GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Wearing a Green Bay Packers sweater while sitting near a podium at his beloved Lambeau Field, Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr looked up and smiled.
Behind Starr was memorabilia that Packers fans might view as priceless, including Starr’s 1967 championship ring for winning Super Bowl II, and a 50th anniversary Super Bowl MVP jacket. He was donating them to the Packers’ Hall of Fame.
”I’m really happy to be here,” Starr said softly on Monday, with his wife, Cherry nearby. ”We’re really pleased to be here.”
The fact that he made the trip up from his home in Alabama might be the 83-year-old Starr’s most important victory of late. He joined other members of the 1967 title team for a celebration of the squad’s 50th anniversary over the weekend.
Starr is recovering from two strokes and a heart attack suffered in 2014. It has been an arduous road back for Starr.
But moments such as the one Starr experienced on Sunday, when fans gave him a long, warm ovation at halftime of the Packers’ game against the Saints, help motivate him to get better.
It was his first trip back to Lambeau since the Thanksgiving night game in 2015 for fellow Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre’s return to Green Bay.
”That was the one lure that (family and Starr’s trainer) would hold out every day, say `We’ve got to get you to that rehab session because the fans want you there, the organization wants you there,” son Bart Starr Jr. said.
Just one extra squat and one extra toss of the ball in physical therapy could do wonders.
”It was all driven by his desire to reconnect with the people that he’s loved since he came up here in the fall of 1956,” Starr Jr. said. He describes his father’s health as having vastly improved over the past eight months or so.
Aided by hard work, the elder Starr’s health is ”probably at his best level of the year right now,” Starr Jr. added. ”He’s tired because we’ve done a lot this weekend, but it’s a good tired.”
Cherry Starr said the family decided to donate the items after a friend told her of an auction on eBay in which a seller asked for $100,000 for what he claimed was one of Starr’s championship rings. The ad was false, she said.
”I knew Bart would not be wearing the ring ever again and I thought we need to ensure that this jewelry will never ever be in the wrong hands and will never be sold,” Cherry Starr said.
At one point at the news conference, Cherry Starr indicated that this would be her husband’s last trip to Green Bay. She said something similar two years ago, too, around the time they were planning to return for the Favre ceremony.
”I always have a different take, which is you don’t know what the future holds,” Starr Jr. said Monday. ”She was sure that the last one was the last one. I said `No it’s not. We’re coming back.”’
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