Packers Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr, who won five NFL titles and produced one of the most iconic plays in NFL history to win the 1967 “Ice Bowl,” died Sunday in Birmingham, Alabama.
Starr, 85, had been in ill health since suffering a stroke in 2014.
Starr played for Green Bay from 1956-71, and his years with legendary coach Vince Lombardi helped transform the smallest NFL city into “Titletown.” Starr and Lombardi led the Packers to NFL championships in 1961 and 1962 before winning three straight titles from 1965-67. Starr was the league’s MVP in 1966 and 1967 and won Super Bowls I and II.
Starr’s signature play came in the 1967 “Ice Bowl,” which was played in sub-zero temperatures on Dec. 31 at Lambeau Field.
With the Packers trailing 17-14, 16 seconds remaining and the ball at the Cowboys’ 1-yard line, Starr suggested to Lombardi that a quarterback sneak would be the right play. Lombardi agreed, even though the Packers hadn’t used the play all season, and Starr executed it perfectly on the frozen ground. He ran behind right guard Jerry Kramer and center Ken Bowman to score and give Green Bay a 21-17 victory.
Two weeks later, the Packers beat the Oakland Raiders, 33-14, in Super Bowl II at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Starr was named Super Bowl MVP for the second year in a row. His 104.8 postseason passer rating remains the highest in NFL history, and he had a 9-1 postseason record.
Starr played in an era in which quarterbacks called their own plays. In 2017, Boyd Dowler, one of Starr’s wide receivers from 1959-69, said he couldn’t remember Starr making a bad call.
“He had an unusual instinct for doing the right thing,” Dowler said.
“A champion on and off the field, Bart epitomized class and was beloved by generations of Packers fans,” Packers president Mark Murphy said Sunday. “A clutch player who led his team to five NFL titles, Bart could still fill Lambeau Field with electricity decades later during his many visits.”
Hall of Fame president and CEO David Baker said the “game has lost a true Hall of Famer, but we have all lost a truly great man. Bart Starr was an American icon whose legendary football career transformed Green Bay, Wisconsin, into Titletown U.S.A. More importantly, he lived a life of character defined by his grace, poise, respect and commitment. The Hall of Fame will forever keep his legacy alive to serve as inspiration to future generations.”
Brett Favre, who also made the Hall of Fame and quarterbacked the Packers to a Super Bowl victory, tweeted: “Bart Starr was the most kind, thoughtful and classiest person you could ever know. I consider myself extremely lucky to have called him friend and to have been mentioned in the same breath.”
Bryan Bartlett Starr was born in 1934 in Montgomery, Alabama, and attended Sidney Lanier High School, which he led to an unbeaten season as a junior. He was an All-American as a senior. He decided to play for Alabama to be closer to his high school sweetheart, Cherry Louise Morton, who went to Auburn. They eloped while Starr played at Alabama.
Starr was the Crimson Tide starter as a sophomore, but a back injury suffered during a hazing incident before his junior season limited his playing time the next two years. He was a 17th-round pick of the Packers (200th overall) in 1956 and became the starter when Lombardi, the Giants’ former offensive coordinator, became the Packers’ coach in 1959.
Starr went 97-54-6 with the Packers before retiring after the 1971 season. He threw 152 touchdown passes and 138 interceptions. He was not nearly as successful coaching the Packers, compiling a 52-76-3 record from 1973-83.
“We are saddened to note the passing of our husband, father, grandfather and friend, Bart Starr,” Starr’s family said in a statement. “He battled with courage and determination to transcend the serious stroke he suffered in September 2014, but his most recent illness was too much to overcome.
“While he may always be best known for his success as the Packers’ quarterback for 16 years, his true legacy will always be the respectful manner in which he treated every person he met, his humble demeanor, and his generous spirit.”
The family said Starr “had hoped to make one last trip to Green Bay to watch the Packers this fall, but he shall forever be there in spirit.”