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Bart Starr, legendary 1960's Green Bay Packers quarterback, dies at 85

Legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr died Sunday at the age of 85, according to the team.

The Packers announced Starr, a catalyst of Vince Lombardi’s powerhouse teams of the 1960s, died in Birmingham, Ala., citing his family.

He had been in failing health since suffering a serious stroke in 2014.

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“We are saddened to note the passing of our husband, father, grandfather and friend, Bart Starr,” family members said in a statement.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr died Sunday at the age of 85, according to the team.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr died Sunday at the age of 85, according to the team.
(Getty Images)

Starr “battled with courage and determination” after a serious stroke in September 2014, but “his most recent illness was too much to overcome,” family members said.

“While he may always be best known for his success as the Packers quarterback for 16 years, his true legacy will always be the respectful manner in which he treated every person he met, his humble demeanor, and his generous spirit,” a statement read.

The Packers selected Starr out of the University of Alabama with the 200th pick in the 1956 draft. He led Green Bay to six division titles, five NFL championships and wins in the first two Super Bowls. Until Brett Favre came along, Starr was known as the best Packer ever. The team retired his No. 15 jersey in 1973, making him just the third player to receive that honor. Four years later, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.

After losing the 1960 NFL title game in his first playoff appearance, the Packers never lost another playoff game under Starr, going 9-0, including wins over the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders in the first two Super Bowls.

Starr’s college career wasn’t very noteworthy and it wasn’t until Lombardi’s arrival in Green Bay in 1959 that Starr, living by his motto “desire and dedication are everything,” began to blossom.

In this Feb. 5, 2006, file photo, former Green Bay Packers' Bart Starr carries in the Vince Lombardi Trophy following the Super Bowl XL football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers, in Detroit.

In this Feb. 5, 2006, file photo, former Green Bay Packers’ Bart Starr carries in the Vince Lombardi Trophy following the Super Bowl XL football game between the Seattle Seahawks and Pittsburgh Steelers, in Detroit.
(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Lombardi liked Starr’s mechanics, his arm strength and especially his decision-making abilities. Under Lombardi’s nurturing, Starr became one of the league’s top quarterbacks.

“If you work harder than somebody else, chances are you’ll beat him though he has more talent than you,” Starr once said. He credited Lombardi for showing him “that by working hard and using my mind, I could overcome my weakness to the point where I could be one of the best.”

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The quarterback’s status as a Packers icon was tested by his struggles as the team’s head coach. In nine seasons from 1975-83, he won just 41 percent of his games, going 53-77-3, including 1-1 in the playoffs, part of three decades of futility that followed the glory years.

After football, Starr, became a successful businessman in Birmingham, Alabama, not far from his hometown of Montgomery, where he was born on Jan. 9, 1934.

Starr was a four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time All-Pro. He won NFL titles in 1961, `62, `65, `67 and `68. He was the 1966 NFL MVP and was named to the 1960s All-Decade team. He also was named MVP of the first two Super Bowls. Starr also has an NFL award named after him, given annually to a player of outstanding

But the play he was most famous for was a run.

In this Sept. 10, 2012, file photo, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr waves to fans during the Packers' NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Green Bay, Wis.

In this Sept. 10, 2012, file photo, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr waves to fans during the Packers’ NFL football game against the San Francisco 49ers in Green Bay, Wis.
(AP Photo/Jeffrey Phelps)

In the NFL championship on Dec. 31, 1967, Starr knifed into the end zone behind guard Jerry Kramer and center Ken Bowman with 16 seconds left to lift the Packers over the Dallas Cowboys 21-17 in what became known as the “Ice Bowl.”

“We all have a capacity to focus and to concentrate to a unique degree when we’re called upon to do it,” Starr said on the 30th anniversary of that game. “That’s exactly what I did that day. And I think the same was true of the Cowboys. Let’s face it, they obviously were not accustomed to something like that and yet they were the team which had surged and come back in the second half and were in a position to win it.”

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Two weeks later in sunny Miami, the Packers defeated the AFL champion Raiders 33-14 in Lombardi’s final game as head coach of the Packers.

When Starr retired following the 1971 season, his career completion percentage of 57.4 was tops in the run-heavy NFL, and his passer rating of 80.5 was second-best ever, behind only Otto Graham. Starr replaced Dan Devine as Packers head coach in 1975 and would be replaced himself by former teammate Forrest Gregg in 1984 after failing to lead the franchise to the kind of success he did as a player.

In 1965, Starr and his wife, Cherry, helped co-found Rawhide Boys Ranch in New London, Wisconsin, a facility designed to help at-risk and troubled boys throughout the state.   The couple dealt with tragedy in 1988 when their son Brett died at 24 due to complications from cocaine addiction. They also had another son, Bart Jr.

“His love for all of humanity is well known, and his affection toward the residents of Alabama and of Wisconsin filled him with gratitude,” the family’s statement said. “He had hoped to make one last trip to Green Bay to watch the Packers this fall, but he shall forever be there in spirit.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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