Bart Starr was dogged by back pain from his college days right on through his Hall of Fame career as the quarterback of the Green Bay Packers. For decades, the story went that Starr had initially gotten hurt during a punting exercise while playing for the University of Alabama. But according to Starr’s wife, that version of events isn’t true, and in reality, he hurt his back during a brutal initiation ritual for the university’s A-Club for varsity letterman. Starr’s wife, Cherry, tells AL.com that the beatings were so severe that they derailed his college career and disqualified him from military service. And even after reaching the pros as a 17th-round draft pick and flourishing under legendary coach Vince Lombardi, he struggled with back pain for the entirety of his NFL career.
Starr, now 82, is in declining health following two strokes. But his wife shared the truth about the origins of his 1954 back injury, which for decades had been covered up. Via AL.com:
“He was hospitalized at one point in traction,” Cherry said. “That was in the days when they were initiated into the A-Club, and they had severe beatings and paddling. From all the members of the A-Club, they lined up with a big paddle with holes drilled in it, and it actually injured his back.”
She said his back was “never right” after that, and described the severity of the injury: “His whole back all the way up to his rib cage looked like a piece of raw meat,” she said. “The bruising went all the way up his back. It was red and black and awful looking. It was so brutal.”
Cherry added that Bart never disclosed the incident with the A-Club because he thought “it would make him look bad.”
Nick Germanos, a teammate of Starr’s at Alabama, told AL.com that the hazing for initiation into the A-Club at Alabama was worse than anything he’d experienced in the military. “It was hell,” Germanos said. “Lord have mercy it was a rough initiation.”
Starr suffered the worst of his hazing before his junior season. And his initiation may have been even more brutal than that of some of his teammates because, according to the report, he “not only broke the A-Club’s fraternal code of the era by secretly eloping in May of 1954 — teams used to revoke or reduce scholarships for marriages — but he also had the temerity to wed an Auburn girl and move her to Tuscaloosa.”