I've been saddened to read of the ongoing health troubles for football legend Bart Starr. In the great divide of college football in Alabama, I'm an Auburn Tigers fan, but unlike some, I've never thought that rooting for one team meant rooting against the other. I mean, it's not like Venus Williams talks smack about Serena, although presumably she would like nothing than to crush her sister when they meet on the court. So there's lots of people involved with U of Alabama football that I greatly admire (at the top of the list is Gene Stallings, one of the last coaches who dressed like a man who took his job seriously. Bill Belichick, please take notes.)
On several occasions, I've run into Starr at the local Taco Bell, which saddens me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking Taco Bell. After all, I eat there, too. But then, I'm not a two-time Super Bowl MVP. I'd like to think that when Bart Starr is sitting on his couch and gets a craving for some Tex-Mex, he could just clap his hands and announce, "Fajitas!", at which point someone in an impeccable white chef's coat would start grinding some pepper on a skirt steak. Instead Starr is schlepping off for a Nachos Bel Grande like the rest of us.
I've also run into him at Panera Bread, but somehow that's not the same.
Anyway, even though I've stood right behind him at the drink fountain several times, I've never said anything to him, partly because I figure he's had his fill of random people saying hello, and partly because it would feel awkward to begin the conversation with anything other than, "Roll Tide," which I don't know that I could deliver with full conviction. And now when I can't expect to see him at the Taco Bell again any time soon, I'm sad because of something I've often wanted to tell him, which is: thanks.
Thanks, because when I was a boy, Starr's book Quarterbacking provided my first real instruction in football. Let's face it, football is a complicated game, and like many young fans, I understood most of the rules, but couldn't perceive the high-speed chess match that takes place during a play. Despite the name, Starr's book was about far more than his position. It introduced me to the world of football strategy, offensive and defensive alignments, player responsibilities, reads and keys, route trees, the whole thing. I started seeing the game in a different light after reading that book, and I'm not sure I would still be a football fan today if Starr hadn't revealed the depth of the game.
Others may think of Starr as a great quarterback, a class act, and a guy with one of the coolest names ever, and rightly so. But let it also be said he's been a fine teacher and ambassador of the game. So here's to you, Mr. Starr. Get well soon.