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Sports Then and Now

Bart Starr: NFL’s Ultimate Champion

Posted on January 20, 2014 by Dean Hybl

The January Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month was the MVP of the first two Super Bowls and is the only quarterback to lead his team to five NFL Championships.

After quarterbacking the Alabama Crimson Tide to an 0-10 record in 1955 and then being drafted in the 17th round of the 1956 NFL Draft, few would have predicted that Bart Starr would become known as one of the greatest winners in NFL history.

Making his ascension even more unpredictable was that Starr was drafted by the Green Bay Packers, who at the time of drafting Starr had not won an NFL Championship in a dozen years or had a winning record in nine.

It didn’t happen overnight for Starr and the Packers. In his first three seasons, Starr was 3-15-1 as a starting quarterback and overall the Packers were 8-27-1.

The arrival of first-time head coach Vince Lombardi in 1959 proved to be the action needed to turn around the fortunes of both the Packers and their young signal caller.

Green Bay went from 1-10-1 in 1958 to 7-5 in 1959 and soon was on their way to a decade of NFL dominance.

Starr became the unquestioned starter at quarterback for the Packers in 1960 when Green Bay went 8-4 and reached the NFL Championship Game. They lost to the Philadelphia Eagles when they couldn’t score from inside Philadelphia territory in the final minutes, but it would prove to be the last time that Starr and the Packers failed to make the big play in crunch time.

Green Bay returned to the championship game in 1961 and this time they were not to be denied as they demolished the New York Giants 37-0 to start an amazing run of five championships in seven years.

With the Packer offense built around the running of the power sweep, Starr was able to develop as a passer without the pressure of being the primary offensive weapon.

He was named to three straight Pro Bowls between 1960 and 1962 and passed for 2,418 yards in 1961 and 2,438 in 1962.

In 1962 the Packers had one of the greatest teams of all-time and nearly went undefeated. Their only loss was a 26-14 loss at Detroit on Thanksgiving. They went on to defeat the Giants 16-7 for their second straight NFL title.

The Packers went 11-2-1 in 1963, but didn’t make the playoffs as the Chicago Bears won the title.

It wasn’t until 1965 that Starr and the Packers returned to the NFL Championship Game.

On a muddy Lambeau Field, Starr got the scoring going with a 47-yard touchdown pass to Carroll Dale and then spent most of the remainder of the game handing the ball off to Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor as Green Bay won 23-12.

In 1966 Starr was named first team All-Pro for the only time in his career as he threw only three interceptions during the season as Green Bay went 12-2 and defeated the Dallas Cowboys for their second straight NFL title.

However, for the first time, the NFL title wasn’t the culminating event for the NFL season. The Packers then faced the AFL Champion Kansas City Chiefs in the first Super Bowl.

The upstart Chiefs proved no match for the powerful Packers as Starr passed for 250 yards and two touchdowns to earn game MVP honors.

In 1967 the Packers were gunning for a third straight title. They finished the regular season 9-4-1 and then defeated the Los Angeles Rams 28-7 to earn a repeat matchup with the Cowboys in the NFL title game.

Playing in frigid conditions that had the game dubbed the “Ice Bowl”, the Packers jumped to an early 14-0 lead. However, Dallas rallied and led 17-14 in the final minutes.

Facing difficult field conditions that made traction almost impossible, Starr nonetheless led the Packers on a late drive to the Dallas one-yard line with just seconds remaining.

On fourth down with just seconds remaining and needing a touchdown to win, Starr sneaked the ball behind guard Jerry Kramer and scored the game-winning touchdown.

Green Bay then defeated the Oakland Raiders 33-14 for their second straight Super Bowl title. Starr was again named game MVP as he passed for 202 yards and a touchdown.

That proved to be the end of the Green Bay dynasty as Lombardi retired and over the next couple years most of the key players from the championship run retired.

Starr finally retired following the 1971 season.

Though he was not a huge statistics generator during his career, Starr retired with 24,718 career passing yards, 152 touchdown passes, 138 interceptions and an 80.5 passer rating.

He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

Starr later served as head coach of the Packers from 1975 to 1983 compiling a 52-76-3 overall record and making the playoffs only once during his tenure.

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