Source: WBRC video Source: WBRC video

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) –

The following is a commentary blog from WBRC FOX6 Sports Director Rick Karle:

He was always a fighter, this native of Montgomery, Alabama.

Today, fifty years after Bart Starr helped make the words “Super” and “Bowl” famous (last month was the fiftieth anniversary of Super Bowl I), he continues to fight the fight.

What the NFL legend has faced over the last few years would make any man cringe, but the MVP of the first two Super Bowls remains a shining example of determination and will.

I first met Bart and Cherry Starr some 27 years ago, and then, like today, they were kind and loving, patient and classy. Their love has been one of which most would envy, and that love is what has helped Bart deal with a series of health issues that would leave a weaker man fallen.

Over the last two years, Bart has suffered a heart attack, two strokes, numerous seizures, a broken hip, staph infections, and the loss of most of his speech.

But thanks to Cherry, family (including Bart, Jr.), friends, doctors and therapists, the NFL Hall of Famer has climbed back.

As I sat with Bart and Cherry in their beautiful Birmingham home, their eyes sparkled. Their mutual support has helped both deal with seeing the former Green Bay Packers quarterback deal with the effects of the strokes.

Why the ultimate devotion? Understand that Bart and Cherry were high school sweethearts — in fact in May of 1954, a year after Bart was named the starting quarterback, safety and punter at the University of Alabama, the couple eloped (it’s a good thing for both that Cherry decided not to attend Auburn and instead enrolled at Alabama).

How far back were those years when Bart played for the Crimson Tide? Paul Bryant had yet to arrive at the Capstone — Bart, in fact, played for Red Drew and “Ears” Whitworth.

The bottom line: The couple has been together for more than 65 years, married for 63. To this day, Bart and Cherry’s bond is what has helped them through tough times.

When you sit with Bart and Cherry, you somehow forget that you are talking with sports royalty.

Bart Starr, the quarterback who signed on with the Packers in 1956 for $6,500?

Bart Starr, the Super Bowl legend who put the big game on the map?

Bart Starr, the hero of the Ice Bowl in 1967?

Bart Starr, the MVP of Super Bowls I and II?

Bart Starr, the man who spent nine years as the Packers head coach?

Bart Starr, the man behind The Bart Starr Award, given annually to the NFL player exhibiting outstanding character?

Yes, that Bart Starr- but the couple’s humble and gracious ways can make even a media person feel right at home.

As a familiar football coach would say, “It’s a process,” and while Bart still has difficulty expressing what is on his mind, Cherry knows exactly what her husband wants to say.

Cherry makes sure that her husband knows her feelings about him: As Bart shuffles into the kitchen each day for breakfast, Bart is greeted by a hand-written sign that sits on the counter- it reads: “I love you, darling.”

After breakfast, Bart may head to rehab at Cahaba Fitness (three days a week) or stop by his office to visit his son Bart, Jr. He may then take a nap and later sit in his recliner watching the NFL Network.

All the while, Cherry is nearby. Cherry doesn’t get out as much as she’d like, but she does play tennis in her backyard three to four times a week.

When I chatted with Cherry before my latest interview, Cherry, now in her early 80’s, said to me, “I did get to play a little bit of tennis today- but only about an hour-and-half.” Wow — you talk about a competitor!

Yes, the fighter continues to fight the fight. The man who was the 200th pick of the 1956 NFL Draft gets the adrenaline going during rehab.

He looks down at the football he is holding. He can lift it overhead but opts not to attempt a throw.

Still, the fighter tosses the ball under-handed to trainer Brian Burns, he pedals a stationary bike while catching tennis balls, and he smiles while walking about the facility.

While it’s a bit sad to picture in your mind what became of that do-everything NFL hero, I come away more impressed, as during rehab he grinds and smiles, grunts and fights.

How impressive is this man? I doubt he has spoken a negative word about anyone.

For years he wrote a new poem each and every day and slipped it under Cherry’s pillow so she could read it before dozing off. For years he has honored and loved the most important person in his life.

I hope you take time to watch my TV piece on Bart and Cherry Sunday night on WBRC FOX6 News after the Super Bowl. Included here are some clips that may or may not make it into my edited piece.

I want to thank Bart’s assistant Leigh Ann Nelson for being so accommodating and, of course, Cherry for putting up with TV people dragging cables and lights into their home.

Bart and Cherry Starr have seen joy and pain in their lives, but Birmingham’s royal couple keeps on ticking.

I pray that they stay around awhile.

Copyright 2017 WBRC. All rights reserved.

Comments are closed.