I was going to take the day off today. That changed when I was followed on Twitter by Rawhide Boys Ranch. Hmm, who’s that? I went to their timeline and followed them back. I visited their website and watched one of their videos and discovered that Bart Starr is one of the co-founders of that organization.
Don’t worry, this is not a commercial for Rawhide Boys Ranch – although I’m sure they’re doing a good work. I’m sure it’s impacting the lives of many young men.
But Bart Starr impacted the life of one young man long before he ever got involved with Rawhide Boys Ranch. I was that young man.
As quarterback of the Green Bay Packers, Bart Starr became an NFL legend. I could devote an hour to documenting his achievements here and not begin to scratch the surface.
I was 9 years old. I wrote a letter to the Green Bay Packers asking for Bart’s autograph. What I got back was an 8 x 10 back and white photo signed at the bottom “Best Wishes – Bart Starr”. It was a photo of Bart in pose – not throwing – but punting. The great quarterback’s official team photo in a punting pose? Hmmmmmm.
I don’t know, but I suspect I know why today.
Back in the late 60’s I competed in the annual Punt, Pass, and Kick. It’s simple, they stretch out a tape and you throw the football. They mark where it lands, deduct the distance off the center line and record the net distance. Same for punting and kicking.
I remember you “signed up” at the local Ford dealership – they were the sponsor. When you signed up, you were given a little booklet. It was kind of a comic book. Stories of various NFL greats telling their story. A real inspiration. Well, I won a third place trophy in my first year of competition. Not good enough. I immediately began preparing to do better next year. I robbed my mothers adding machine of its tape, marked it every foot, and stretched it out in the back yard to practice.
My practice was to be interrupted. One April day I broke my femur (that’s your thigh bone). I spent 3 weeks in a hospital followed by 8 weeks in a body cast that extended from my nipples, all the way down to my toes of the broken leg, halfway down the other leg, with a broomstick in between. I was totally immobilized and could do nothing for myself.
Finally the day arrived for the cast to be removed. They wheelchaired me and placed me in the car. I couldn’t wait to get home. Upon arrival, I opened the car door to take my first real step since April. I went splat like a wet rag on the hard concrete. I cried. Not from the pain – from the dispair. My little legs had not been used on 3 months. The muscles had completely atrophied. I wanted soooooo bad to compete in Punt, Pass, and Kick to improve upon my third place finish from last year. My parents took me to the doctor to see if there was any therapy options available. The doctor (who’s son took 2nd place the year before) told us that a reasonable goal is that I would be able to walk without crutches to be a spectator by the time the next Punt, Pass, and Kick competition came around.
My parents took me home and helped me to the couch and turned on the TV. Beside me on the couch was that little Punt, Pass, and Kick booklet. Bart Starr was one of the contributing authors. I read the story for the millionth time. Bart Starr recalled how he had a bad punt while at Alabama. He wrote of the darkness, the depression, the hopelessness that gripped him. Then he told of how he realized that he was holding himself back. I remember the exact words he used:
“wallowing in my own self pity”
I picked up the football that was always at my side and began imagining myself being Bart Starr. I didn’t actually throw the football – I was inside – but I would wind up and go through the motions. I asked my parents to take me outside so I could really throw the ball. I sat on the ground and gave it my best. I asked Mom to steal the tape from the adding machine and mark it off every foot so I could measure my progress. Hour after hour, day after day I practiced. I would move my legs around trying to revitalize them. I must have looked funny to watch me. One day, when I knew nobody was looking, I decided to try to stand up on my own. I struggled, but was able to do it. There I stood holding a football. I tried to punt it. The ball rolled off my foot for maybe 5 yards – BUT I WAS STILL STANDING!
Day after day I struggled. The pain was intense, but the idea of giving up was even worse. I would imagine Bart Starr standing beside me, coaching me, telling me to not wallow in self pity. Failures became less frequent.
I didn’t walk to that year’s Punt, Pass and Kick competition to be a spectator. I won 2nd place. It’s the only 2nd place finish that I’m proud of today.
That year was the last year of Punt, Pass and Kick competition in my home town. The next year would see the desegregation of public schools and no sponsor could be found.
Today Bart Starr is involved in a ministry to help young men. He may never know the difference he made in this young man’s life.
Thank you Bart. You’ll always be my hero.
That’s what I think. I’m interested in your thoughts. There’s lots of ways to hit me up so let me hear from you.
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