As I was sitting at my desk this afternoon, news of Packers legend Bart Starr’s stroke spread across far and wide through social media. Though it happened last week, the Lombardi Foundation passed on the news that had been shared with them:
Last wk Bart Starr suffered a mild stroke but is very functional & making progress. Sending thoughts & prayers. pic.twitter.com/hfJl6B6vej
— Lombardi Foundation (@Lombardi_Fdn) September 10, 2014
While it sounds like it was only a mild stroke and Mr. Starr is on the road to recovery, it reminds us that those legends that were victorious during the Lombardi era and are growing older. After all, it’s grandpas that have strokes, not NFL MVPs who led their teams to victory. But Bart is 80 now, not some 30-something quarterback any more. On some level–at least to my generation and that of my parents–that seems in possible. It was a lifetime ago when he played, and he’s now a grandfather, if not a great-grandfather. And like all grandfathers, he’s getting old, his health gradually slipping away as well. When Starr collapsed at a speaking engagement in Madison two years ago, the Packers Nation gasped collectively. It was one of the first reminders that this generation is in the fourth quarter of their lives. He’s not the middle-aged man I remember running into at Shopko when I was a little kid. My parents knew he was. He was Bart Starr, the Packers head coach. It was a rather esoteric concept at the time considering I was in grade school. But like many kids, I knew where his house was. It was hard to miss as everyone drove past it on Webster avenue if heading toward Green Bay. His brown house and the Rawhide Boys Ranch, those are my lasting images of Bart Starr. I have vague recollections of him standing on the sideline during Packers games that used to broadcast on WBAY, the CBS affiliate at the time when I was young. My first concrete memories of tangentially following football start at about the time Starr was ending his career as the Packers’ coach. That was thirty years ago. We should be count our blessings that we still have Bart Starr as one of the elder statesmen of the Packers family. He’s definitely grown into that role. He always receives the warmest applause when alumni take the field at Lambeau Field. Somehow the same crowds that booed him when he coached a mediocre team have forgotten and forgiven that era, and he is the grand old man of Lombardi Avenue. It makes me smile that Aaron Rodgers considers him a friend and role model. He’s old enough to be the current quarterback’s grandfather, and yet they have found a connection. But I know our time with Bart is fleeting. After all, he’s the same age my beloved grandfather was when he passed away. In the next decade we will be saying goodbye to this generation of Packers, and with we will part with the last tangible parts of the Lombardi Era. It was only this past week where we learned from Jerry Kramer’s daughter Alicia that Starr and Kramer’s teammate Fuzzy Thurston’s health was failing:
Fuzzy is not doing well. So keep him and his family in your prayers and thoughts.
— Alicia E. Kramer (@JerryKramer4HOF) September 8, 2014
And we are all familiar with Forrest Gregg’s battle with Parkinson’s Disease.
They aren’t young men any more, and I know that one day they will no longer be here. We need to cherish our living legends while we have a chance, and today’s news drove that home for me.
I’m not willing to say goodbye just yet. Like many in the Packers Nation, I offered prayers for a speedy recovery, and I hope to cheer for Bart Starr once again as he waves to the crowd at Lambeau Field.--------------