“Nice guys finish last,” Leo Durocher famously stated. But on Dec. 31, 1967, during the NFL Championship game’s closing seconds, Durocher’s premise was repudiated: Bart Starr plunged over the goal line for the winning touchdown, and the Packers were champions again.
And when it came to leadership, strength, humility and integrity, Starr, who died Sunday, was a perpetual winner.
On May 6, 1967, my wife, our son and I conveyed Green Bay’s quarterback from the Eau Claire airport to the “Jogathon” festivities. The Jogathon introduced a fitness promotional plan whereby more than 200 runners relayed batons from various parts of our area to Eau Claire. Directed by UW-Eau Claire’s Ade Olson, I chaired a region of Gov. Warren Knowles’ Wisconsin Physical Fitness Council and had contacted Bart for the occasion.
Starr, who was also a member of the fitness council, performed many services that day. Besides greeting the finishing runners at the WEAU-TV station, he appeared in a scheduled parade and then spoke to a special gathering reserved just for children at the YMCA. The children’s session was a priority for Bart, whose appearance was predicated on that function.
Patient, gracious and engaging with a warm smile, Bart’s bearing exemplified a desirable dignity. Additionally, Bart signed certificates that he presented to participants at the Y. When previously asked if he used a stamp for his signature, he replied that he always signed by hand.
All of Starr’s doings that day were given freely, without financial compensation.
At Olson’s suggestion, our grateful region sent Bart’s wife a rose bush for sharing her husband with us. Always her husband’s considerate equal, Cherry Starr mailed a handwritten thank-you note for the gift.
There will be many articles and countless personal remembrances of Starr, because he was that kind of guy — a person who understood that consideration, compassion and service made the measure of the man and gave life a richer quality.
Among my many memories is this one:
Seven of our family sat in the subzero confines of Lambeau Field on Dec. 31, 1967: my brother, a season ticket holder since the late 1940s, his wife and their two boys; my wife, our son and I. My brother’s oldest boy, Joe, cradled a tape recorder into which he reported every play of the now legendary NFL “Ice Bowl” Championship.
In my nephew Joe’s recording, the cacophony of cheering after Starr’s winning touchdown changes into a symphony of sound. And if you listen closely, you can hear, “Bart! Bart!” It is an ode to a nice guy who finished first.
Weiss, of Eau Claire, is a freelance writer and retired dentist.