In the seven years following the departure of coach Vince
Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers floundered. Hoping for
deliverance from a string of sub-.500 seasons, the team hired
Lombardi's best pupil, Bart Starr, to take over in 1975. Starr's
only coaching experience had been as Green Bay's quarterbacks
coach in '72, the season after he'd retired. What he did have,
what he has always had, was fierce loyalty and a sense of duty.
"I had a love affair with the Packers," says Starr, now 64. "How
do you say no when they ask you to step up?"
The Alabama-born son of an Air Force sergeant, Starr was for 16
years Green Bay's on-field leader, a Hall of Fame quarterback
who guided the Pack to five NFL championships and was named MVP
of the first two Super Bowls. Coaching was a different story. In
nine seasons Starr went 52-76-3 and squeaked into the playoffs
once, in the strike-shortened 1982 season. Some Green Bay fans
even heckled their hero. "It was rather easy for that to
happen," Starr says. "I wasn't very successful." Starr was fired
in '83, and he and his wife, Cherry, moved to Phoenix, where
they joined a group that was hoping to land an expansion
A July 1988 tragedy took them back to Alabama. The younger of
their two sons, Bret, then age 24, was living in Tampa and doing
well in his recovery from a cocaine addiction. But Bret, who had
been in daily contact with his parents, hadn't called in three
days. "I just had a gut feeling that something was wrong," says
Bart. He flew alone to Tampa and found his son dead on the
dining room floor. Police said that Bret had died three or four
days earlier from cardiac arrhythmia, a complication from his
Bart Jr., Starr's older son and an investment adviser in
Birmingham, called his parents as they were making funeral
arrangements. "He said, 'Dad, I think it would be a good idea if
you moved back, so we could be together as a family,'" says
Bart. He and Cherry moved to Birmingham nine months later.
These days Bart is chairman of a subsidiary of Healthcare
Realty, a real estate investment trust. His office is just down
the hall from Bart Jr.'s, and several times a week he and Cherry
see Bart Jr., 40, his wife, Martha, and their three daughters,
Shannon, 15, Jennifer, 13, and Lisa, 9. "I tell you, they are
it," says Bart. "They are really our family. We'll always be
indebted to Bart Jr. for bringing us back."
happen," he says. "I wasn't successful."