Exclusive Interview With Bart Starr
We had the pleasure of sitting down with Green Bay Packers and NFL legend Bart Starr before the Packers home opener. In addition to watching his team, Starr was in Green Bay to help promote Tide’s “Show Us Your Colors” campaign.
During our time, we touched on a wide range of topics. Here is the interview.
Q: So many people think of Bart Starr and all the great games, but you were a 17th-round draft choice when you came out of college, and part of the reason for that is you didn’t play a lot your senior season. Did you feel like you had a shot at the NFL at that time?
A: Well, I was very thrilled to have a shot at the NFL at that time. I’ll always be grateful to the basketball coach at the University of Alabama, a man by the name of Johnny Dees, because he was close friends with the director of player personnel here with the Green Bay Packers in those days. I think without that, I may not have had a chance to even compete, because he continually leaned on this director of player personnel up there, and got me a chance to be selected in the last round or one of the last rounds. I’ll always be grateful for that.
Q: What was that first training camp like for you?
A: It was very tough, very demanding; but knowing what the odds were, I had really worked hard. I don’t know when I’ve ever been any better prepared for a training camp and going into the beginning of a season anywhere along the line than I was then. And I think it paid huge dividends.
Q: When you were on the field, you called a lot of your own plays, if not all of your own plays. Today quarterbacks get a lot of the plays from the sideline. In some ways it seems that quarterbacks back then were superior to those today because you were running the game out there, right? That doesn’t really happen today.
A: Well, that’s true. Almost each play is selected and given to the quarterback. Yes we did, but that was the way we were trained in those days. During the week, they prepared us well for that occurrence to come up during a ball game.
Q: A lot of people would say the quarterback position has evolved over the years. In that aspect it has devolved a little bit, wouldn’t you say?
A: Well, yes; but that’s the way things are done today. I can assure you that the planning that takes place during the week, that quarterback is anticipating what you’re going to be calling, because you’ve planned it so well that he knows it. He could just take it over right then, if he had to.
Q: A lot of us weren’t around to witness the games that were presided over by Vince Lombardi — obviously one of the greatest coaches of all time. You seemed to have a very close relationship with him. How would you describe Lombardi?
A: He was a very, very special gentleman. He was tough. He was demanding. He was extremely disciplined and very, very well prepared. Something that you don’t know about him is he also had a great sense of humor.
Q: You faced a lot of great foes — guys who are in the Hall of Fame and are considered legends these days. Alan Page, Alex Karras, Dick Butkus just to name a few. Who would you say your toughest foe was?
A: Oh, gosh. That’s tough to say because there were so many good ones. I guess in our days, our toughest opponent appeared to be the Chicago Bears. That was a huge rivalry and they were always very, very well prepared for us, and I can guarantee you we were well prepared for them.
Q: Do you think that rivalry has lost anything from those days?
A: I don’t know, but I doubt it. I think there’s always going to be that. Tradition has a very strong play in anything; and there’s a huge tradition between the Packers and the Bears.
Q: What do you view your legacy as, as a player?
A: Well [laughing], I don’t think that’s appropriate for me to try to answer those kinds of things. You’d have to ask someone else and get their opinion. But I think the greatest thrill and honor that we had, when we were here, was to be able to win the championships that we did; but to do them primarily because of the leadership that we had from Coach Lombardi. He was a fabulous leader. I could hardly wait from each day to the next day to go to the meetings and listen to him coach us and prepare for the practice sessions that we would have after that out on the field.
Q: Obviously, the run the Packers had during the Lombardi era was very, very impressive. Do you think a team will ever be able to duplicate that in today’s game?
A: Well, I think it’s not impossible. I think it’s going to be very difficult because of the competition that’s out there today and the number of teams which are very, very strong. You have to be very, very well prepared and have a few breaks along the way to have it occur.
Q: Who do you consider the great quarterbacks — both of all time and of today?
A: Well, obviously I’m going to pick Aaron Rodgers for today [laughing]. You can start there. I don’t know a better place to be in. But my all-time favorite during my days of playing was John Unitas. I had the pleasure of getting to know John in the offseason. He, John Jr., Bart, Jr. and I used to play golf in the offseason. We’d play maybe out in the Maryland area or we’d play here in the Wisconsin area. We became great friends over the years.
Q: You had a bit of a rivalry with Unitas as well, didn’t you?
A: Oh, we certainly did. The rivalry between the Packers and the Colts was unbelievable.
Q: You mentioned Aaron Rodgers. It seems like he’s continuing your legacy both on the field and off the field. What’s your impression of Aaron?
A: I think he is simply outstanding. He is a quality gentleman. His talent is unbelievable. I’ve told people I think he can throw the ball better with his left hand than I could with my right. But he is a super, super gentleman and a great, great competitor.
Q: How do you think this season is going to shape up for the Packers?
A: I think they’re going to win it all if their defense plays well.