Bart Starr and his wife, Cherry, have been keeping an ugly secret for 62 years.
The Hall of Fame quarterback has long been using a false story to explain his lackluster Alabama career in the 1950s, according to AL.com‘s Joseph Goodman.
Now, with Starr’s health preventing him from speaking with the media, Cherry has decided to tell the truth about a lingering back injury that derailed her husband’s Crimson Tide career.
The culprit was not a “punting exercise,” as the usual story went, but a brutal hazing ritual.
When Starr gained access to Alabama’s A-Club (for varsity lettermen) in 1954, several members beat him with a wooden paddle as part of the club’s initiation process.
Cherry called the hazing “horrible.”
“His whole back all the way up to his rib cage looked like a piece of raw meat,” Cherry told Goodman. “The bruising went all the way up his back. It was red and black and awful looking. It was so brutal.”
The football consequences: Several missed games and an inability to regain consistency on the field. Alabama struggled in almost every one of Starr’s following starts, finishing 0-10 his senior season in 1955.
Of course, he was able to become one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks once he landed with the Green Bay Packers later that decade; but Starr was apparently robbed of a fair opportunity to make his mark at Alabama.
Cherry told Goodman there was a silver lining: The back injury resulted in a failed physical administered by the Air Force. If he would’ve passed that test — which followed his rookie season in Green Bay — his Hall of Fame career might never have happened.
“Thank goodness he failed that physical,” Cherry said.