Bart Starr was a good, but not great, college quarterback who wasn't selected until the 17th round of the 1956 NFL draft after 199 other players were picked. In the next 15 years, he:
• led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL titles including three consecutive league championships (1965–1967)
• was the Most Valuable Player in winning the first two Super Bowl championships
• won the league MVP award in 1966
• was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame
• had the highest post-season passer rating (104.8) of any quarterback in NFL history
• had an incredible career completion percentage of 57.4
He was born Bryan Bartlett Starr in 1934 in Montgomery, Alabama. When he was 12, his younger brother died of tetanus from an infected wound and this caused his father to encourage young Bart to be more aggressive in everything he did. He tried out for the football team at Sidney Lanier High School, but quit the team after two weeks. In a fit of rage, his father told him that if he didn't play football, he would have to work farming the family vegetable garden, so Starr returned to the football team. He sat on the bench for his sophomore year and early part of his junior year until the starting quarterback broke his leg. This allowed him to lead his team to an undefeated season and in his senior year, he was all-state. He was offered several college scholarships and chose to attend the University of Alabama.
At the University of Alabama, he was not a starter in his freshman year, but in the Orange Bowl, he came in as the substitute quarterback and completed 8 of 12 passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. As a sophomore, he was promoted to starting quarterback, threw eight touchdown passes and completed 59 of 119 passes for 870 yards. That summer, he secretly married his childhood sweetheart, Cherry Morton. He hurt his back in a fraternity hazing incident and was unable to play his entire junior year. That back injury recurred several times during his professional football career.
His senior year at Alabama was a disaster because the new coach used him only as a backup quarterback, so when the NFL draft occurred that year, nobody had even heard of Bart Starr. However, the head basketball coach at Alabama was a close friend of the personnel director of the Green Bay Packers and he recommended that they draft Bart Starr. Would you believe that one of the best professional quarterbacks of all time was drafted on the 17th round, as the 200th draft pick, and his starting salary was only $6500?
Life as a Green Bay Packer
Starr was fortunate that the new coach of the Packers was Vince Lombardi, one of the smartest coaches ever. Starr started out as the backup quarterback to Tobin Rote and was rated behind the other quarterback, Babe Parilli, but the brilliant coach, Lombardi, made Starr the starting quarterback in his first season and the rest is history. In 1960, the Packers lost the championship game, but in 1961 and 1962, they were world champions. In 1966, Starr won the NFL's Most Valuable Player award and he was picked for the NFL Pro Bowl four times. After his spectacular playing career, he went on to become a NFL coach.
Heart Attack and Strokes
In 2014, at age 80, he suffered a heart attack and two strokes that caused seizures. The heart attack and first stroke were caused by clots. He would have developed a clot in an artery leading to his brain, and I assume that the doctors correctly tried to dissolve the clot by giving him anti-clotting medication. This treatment saves lives. If they can dissolve the clot within 13 hours after the start of a stroke, the victim has a good chance to recover without long-term brain damage. However, there is risk with this treatment because anti-clotting medication can cause bleeding. Five days after his first stroke, he apparently had a hemorrhagic stroke that caused bleeding into his brain.
Heart attacks and strokes are not caused by narrowed arteries. Heart attacks and 80 percent of strokes are caused by sudden complete obstruction of blood flow to the heart or brain so that the cells die from lack of oxygen. First a plaque breaks off from the inner lining of the artery. Then that site bleeds and a clot forms. The clot keeps on getting larger and larger until it blocks blood flow completely, depriving the heart or brain of oxygen. The heart muscle can live without oxygen for only up to three hours before it dies and is replaced by scar tissue.
Twenty percent of strokes are caused by bleeding directly into the brain. Since the brain is surrounded by the skull, a tight box that cannot expand, the bleeding crushes and damages the brain. Starr's second stroke appears to have caused severe brain damage. Starr's family reported that he never recovered from the damage caused by his heart attack and strokes and was in poor health for five years. For the first time in his life, he was unable to exercise or even move about under his own power. This would cause his heart muscle, already damaged by his heart attack, to become progressively weaker. When a person is bedridden or severely disabled, eventually the heart muscle becomes too weak to pump blood through the body, so the person dies of heart failure. When the news media reports that a debilitated person has died of natural causes, it usually means death from heart failure caused by lack of movement. Starr died on May 26, 2019, at age 85.
An Exemplary Lifestyle
Except for possible dietary indiscretions, his lifestyle appears to have been exemplary. He jogged regularly and played tennis into later life, was fit and not overweight. He stayed with one woman for 65 years, until his death. In his later years, he said he still walked two miles per day. For a football player, this is spectacular as many football players have knee damage in later life and many can't even walk. He was semi-retired, but continued to work, signing pictures and memorabilia for charities, a few hours a day five days a week at his office in his son's investment firm.
I do not know specifically what he ate, but I do know that football players and other athletes in sports that require strength are at high risk to die of arteriosclerosis, blood vessel disease, because of the mistaken belief that loading a diet with extra protein will help them to grow larger and stronger muscles. Research shows that you have a basic need for protein and once you get that modest amount of protein, taking more will not help you grow larger muscles. Some football players shorten their lives by eating meat up to seven times a day. Loading on meat and other animal foods increases arterial plaque formation that markedly increases risk for heart attacks and strokes. Sugared drinks are also associated with increased risk for heart attacks, strokes and premature death. In the early 1960s, Coca-Cola offered a king-size Coke, and inside the bottle caps were pictures of all-star football players such as Bart Starr.
January 9, 1934 – May 26, 2019