It would be an incredible twist of irony if Bart Starr, a Hall of Fame quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, eventually calls the signals that lead to a pro football presence in Baltimore, a city where he fought so many courageous battles as an integral part of the "despised" opposition. There's no question he is perceived as the front-runner, despite a desire to remain quietly in the background while awaiting expansion developments.
Starr lives in hope of heading a National Football League franchise but don't interpret that to mean he's on a shopping tour. He likes Baltimore, is acquainted here, and shares only good things for its football future. He was visiting friends last night at the Center Club and most of the table conversation dealt with the NFL.
The group hosting Starr assured him of strong involvement from Baltimore investors, headed by Phyllis Brotman, owner of the nationally recognized advertising firm of Image Dynamics; Sig Hyman, Louis Grasmick, John Paterakis and Henry Knott. "Six or eight other highly responsible Marylanders are only a phone call away if we choose to add them," said Grasmick.
Starr, is not going to put himself in position of publicly lobbying for a team and will not expound on the possibility. A man of elegance and integrity, he has interested financial connections ready to join him in any effort that leads to Baltimore returning to the NFL. But he will not, at present, mount the podium to express such an ambition.
The league, including commissioner Paul Tagliabue, respect Starr for his exemplary characteristics and contributions he has made while a player and later in the business world. Furthermore, he has a commitment to an ongoing partnership with his son, Bart Jr., in Birmingham, which is important to him.
Some of the wealthy, respected men, who would have ownership control, are well-known and would pass NFL interviews with flying colors, Starr said. He will not, however, divulge names at this time because of an agreement to keep their identities confidential. What Starr will not do, most emphatically, is make boastful claims or create false hopes regarding an expansion club in Baltimore.
Starr, without a doubt, has moved to the fore in the city's prospective football lineup, even though he has deliberately tried to remain low-key. Self-aggrandizement is not in his game plan. Others may make bold declarations but he's not even whispering his intentions.
Starr, the personification of a southern gentleman, in the tradition of Sonny James, has never had an ego problem. While the quarterback leader of the Packers, he had an exceptional relationship with teammates and also the opposition because of the respect they held for him. He was and is extremely close to John Unitas, who had been a quarterback rival.
"My regard for John is the highest," he said. "I treasure the relationship because of the kind of a man he is. Our friendship will always be strong and true."
That's Starr, who has carried himself with a high measure of dignity and, like Unitas, is an ongoing credit to the game. If the Starr group comes to pass in Baltimore there's no doubt Unitas will play a role, as a consultant or member of the board of directors.
One of the best things that could happen would be if Starr eventually heads a team. Baltimore would be made-to-order for a football figure of his stature, plus business acumen. He'd be the first former player since George Halas, who helped start the NFL, to ascend to such a position of importance within the framework of a club's executive establishment.
It would be his hope to set up an organization and hire a general manager, not himself, to put together a team. "Earlier when Bob Tisch [who since has bought 50 percent ownership of the New York Giants] was the favorite, I knew Bart was still much a part of the game," explained Brotman. "I have it on the best of authority the votes in the league would be forthcoming for Bart."
After he left the Packers, an attempt was made to attract him as a candidate for the U.S. Senate in Wisconsin, where he then resided. Whil
e declining, he offered words of gratitude to supporters and went off to pursue other business opportunities.
The work habits of Starr are such he would enhance any group he was a part of, in or out of football. It's a reputation that has been earned by the performance of the man.