GREEN BAY—When Aaron Rodgers got a phone call earlier this month from Bart Starr’s office in Alabama, he wasn’t sure what Starr wanted to talk about.
Upon learning that Rodgers had been voted the winner of the 2014 Bart Starr Award and that Starr wanted to present him with the honor at the annual Super Bowl Breakfast on Friday of this week, Rodgers was instantly humbled, but he didn’t think twice about finding the time to get to New York City.
“He wanted to make sure I was going to be there, which to me is a no-brainer,” Rodgers said, “because it’s Bart.”
Rodgers has never shied away from expressing the respect and admiration he has for Starr, the five-time championship quarterback and Pro Football Hall of Famer.
That’s what makes this award special to the quarterback at the top of the league now who has won plenty of other awards and honors over his nine-year career.
Around for roughly a quarter century, the Bart Starr Award annually recognizes one NFL player for outstanding character and leadership on the field and in the community. Rodgers was flattered just to see his name on the ballot when players across the league voted on the award in December.
Rodgers isn’t even sure how he got on the ballot for the first time, but the award generally goes to a veteran player who has been in the league eight years or more, so he may have finally had the longevity for consideration.
Rodgers isn’t naïve to the fact that dealing with the first major injury of his pro career in 2013 may have factored into the voting, but he hopes there was more weight given to his charitable endeavors, two of the more prominent being Raise Hope for Congo and the Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, commonly known as the MACC Fund.
For his part, Starr is just as honored to present Rodgers with the award as Rodgers is to receive it.
“When they have someone like an Aaron Rodgers representing them and presenting something to somebody,” Starr said, speaking specifically of the MACC Fund, “it says it all.”
The list of winners of the Bart Starr Award says plenty as well. Steve Largent was the first recipient, in 1989, followed by Anthony Munoz, Mike Singletary and Reggie White. Other eventual Hall of Famers to have received it include Jackie Slater, Darrell Green, Cris Carter, Warren Moon and Bruce Matthews.
The most recent quarterback recipients were Kurt Warner and Drew Brees.
Rodgers said it means a lot to be in such esteemed company and to be the first Packers player to win the award. White won it in 1992, a year before signing with Green Bay as a free agent.
“It’s very special to win an award that’s named in honor of someone I really look up to and someone who’s been a great role model for me and for the Packers organization,” Rodgers said.
The friendship between Rodgers and Starr dates back to a meeting at Fan Fest at Lambeau Field in 2006. Starr recalled that his first impression of Rodgers was of a “vibrant personality, an upbeat, wholesome, energized-type person.”
That impression – “the quality of the man,” was another way Starr put it – stuck with Starr enough that he reached out to Rodgers during the tumultuous summer of 2008, when Rodgers was taking over as starting quarterback for the soon-to-be-traded Brett Favre. With an unsolicited, personal email, Starr showed support for Rodgers that the eventual Super Bowl MVP and league MVP has never forgotten.
“Anytime we can be of assistance, or have someone know that someone who would seek to help him is out there rooting for him, I think that’s good for those folks to know,” Starr said.
As the two have grown closer, Rodgers in turn invited Starr as a guest of honor to his annual MACC Fund event last spring, and he recently recorded a video message to send to Starr for his 80th birthday.
“All those things have just strengthened our friendship and given me a greater respect for the man that he is,” Rodgers said.
The respect is mutual, which the name of Friday’s award and its latest recipient make inescapably symbolic, but to the men involved it’s just as real.
“When you look at what Aaron has done over time and working with different people and different causes, it’s very impressive,” Starr said. “You get a little choked up when you think about it.”
For the full list of Bart Starr Award winners, click here.