Richard Nixon photo

Remarks at a Testimonial Reception in Honor of Green Bay Packers Quarterback Bart Starr.

October 17, 1970

Mr. Commissioner, and the distinguished guests on the platform, and all the distinguished guests in the audience:

I want you to know that it's a very great honor for me to be here on this occasion. As some of you may have heard, we're in the midst of another political campaign in this country, but if there is one thing that is nonpolitical, it's being for Bart Starr tonight.

I was delighted to have the opportunity to come here, to this stadium. I remember in 1956 when I was Vice President I had the honor to be here when the football stadium was dedicated.

I even remember what happened--the Packers beat the Bears that day 21 to 17. And that was before Bart was the first-string quarterback, too.

See, my memory goes back even further than his, I am sure, on that score.

Also, it's a great privilege for me to be in this State to see a lot of old friends. I, as you know, served in the Congress, when I first came to the Congress, with Johnny Byrnes. He had been there a couple of years before I had.

And I don't need to say anything to his friends here in Green Bay that you haven't already said, but in my view he's really "Mr. Integrity" in that Congress and I'm very proud to serve with him in the Government of the United States.

And there's another man on this platform who is not a candidate this year and, consequently, we can say anything good about him without its being taken in a partisan context. I've seen many Governors in my time and I know that as I consider those Governors who have real quality and stand just a bit above the others, if they can stand above them, and there are a few in that category, one would be Warren Knowles, of the State of Wisconsin. You can be very proud that he leaves a legacy not only of good government in this State, but also a legacy in terms of the future, of the future for the young people that are here. I am speaking, of course, of the Packers and the Rams, and everybody else who is young here, and their children, because he has thought about the beauty of this State, its "Wonderland of Lakes" and all the rest, and how we can have this environment of ours go on down to other generations without having the water poisoned and the air becoming such that we can't breathe it.

There's no Governor in this country that has given more progressive leadership than he has in this field, and I wanted to say that about him in a year that he wasn't running, so that you would know it was really meant. I want to say that about Warren Knowles.

And naturally, my old friend, Jack Olson, who's the Lieutenant Governor-I understand he's a candidate for something this year. And also John Erickson, another old friend, I'll just introduce him tonight as he has been introduced, as a friend of Bart Starr's. I won't have to say he's a candidate. That is enough.

But I do want to say, too, that this is not the night of any of these men. It is not my night. But it is a night for another man. And I would like to say something about him, something about him before his friends here in Green Bay and before the Nation.

When I think of Bart Starr I think of where he came from. I just met his mother and his father. They must be very proud that they have a son who is so honored as he is by his friends and associates and teammates here in Green Bay.

And also, when I think of him, I think of the fact that we--as a matter of fact, he and I---have very little in common as far as athletics goes, at least. As a matter of fact, I do come from California and I am a very close friend of George Allen.1 And tomorrow, I must say that I would have to be neutral, but tonight I'm a "Packer Backer."

1Head coach of the Los Angeles Rams professional football team.

I think of Bart Starr's accomplishments on the football field. They've all been mentioned before, the great record that he's made. What really impressed me was that he's been in two Super Bowls and won them both.

In my profession of politics, I got into the Super Bowl twice and only broke even.

And, then I looked into his record to find, is there really something that would identify me more closely with him? And I found that we did have something in common. I spent a lot of time on the bench and so did he. You wouldn't know that.

His first years at Alabama were very great years, and in his junior and senior years, as you may recall, due to injuries and other reasons, he was sitting on the bench a lot.

And consequently, he was the 17th draft choice, and the Packers picked him up and he came up here and he was the fourth quarterback at Green Bay, and he sat on the bench a lot here, too.

And then he came on, and you all know the record: the greatest pass completion record of any man in pro football, 58 percent, over a period of years.

All of the accomplishments in leading the Packers to their great years during the sixties--all this we don't need to go into. The sportswriters cover it. The television and radio people will cover it much more accurately and effectively than I can. But I think that in speaking about him tonight, what really impresses me is that here was a man who didn't start at the top.

Here is a man who did sit on the bench. And instead of whining about it, instead of saying that the coach was at fault or the system was at fault, and quitting or, for that matter, sulking--which seems to be rather a fashionable and common thing to do these days when everything doesn't go your own way---he just kept going along and trying harder, and eventually he came up. And that's what he stands for.

Yes, he's a very, very great football player. But, more than that, he's not only the number one pro quarterback in this period; he's a number one American citizen when it comes to character.

And that's why we're all proud to be out here to honor him tonight. It's why I am very proud to have been able to arrange my schedule to come from Washington to honor him, and why also another man, and I want to say a word about him before I present the real star of the evening--and that is not intended to be a pun at all, of course--I simply want to say that that's another reason that the Secretary of Defense, who is one of the most valued members of our team, was proud to return to his State.

A word about your Secretary of Defense. I think it's only proper to speak of him in this room where all of us who follow football--and I guess that Presidents have no secrets but it's no secret that I'm a football fan--that we know that the defense is essential if you're going to be able to win the game.

I remember the two Super Bowl games. I think Bart will agree the defense played as much of a role in winning those games as the offense--the defense against the Chiefs and the Raiders.

And I think, too, that as we look at the United States of America today, we look at the defense of America which Mel Laird, a great son of Wisconsin, now has responsibility for.

The defense is important, as Mel Laird has said, not because the United States wants a war, but because with that kind of a defense we can discourage anyone who might want to engage in an offense.

These are the peace forces of America that he maintains, and tonight here in his native State I'm proud to say that it was this son of Wisconsin, Mel Laird, who developed the plan, after 5 years of American men going to Vietnam, of bringing them home through a program of replacing Americans with Vietnamese so that they could have a just and honorable peace in that area. It was Mel Laird who has developed the program for a strong defense of the United States.

Why? Because that is the basis with which we are able to negotiate with other countries, to reduce the arms that hang over this world, and to produce what we all want, and what we all want is not just peace for a year, not just peace for 2 years or 3 years, but peace that we haven't had in this century, peace for a generation.

That's what he's working for and that's what I'm working for.

And now, that brings me again back to Bart Starr. We honor him as a very great practitioner of his profession, the proud profession of professional football. And as we honor him for that, we honor him not only for his technical skill but, as I've indicated, also for something that is just as important: his leadership qualities, his character, his moral fiber.

It is this that will be his legacy to the Packers. It will be this that will be his legacy to the sport and his legacy to America.

I also want to pay tribute on this occasion to all of you, everybody in this great auditorium, all of you who may be listening on radio and television, who live in Packer territory.

To think that this city, the smallest city in population in the whole National Football League, could put out year after year, as it did in the sixties, the first team in professional football, tells us something about the Packers, but it also tells us a lot about Green Bay. This town has character and a lot of character and I congratulate this town for it.

So, ladies and gentlemen, I say to you my own envy of those in this crowd today is that I have to return to Washington tonight and won't be able to see that great game between the Packers and the Rams. I am for whichever team wins, believe me. And I'll write a nice letter to the loser, too. You can be sure.

But I think the best way that I can present Bart Starr to his friends is to say very simply that the sixties will be described as the decade in which football became the number one sport in America, in which the Packers were the number one team, and Bart Starr was proudly the number one Packer.

Bart Starr.

Note: The President spoke at 7:35 p.m. in the Brown County Veterans Memorial Arena, Green Bay, Wis.

Pete Rozelle was Commissioner of the National Football League.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at a Testimonial Reception in Honor of Green Bay Packers Quarterback Bart Starr. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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