August 25, 1975
In the seven years following the departure of coach Vince Lombardi, die 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 franchise.
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 addiction.
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."