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Bart Starr was the toughest football player who ever lived

Nearly four years ago, when I visited Bart Starr in his Birmingham, Alabama, home, he did not remember the five NFL championships he had won, or the Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi, he had won them for. He could not place Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers, even though he studied Rodgers closely through the DirecTV package his wife and high school sweetheart, Cherry, had bought him as a Christmas gift.nfl cheap jerseys nike

Starr even asked me if I had played for Lombardi, the former coach at my New Jersey high school. We shared a small laugh over that before I brought up the 1967 Ice Bowl, one of football’s most iconic games settled by one of football’s most iconic players. Starr did not remember anything about that either.

The then-81-year-old former quarterback had suffered multiple strokes, a heart attack, four seizures, and significant brain damage within the previous year, and some doctors could not believe he was still alive. During one stay in the hospital, a doctor told Cherry her husband likely would not make it through the night. Bart woke up the next morning in much better shape.

He lost his memory long before he lost his life Sunday at 85. But Starr never lost his dignity while he reminded the world, in his last great comeback, that he was the toughest NFL player who ever lived.5

When we think of old-school toughness on the football field, we often think of big and vicious hitters, fire-breathing defenders who played through injury and enjoyed cutting skill-position players in half. Chuck Bednarik, Ray Nitschke and Dick Butkus. Mean Joe Greene, Jack Tatum, Jack Lambert and Mike Singletary.

But at 6-foot-1, 196 pounds, the gentlemanly Starr made the most difficult championship play under the most difficult circumstances in a game that never should have been played. With the ball at the 1-yard line at Lambeau Field, down three points to the Dallas Cowboys with 16 seconds to go, Starr ignored his frozen hands and body, the subhuman Green Bay conditions (the wind chill was minus-48 degrees), and the fact that he was an aging, athletically-challenged quarterback who had already been sacked by Dallas eight times. Starr asked to keep the ball in a huddle with Lombardi, who ordered him to push it across the goal line. “And then let’s get the hell out of here,” the coach cried.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

Starr scored, of course, behind Jerry Kramer’s famous block on Jethro Pugh, and afterward his wife was stunned by the severe swelling in his face. No NFL player had ever been asked to give more on a single drive or a single play. Starr would be named Super Bowl MVP for a second straight time two weeks later, and he never again managed a winning record as a starter.