"To me, Bart Starr stands for what the game of football stands for; courage, stamina and coordinated efficiency . . . You instill desire by creating a superlative example. The noblest form of leadership is by example and that is what Bart Starr is all about". -- Vince Lombardi
It is year five of Bart Starr's five-year plan to return the Green Bay Packers to glory. The record this time is 4-9.
Starr's cripled Packers are the youngest team in the NFL, a team probably at least two years away from being a serious playoff contender.
Starr's record since becoming coach and general manager of the Packers is 25-45-1. No coach in league history, except for Tom Landry with the expansion Dallas Cowboys, survived as long as Starr with a poorer record.
But Starr, whose Packers play the Redskins at RFK Stadium Sunday, is under minimal pressure. He remains a hero in this community of 144,000 and throughout the state. As he walked from the field following his team's 21-10 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday he was cheered. He has two more years remaining on his contract.
"These people would rather lose than fire Bart Starr," one local observer said. "You don't fire God."
Starr may not be a God-like figure in these parts, but his link to Lombardi, his almost father-son relationship with the great coach, gives him a status far above that of an ordinary coach.
On the front of the 1979 Packer brochure is a drawing of Starr. Silhouetted around it in the background is a drawing of Lombardi. The link remains.
The Bart Starr who today stalks the Packer sideline, tension and frustration masking his face, looks much the same as the Starr who was the leader of the great Lombardi teams of the 1960s.
The neatly combed sandy hair is unchanged, the chin still is firm, the stomach flat and hard. At 45, Starr still looks like he could get the ball to Boyd Dowler deep on third and inches. But there are more lines on the face, he looks drawn and tired.
The team Starr coaches has neither Starr nor Dowler. Nor has it any of the other great names out of the past. Now the names are Whitehurst, Torkelson, Cofman and Gray. The team is not very good.
But Starr says he is unbowed by the defeats. He still has complete confidence in himself and what he is doing and refuses to even admit being discouraged.
"We're disappointed, certainly," he said Sunday night after the loss to the Eagles. "We're suffering and we're hurting. But we're not discouraged in the least. Discouragement denotes a lack of courage and there is none of that here. We aren't one bit less confident than we were when we started here."
Starr is renowned as a "motivational speaker," in this area of the country. Any time he is asked a question that might lead to an answer with negative connotations he either will steer around it or talk about how he plans to rebound from the problem. He talks often of what it takes to be a success, a winner.
Example: Has the losing been frustrating.
"We all have our down moments, every human being does. But we have to fight against them. The leader of any organization will have sour moments.
"But at times like that I look around and I see the positive things we've done. I look at our organization, our facilities, the way we've drafted and the progress we've made as a whole. When I do that I don't stay down for long. I bounce right back."
Starr realizes that the past is very much a part of the present in Green Bay. Earlier this season, he told a local television reporter that he believed that if he were not Bart Starr, his job would be in serious jeopardy.
Now he says he was wrong to make the remark. "I was being too candid and humble when I was asked that," Starr said. "I think it got distorted somehow. We've done a lot of things right here. We just haven't won yet. Of course that is the bottom line.
"But we're going to win. I don't think we're that far away. People talk about the past here and I certainly don't want it forgotten. Let's face it, tradition plays an important role in winning and we're fortunate to have a winning tradition to build on.
"But we don't live in the past and we are not intimidated by it. We are living in the present and building for the future."
Starr is a forceful speaker; a look-you-in-the-eye talker. He also is a do-it-my-way-or-don't-do-it-at-all type of person. That attitude has led to confrontations with the press. A year ago he tried to order several reporters not to print the fact that Duane Thomas had been trying out with the team for a full week -- an apparent violation of league rules.
Last week Starr tried to bar Dave Begel of the Milwaukee Journal from games and practices after Begel wrote a column anonymously quoting several players as saying one of the team's problems was Starr's cold and distant manner.
When the league told Starr he could not bar Begel, the coach refused to talk to him after the game; pretending not to hear when Begel asked questions in the postgame press conference.
When Starr was asked today about his refusal to talk to Begel he said, "I don't have the power to limit access so this is the only out I have."
Asked to comment on his relationship with the players, Starr said, "Why don't you ask them about it." He then went off the record to cite things he had done for players in the past, staring right at Begel during the monologue.
Starr is aware of the fact that he does not handle the press well and that he seems distant to most people. Last year at a golf outing with reporters, he handed out a booklet entitled "Everything I know about press relations." Inside, all the pages were blank.
"Bart's problem is he's so wound up, so tight, he just can't loosen up, it isn't part of his nature," one member of the Green Bay organization said."It's difficult carrying the burden he's carrying, dealing with the pressure.
"In our memories, Vince Lombardi never lost a game. That's a hard shadow to escape from."
Conversely, that shadow is part of the reason Starr can lose and still be relatively secure. "To the people of this community Bart Starr will always be a hero," Ben Teague, Chamber of Commerce president, said today. "But certainly there is some unhappiness with the conservative offense.
"I think Bart has at least another year of grace because of all the injuries. If we were healthy and had this record it would be different. He'll have a full shot next year.
"But if things don't change he will be in trouble. This community is patient but it doesn't like losing."
Nor does Starr. Extremely religious and devoted to his wife and two sons, he readily concedes that he is obsessed with restoring the Packers as a championship team.
"Football is my livelihood," he said. "I live and die with it. I think I'm better equipped today to make this team win than in the past. I'm smarter now, a better leader than when I came here.
"All I can do is try to be me, not Lombardi or anyone else. The only way to be successful is to be yourself. That's what I've done."