By Zane Miller
Green Bay Packers quarterback Bart Starr entered into the 1966 NFL season with three double-digit win seasons already under his belt. Additionally, he had also earned three championships with the Packers, coming in 1961, 1962 and 1965. Nevertheless, Starr was still in search of his first MVP award and first-team All-Pro selection, which would come in 1966.
Starr’s best performance of the season came at home against the San Francisco 49ers on October 9th, as he threw for a pair of touchdowns to go along with 287 yards through the air. While the Packers would come up short in the game, as the 49ers won 21-20 to hand Green Bay their first loss of the season, they would go 12-2 on the season with Starr winning 11 of those games.
At the end of 1966, Starr had compiled 14 passing touchdowns and 2,257 passing yards, taking the seventh spot in the league in touchdowns passes and eighth in yardage. This would set him two touchdowns behind 49ers starter John Brodie in sixth and 283 yards short of Los Angeles Rams quarterback Roman Gabriel in seventh, thus finishing at the average in the 15-team league. Despite the middle-of-the-road passing statistics, this would not stop Starr from being selected as a first-team All-Pro, as well as league MVP, which would be the first and only time he would claim either award. This would come despite Cleveland Browns quarterback Frank Ryan passing for over twice as many touchdowns and almost 3,000 yards while also leading his team to a winning record, so I don’t know what the voters were looking at either.
With the Packers easily taking the Western Conference title, they would travel to face the Eastern Conference champ Dallas Cowboys for the league title game. The contest would be a thriller right from the start, with five touchdowns scored in the first half alone as the Packers held a slim 21-17 lead at halftime. While the Cowboys cut the deficit to one to begin the scoring in the third quarter, Starr threw back-to-back touchdown passes to put the game out of reach, with Green Bay eventually sealing a 34-27 victory. Starr put on a clinic throughout the contest, scoring four touchdown passes and 304 yards to come through with one of the best showings of his entire career, in a moment where the Packers certainly needed it the most.
Prior to the 1966 season, the story would have ended right here, however this season saw the beginning of a game you might have heard of called the Super Bowl, in this case featuring the American Football League champion Kansas City Chiefs. After both teams headed to Los Angeles for the historic event, the Packers were able to grab a 14-10 lead at halftime. However, the offense would explode for three touchdowns in the second half, while the defense shut Kansas City out for a 35-10 win in the inaugural version of the big game. While not quite as dominant as he was in the lead-in matchup against the Cowboys, Starr still had plenty of highlights against the Chiefs courtesy of two passing touchdowns and 250 yards, nearly matching his best game from the regular season. As if he didn’t already have enough accolades during the season, Starr became the first player to earn Super Bowl MVP honors. He would retire following the 1971 season, spending his entire career in Green Bay. The Packers retired his #15 jersey in 1973 and would return as the team's head coach for the 1975 season. Although Starr held the role through the end of 1983, his coaching career would not go as well as his playing career, as the Packers only had winning records in two of his nine seasons at the helm with just one playoff appearance in 1982, although the team would be able to score a first round victory over the St. Louis (now Arizona) Cardinals.
With all of the statistics in mind, I grade Starr’s 1966 season at an A. While his regular season statistics left a lot to be desired, especially for an MVP candidate, he rose to another level in the postseason with clutch performances in both contests. I also have to take into consideration the historical significance of the first Super Bowl victory, to go along with the first Super Bowl MVP award as well.
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