Starr remains a throwback hero

During a six-year stretch of time, 1993-2000, I had the privilege of editing this magazine. Back then, I wrote a front-of-the-book column (not that there’s anything wrong with the back of the bus) titled “The First Word.”

The very first column I wrote (it was the October 1993 issue) focused on my prized possession: a tattered and wrinkled 1968 Topps Bart Starr card.
Less than two weeks after the publication of that column, I received a surprise in the mail that turned out to be a new prized possession: a personal letter from Starr himself. He wanted to thank me (he wanted to thank me!) for keeping his card as a treasured object all these years. Is that class, or what?
Just thinking about Starr’s letter still makes me smile. I vividly recall pulling the envelope from a big stack of reader mail, not realizing what it was. After opening it, reading the text and seeing that signature, I think my jaw dropped to my desktop.

In that first column, I described my connection to the 1968 Starr card, how I got it, and why it was in such terrible condition. (Not only did I carry it with me everywhere, exposing it to all kinds of bends and creases, but it became the victim of sibling graffiti: One of my four sisters drew circles on Bart’s cheeks. I tried to erase the marks, further damaging the card. I bet PSA would love to get its hands on this one. We’re talking a negative score.

What I didn’t discuss in that column was the reason why Starr was my chosen hero as a kid. I’ve never lived in Wisconsin, there are no Packers fans in my family and I didn’t watch much football as a little guy. So how did a kid in western New York get Starr-struck? Simple. It was a bandwagon thing: The first football game I remember watching was Super Bowl II, when Green Bay won a third consecutive NFL championship. The MVP, Bart Starr, had possibly the coolest name in sports. Clearly, I had no choice.

The ole’ bandwagon effect is the reason why so many kids who grew up in the 1970s are Steelers fans today and why so many kids of the 1980s are 49ers fans. In our young, impressionable years, most of us get drawn to the champs.

I was reminded of this topic several times in recent days:
• First, I’ve been reading the never-ending stream of news about today’s “bad-boy” athletes. There’s Plaxico Burress, shooting himself in the foot (figuratively) by shooting himself in the leg (literally) in a nightclub incident. Just 10 months after his super day in the Super Bowl, Burress was suspended, and his Giants career may have ended.

There’s Pacman Jones, the talented Cowboys cornerback who in his short career already has a history of suspensions involving fights and altercations.

There’s the “Wall of Williamses” – Pat and Kevin Williams, who anchor the defensive line of the Minnesota Vikings – and the Saints’ Deuce McAllister, all of whom tested positive for a substance (diuretic Bumetanide) that the NFL banned because it could potentially mask the use of steroids. These and other headliners make me appreciate the Starrs of the world even more

• Second, I spotted an awesome team-signed Packers Super Bowl II football at a Leland’s auction in November. The “near pristine” ball had 28 signatures, including those of Starr, Vince Lombardi, Ray Nitschke, Jerry Kramer, and Willie Wood. It sold for a healthy $3,500.

• Third, I’ve spotted several Super Bowl II programs recently. It’s a great collectible on its own or as part of a run of Super Bowl programs, and you can usually get away with one for $200-$250. Remember, the game wasn’t widely known as the “Super Bowl” back then, which is why the cover reads “AFL vs. NFL/1968 World Championship Game.”

• Fourth, I picked up an awesome collectible: an autographed oversized 1968 Starr card. Topps issued the 8-by-10-inch card in the late 1990s, retailing it for $40. I should know; I bought two of them at the time. But that didn’t stop me from snagging a third on eBay ($50). The beauty of this baby is that you get two Starr sigs: one on the card, the other on a letter of authentication. It makes a great display piece, home and office. And just looking at it brings me back to the living room in Oswego, N.Y., on a cold January day in 1968, my dad in his easy chair and me on the floor, watching a game that would make me a Starr collector for decades to come.

But enough about me. If you have a similar collecting inspiration, I’d love to hear about it. Was there a single game that got you started in your collecting pursuits? Drop me a note at the e-mail address above, and I’ll share your story with readers in a future column. SCM

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