It's homecoming night. It's the perfect time for legendary Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr to return to Janesville.
Starr was a rookie, 17th-round draft pick when the Green Bay Packers played an intrasquad game at Monterey Stadium in 1956. Starr threw his first professional touchdown pass to win the game for the Green team.
"I was a very low draft pick, and I was doing everything I could to make the team," Starr said in phone interview earlier this week from his home in Birmingham, Ala. "It was an exciting time."
The 76-year-old NFL Hall of Famer will dedicate a plaque honoring his first touchdown pass in a short ceremony at Monterey at 7 tonight before Parker High School's homecoming football game against Madison La Follette.
After the ceremony, Starr is scheduled to give a short pep talk to the Parker players.
"It's exciting to meet the people around the state," Starr said. "It's always a pleasure for us to return.''
From the humble beginnings at Monterey, Starr moved on to become one of the most compelling figures in Wisconsin sports history. He quarterbacked the Packers through the glory years to a 74-20-4 record between 1961-67, including five world championships and two Super Bowl wins.
Starr played sporadically his first three seasons in Green Bay under coaches Lisle Blackbourne and Ray "Scooter" McClain. In 1959, Vince Lombardi was named the Packers' head coach, and Starr's football career changed dramatically.
"It was an absolute thrill for all of us," Starr said of the team's reaction to Lombardi. "When coach Lombardi was hired, it was a godsend."
Starr knew the Packers' fortunes would change instantly.
"It was a great change for the entire team," Starr said. "What an experience. It's hard to put into a few words.''
Under Lombardi, Starr won MVP honors in Super Bowls I and II. He made the Pro Bowl four times, led the NFL in passing three times and was the league MVP in 1966.
Not only did Starr direct the Packers under arguably the best football coach in NFL history and during the Packers' finest era, he also was at the center of the most memorable game in NFL history—the 1967 NFL championship game, better known as "The Ice Bowl."
In 20-below-zero weather that felt like minus 48 with the wind chill, the Packers defeated the Cowboys, 21-17. Starr's game-winning quarterback sneak has become a quintessential play in NFL history.
With 16 seconds remaining and no timeouts, the "Frozen Tundra" legend was forged. Starr scored from just inside the 1-yard-line to send the Packers to Super Bowl II.
"I don't think I can go anywhere and not talk about that game," Starr said. "It was so cold, my wife didn't want to be there.''
Starr led the final drive to the 1-yard-line. Green Bay called its last time out, and Starr consulted with Lombardi.
"Dallas had a very strong technique for short yardage—a submarine technique where they would charge almost down underneath the offensive linemen," Starr said. "We had put in a wedge play during the week, and it could gain a minimum of two yards.''
Starr told Lombardi the footing was miserable at the goal line, but he could move well enough to shuffle into the end zone behind the wedge play.
"One of their lineman was so big (Jethro Pugh) that he couldn't get that low," Starr said. "We ran the wedge toward him.''
After hearing Starr out, Lombardi replied, "Then run it, and let's get the hell out of here.''
Starr's response? "I laughed. That's just what coach Lombardi would say.''
Packer center Ken Bowman and guard Jerry Kramer moved Pugh just far enough for Starr to land in the end zone for the climactic play.
Starr said it was more than execution that lifted Green Bay to victory that day.
"I don't want to preach," Starr said. "But I personally believe attitude and love are two of the strongest words in our vocabulary.
"You can control feelings relative to attitude, and we had that," Starr added. "We had to adjust and be led by our attitude.''
Coming to Janesville tonight is special for Starr, who said he does "very little" of these functions.
"I'm doing this out of respect for the people there and what they are trying to do," Starr said. "It is a great opportunity.''
Packer fans and football fans in general have a great deal of respect for Bart Starr.
Welcome home, Bart.
If you go
Former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr will dedicate historic plaques commemorating his first professional touchdown pass and coach Vince Lombardi during a short ceremony at 7 p.m. today at Monterey Stadium, 465 Rockport Road.
Tickets are $2 for children and $3 for adults, which includes admission to the football game and the dedication ceremony. Proceeds benefit the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin.
Donations can be made to Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin, Attn: Packers Plaques, 26 S. Jackson St., Janesville, WI 53548.