SI Vault
 
HEATED PURSUIT OF THE PACKERS
Tex Maule
October 31, 1966
While Green Bay romped to a 56-3 laugher over hapless Atlanta, the old pro battery of the Colts—Johnny Unitas to Raymond Berry—produced a victory that kept Baltimore on the heels of the western division leader
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October 31, 1966

Heated Pursuit Of The Packers

While Green Bay romped to a 56-3 laugher over hapless Atlanta, the old pro battery of the Colts—Johnny Unitas to Raymond Berry—produced a victory that kept Baltimore on the heels of the western division leader

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Starr played little his first year, but in 1957, when the Packers traded for an old idol, Babe Parilli, he saw more action, under Head Coach Scooter McLean.

"It was a kind of musical-chairs year," he says. "Babe played most, though. I just wasn't doing the job. I loved the life and enjoyed football, but it was discouraging to go home at the end of the season and realize I had done so poorly. I wasn't emotionally mature, and I wasn't over the college letdown. I couldn't give leadership. Looking back, I realize that, but I tried not to be aware of it at the time. The only way to build confidence is to succeed, and for three or four years I had not succeeded at anything in football. I would go into a game confident on the surface, but I could not stand failure."

When Lombardi came to the Packers in 1959 Starr still had a lot to prove.

"I looked at the movies and decided the first thing I needed was help at quarterback," Lombardi says now. "So I traded for Lamar McHan."

"I was impressed with Lombardi the first time I met him," Starr says. "I wasn't overjoyed when he traded for a quarterback right away, but I didn't blame him. He brought the quarterbacks in for early schooling in his system in June, and I could feel his confidence and organization and self-discipline right away. He knew what he was talking about. He wanted the quarterbacks to have a head start when camp started, and we did. We had three weeks to assimilate his offense before training began."

McHan started at quarterback at the beginning of the 1959 season, but midway lost the job to Starr. (The following year confirmed Starr's No. 1 status, although he went through an uncertain time when McHan started three games but then faltered.)

"I began to gain some confidence in a game against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day in 1959," Starr says. "I had a good day and we won the game. But the real big game for me—the one that really did it—was the last game of the season, against the 49ers, I had studied coach's offense and the keys and how to read defenses and I knew, theoretically, how to take advantage of them, but it was still just theory and I had trouble seeing these things in a game. In San Francisco everything fell in place all at once. It was like taking a veil from in front of my eyes. It was a real revelation."

The revelation that came to Starr in San Francisco has never left him; he is regarded by defensive players in the league as probably the best of all quarterbacks at calling audibles at the line of scrimmage and at analyzing defense. Says Dick Voris, the defensive coach of the 49ers: " Bart Starr is one of the great quarterbacks. You can't take any kind of gamble against him. Any gamble produces a weakness and he always finds it. For instance, if you blitz him, he'll let you come within inches and then flick the ball out on a screen pass for big gains."

Although Starr has quarterbacked the Packers to three NFL championships in six years and has them well on their way to another, his task has not grown easier with experience.

"The big change in recent years has been in defense," he says. "I mean, that afternoon in San Francisco when I suddenly found that I could read their defenses could never happen again. That's one of the reasons it is tough on young quarterbacks. Everyone disguises their defense so well now. They don't let you see it until the ball has been snapped. Now you have to read it as you drop back to pass."

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