SI Vault
Edwin Shrake
August 25, 1975
Optimism permeates the summer air of Green Bay. Fans are sporting buttons and bumper stickers celebrating the return of Bart Starr, Mr. Nice Guy, and hoping for a renaissance of Lombardi's winning ways
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August 25, 1975

'a Fresh Start With Bart'

Optimism permeates the summer air of Green Bay. Fans are sporting buttons and bumper stickers celebrating the return of Bart Starr, Mr. Nice Guy, and hoping for a renaissance of Lombardi's winning ways

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Starr could hardly be less like Lombardi in personality, though he tends to think the same in many ways. Like Lombardi, Starr is a pretty good golfer, an 80s shooter, although Starr is perhaps a little better. But although both belonged to the Oneida Golf and Riding Club in Green Bay they seldom played together. A former Oneida caddie recalls, " Lombardi was always yelling and throwing clubs, and he played with noisy guys. He'd rather have played with Paul Hornung or Max McGee than with Starr, who was too quiet for him. Starr could play a whole round with a toothpick in his mouth. Another thing, too, Starr usually carried his own clubs, in a fairly big bag, and the other guys rode in carts. I'm sure Starr did it just for the exercise. The caddie fee was $3.50."

There is a film made by ex- Green Bay All-Pro Guard Jerry Kramer that stars The Lombardi People. Starr is not one of the featured performers, for no reason other than that Starr is his own person. "I think the title of Jerry's movie is perhaps a play on words," Starr said. "But it's indicative that there were a kind of people who were able to stay and perform for Lombardi. He demanded so much that those who stayed came to believe what he believed—that by attempting to do things the way he wanted them done, all this effort and dedication would transcend the locker room and stand them in good stead the rest of their lives.

"Many people from Lombardi teams have become successful in other fields. But that funny story Henry Jordan used to tell at banquets—that Lombardi treated us all equal, like dogs—was only true when Lombardi first came here and wanted to see who could stick it out and maybe become a notch better than they thought they were. If you stayed, you discovered what the man was really about. He began to treat us as individuals. We all had to work hard and keep the rules, but Lombardi knew some needed sugar and some needed salt. I learned a lot from him in that area, I hope. Actually, as a coach he was well suited to my personality as a player. I didn't need to be a whipping, tongue-lashing kind of quarterback, the coach took care of that, and we didn't need two like him. I would pull a player aside and chew him out if I thought it necessary. But I never did it in front of anybody else, because I believe a man's greatest asset is his dignity."

As a player Starr had the reputation of remaining orderly and cool regardless of the circumstances. "The pattern was that nobody said anything to him in the huddle unless Bart asked," says Knafelc. "The worst thing Bart ever said to you in the huddle was 'Hush up.' Bart is consistent, that's his secret. He can be extremely tough, but he does it quietly. Instead of screaming, he gives you a go-to-hell look that says it all."

Six hours before Starr's first game as head coach of the Packers—he insists it was not his debut, since it was an exhibition, but maybe he ought to claim it anyhow—his wife Cherry was stacking groceries on shelves in the kitchen of their home in De Pere, a few miles south of Green Bay. It is a thickly carpeted, upper-middle-class house, a live-in magazine ad. Zeke Bratkowski, who was Starr's backup quarterback and now is Green Bay's quarterback coach, lives in a split-level across the street. The other coaches kid Zeke that he lives there so it is convenient for him to cut Starr's grass and shovel his snow, but in fact Bratkowski is one of Starr's closest friends, and their families take vacations in Hawaii together.

An ornamental fountain spurts behind the Starr house, and a Great Dane grumbles gently on the lawn. The youngest Starr, Bret, 11, blisters rubber on the driveway with his minibike. Bart Jr., tall and 17, aiming at a college golf scholarship, ambles through the house. Cherry keeps smiling as she recounts how she has given up jogging two miles a day, which she found boring, in favor of tennis. A tanned, well-coiffured woman, slim and pretty, Cherry was Starr's high school sweetheart. She says her husband demands that his trousers be hung in the closet in a certain manner and his shirts arranged in order. "Bart is very particular about things," she says. One evening while he was getting dressed Bart was complaining about having to go out until she reminded him he was on his way to accept a Mr. Nice Guy award.

The Starrs don't venture into public much unless it is required, but on Friday nights Bart and Cherry often turn up at the Oneida Golf and Riding Club for a fish dinner, a beer for Bart, a Tab for Cherry.

The phone rings. Bart has promised football tickets to some people who drove up to the stadium in a camper that afternoon and encountered him in the parking lot. Bart arrives home at that moment in his Lincoln, rushes into the house and says he has found the people four tickets, thus winning their Mr. Nice Guy award. Bart sits down and tries to grin. It is now about five hours before the exhibition game non-debut, and he is acting calm and patient but is clearly nervous enough to lick the wax off the coffee table. The floor shakes in a series of shuddering slams. "First time I heard that, I thought it was an earthquake," Cherry says, "but it's only Bart Jr. hitting his punching bag in the basement. Notice how Bart thought of the perfect place to hang the bag, under the den." "I'm a very emotional person, but I hide my emotions," Bart says. "My father was an extremely hard-nosed master sergeant. I was introverted as a kid." Starr is now one of the smoothest after-dinner speakers who ever toured the circuit, but he has refused nearly all requests for speeches and endorsements since he took the Green Bay job. Starr says he applied for the job after Devine resigned to become head coach at Notre Dame. Dominic Olejniczak, president of the seven-man executive committee of Green Bay Packers, Inc. since 1958, made the Christmas Eve announcement that Starr had been hired. "I thought you'd never ask," Starr said to laughter at the press conference. Mr. O., a former mayor of Green Bay and old pal of Packers founder Curly Lambeau, had cast the deciding vote against firing Devine earlier in the year.

A story going around town is that in the divisional championship season of 1972, Starr as quarterback coach called the plays from the sideline right up until the playoff with the Redskins in which Devine called the plays and the Packers lost. Starr says that story is exaggerated, and that he quit at the end of the season simply because he was not content to be an assistant coach. (He had retired as a player in July 1972 after two shoulder operations.)

Starr inherited some problems he would as soon have done without, but �f they hadn't existed there might not have been a Green Bay coaching job open in the first place. The controversial trade in the middle of last season for John Hadl—the NFC's Player of the Year with the Rams in 1973, benched by the Rams in 1974—provided the Packers with an experienced quarterback but deprived them of first, second and third choices in last winter's college draft and of first and second choices in 1976.

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