Up Front and Personal

Bill Buckner and Bart Starr: Two Sides of the Same Lesson

During Memorial Day weekend, two sports legends died on consecutive days.

On May 26, former Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr died five years after suffering two strokes and a heart attack. He was 85. A day later, ex-major leaguer Bill Buckner passed away after battling dementia for many years. He was 69.

Starr and Buckner are remembered in vastly different ways.

First, let’s consider Buckner, a former Boston Red Sox first baseman who is essentially remembered for one moment in his life: an error he committed in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series that cost the Red Sox the game vs. the Mets.

Buckner let a routine ground ball  to first dribble through his legs, allowing the Mets to score the winning run. The Mets went on to win that World Series and prolong the Red Sox championship drought, which at the time stood at 68 years. Buckner became the face of the Red Sox’ futility.

That wasn’t really fair. Buckner was one reason the Red Sox made it to the World Series in the first place. He was their regular first baseman that season and drove in 102 runs. Overall, he had a .289 career batting average with 2,715 hits, 174 home runs and 1,208 RBIs across 22 seasons in the majors.

But the one error. How easy it is to focus on the mistakes of others and to overlook the Christ in them – to see the Divine Imprint that is in each of us.

Bart Starr, unlike Bill Buckner, is remembered as a winner and deservedly so. Under head coach Vince Lombardi, Starr’s Packers teams won five championships in the 1960s, including the first two Super Bowls ever played.

Starr’s most memorable moment came in a playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys in 1967, a contest that became known as the “Ice Bowl,” because the temperature that day in Green Bay’s Lambeau Field was 14 degrees below zero, with a wind chill of -49.

Decades later, Starr told an interviewer that he “gets cold just thinking about that game.”

Starr scored the winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl on a quarterback sneak with 13 seconds left in the game.

The quarterback wasn’t always a hero. At the University of Alabama, he didn’t play much as a junior because of a bad back and was a backup his senior year. He was only the 200th player selected in the 1956 NFL draft.

Starr rode the bench for a couple of years in Green Bay before Lombardi came on board and made Starr the starter. Lombardi, a Catholic who went to daily Mass, put his faith in Starr and was rewarded with the five titles.

Yes, great things can happen when we see the good in people and give them a chance.

Nacinovich is the managing editor of The Tablet.