Bart Starr was beloved throughout Packerland.
Fans born in the 1950s or earlier remember No. 15 leading Green Bay to victories in the first two Super Bowls and to nine straight wins in the playoffs after the Packers lost the 1960 championship game to Philadelphia.
He was Tom Brady before Tom Brady. Or maybe Tom Brady is Bart Starr after Bart Starr.
Starr died Sunday at age 85.
Although he was idolized throughout Wisconsin, Starr had a soft spot in his heart for Janesville—specifically, Monterey Stadium.
It was at Monterey Stadium, on the banks of the Rock River, that Starr played his first professional game. It was an intrasquad game—Green vs. Yellow—but it was a game Starr never forgot.
He was a 17th round draft pick—imagine ESPN covering 17 rounds of the draft—in 1956.
He played at the University of Alabama, and was far from his home state when he traveled north to Green Bay for that first preseason.
Starr threw his first touchdown pass as a professional in that game at Monterey, and it won the game for the Green team.
So when Starr was asked to appear at a fundraiser for Monterey Stadium upgrades in 1982, there was no hesitation.
Dave Wedeward, the longtime sports editor for The Gazette, was the contact person.
“I asked him if he would be available to be the speaker, and how much a fee he would want,” Wedeward said Sunday. “He got back to me almost immediately, and said he would be happy to come and there would be no charge because that is where he got his start as a quarterback.”
Wedeward also said Vince Lombardi made his last public appearance in Wisconsin in Janesville in a Town Hall series at the old Marshall Middle School, now the site of the Janesville Performing Arts Center.
Starr followed up his appearance in 1982 with a return visit in 2010 to dedicate a plaque honoring his first touchdown pass at Monterey Stadium.
The then 76-year-old appeared at Janesville Parker’s October homecoming game against Madison La Follette. He gave the Vikings a pregame pep talk.
In an interview with The Gazette prior to his 2010 visit, Starr summed up what made those “Glory Year” Packer teams special.
“I don’t want to preach,” Starr said, “but I personally believe attitude and love are two of the strongest words in our vocabulary.”
And that is how he lived.
“I’m doing this out of respect for the people there, and what they are trying to do,” Starr said his final visit in 2010. “It is a great opportunity.”
That was the man that Bart Starr was. A stroke and two heart attacks in 2014 took away much of his mobility and awareness.
But nothing could ever take away his class.