entire time.
During our visit, Starr recalled the article I had written about his teammates’ longevity several years before.
Then, he said, “I think you have a great understanding of how I feel about Coach. Go ahead. Write the foreword. Send me a copy and I’ll proofread it.”
Just like that, I was writing for an audience of one.
It may have been the most painstaking, pressure-packed writing I had done since the Packers won Super Bowl XXXI. Finally, after what seemed like 1,000 rewrites, I sent Starr the foreword.
Imagine my relief, and joy, at receiving Starr’s edited version only to find one minor correction and the words, “Well done.”
As endorsements go it doesn’t get any better than that.
In the wake of Starr’s death, we are left to dwell upon his life.
The Ice Bowl, Super Bowls I and II, the championships and his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame are all pleasant memories of the great Bart Starr.
Ultimately, though, his greatness on the field was transcended by his grace away from it.
At a time when we need leaders of Starr’s caliber – his class, his compassion and his genuine love of fellow man – all of those endearing qualities will be dearly missed.