Bart Starr was 'the boss,' but he was 'such a gentleman'

Remembering 'The Ice Bowl' (0:53)

Packers legends Bart Starr, Jerry Kramer and Ken Bowman reflect on the classic 1967 NFL championship game, dubbed The Ice Bowl for its sub-zero temperatures. (0:53)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Fans loved Bart Starr.

They loved him because as a quarterback he led the Green Bay Packers to five NFL championships.

Because of his sneak in the Ice Bowl.

Because he represented everything that was special about the team in the NFL's smallest market.

Because he embodied the competitive spirit that was his coach, Vince Lombardi, during the glory years of the 1960s.

And they even loved him after a nine-year tenure as the team's head coach that resulted in only one playoff appearance.

Bob Harlan loved him for an entirely different reason -- the one that only those who knew Starr behind the scenes could fully articulate.

Harlan, a former Packers president, was in his early days with the organization when Starr was in the final year of his playing career. It was 1971, after all the championships had been won and after Lombardi was gone. Harlan joined the team as the assistant general manager. His primary job was to help negotiate player salaries.

"I actually signed Bart to his last contract," Harlan recalled in an interview with ESPN.com. "In fact after five world championships, I gave him his all-time high salary of $100,000."

That was Dan Devine's first season as the Packers coach and Starr's last as a player. Devine lasted three more years, posting only one winning season after Starr retired as a player.

It was Devine who hired Harlan away from baseball's St. Louis Cardinals, and when Devine was done in Green Bay, Harlan wondered if he, too, might be done.

"Dan was the one who hired me so when Dan left, I thought I might have trouble," Harlan said. "And the day Bart was hired [in 1975], he called me at home and said, 'I want you to help me and take over doing all the contracts.'

"I said, 'Bart, it's going to be an honor to work for you.' He said, 'You won't work for me, you'll work with me.' And that was just the way he handled things. He was the boss, but yet he was such a gentleman."

Starr's coaching tenure (1975-83) ended with a 52-76-3 record (and a 1-1 playoff mark).

"He just was so raw in the position; he probably got the job too early," Harlan said. "In '83 we were so close, and I think a couple more years -- and he had been here nine years, but the fans weren't really screaming about it -- if he had a couple more years we weren't that far away."

Still, Starr's coaching tenure had a lasting impact on the franchise in large part because of the impact it had on Harlan.

For Harlan, Starr served a model for how to run things at 1265 Lambeau Field. It was a treat-others-how-you-want-to-be-treated mentality, something that served Harlan throughout his presidency.

It was Harlan who, as president, oversaw the resurrection of the franchise in the early 1990s when he hired Ron Wolf as general manager, who then hired Mike Holmgren as head coach and traded for Brett Favre.

Just like Starr welcomed Harlan into the Packers' family, Harlan made sure Starr remained a key figure in the organization. What other team not only had three iconic quarterbacks in Starr, Favre and Aaron Rodgers but also ensured the trio would have strong personnel connections?

Harlan made sure Starr was a regular presence at Lambeau Field, something players who followed cherished. Their tributes on Sunday shortly after Starr's death at age 85 spoke not of football but of the same qualities that Harlan loved about Starr.

Rodgers, in an Instagram post, shared photos of Starr and simply added a heart in the comment section.

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Indeed, Rodgers, who never saw Starr play or coach, loved the man for the same reason that Harlan did.