How Bear Bryant Failed to Sign a Young Bart Starr to Kentucky

Tom RagsdaleCorrespondent IMay 5, 2009

During the summer when Bart Starr was a sophomore at Sidney Lanier High School of Montgomery, AL, he worked at our local YMCA Camp to stay in shape. All the younger boys at our camp tried to imitate the way Bart walked, ran, and chewed gum. There wasn't a local athlete more copied than Bart Starr. 


Bart was a dedicated high school athlete determined to win a college football scholarship. He rose in the morning early before the break of dawn and ran for about three miles. He led calisthenics for the campers when they finally got up. He loved to run against anyone who would challenge him. 


He ate more food than anyone in the camp. He was trying to bulk up for his junior and senior years in high school. He knew how important it was for the quarterback on the team to be big and strong.


At night, when everyone else had gone to bed, Bart and Gloop were up at the mess hall drinking milk and eating a loaf of bread. At the end of camp that year he had added about 20 pounds of muscle and had increased his speed and quickness at the same time.


Wow, who would not want to be more like Bart Starr?


The word soon got out that there was a super quarterback being developed in Montgomery, AL. All of Bart’s high school coaches had played ball at the University of Kentucky, where Bear Bryant was then coaching. Everyone on the coaching staff at Lanier and at Kentucky wanted Bart to go to the Bluegrass University, Kentucky.


So it was arranged the following summer, Bart’s junior year at Lanier, that he was to go to the University of Kentucky that summer to be trained and tutored by none other than the No. 1 quarterback in the country, Babe Parrill. Babe’s center was All-American Doug Mosley, the younger brother of Coach Bill Mosley, who was the head coach of Lanier.


It was decided that Bart would be trained by the best quarterback along with the best center in the country with the hope that Bart would sign on the dotted line to attend the University of Kentucky after his senior year.


Returning from a summer internship under the Babe, Bart was fired up and ready to set the woods on fire in the state of Alabama’s high school football program. He learned the attitude of perfection and hard work, and it was really beginning to pay off.


Bart’s coaches began to let him call his own plays and use the skill of football finesse in moving the ball down the field. His smooth handling of fakes and use of flankers fooled the opposing teams.


His coaches even let him pass the ball from deep in his own end zone. Never had I seen a high school player make that call. The opposition had never seen it either. It worked for a touchdown every time. 


Bart’s senior year at Lanier, 1952, was destined to be a great one. Campton Bowl was filled to see this team being led by Bart Starr. Bart had several ends he had worked with all summer and fall, throwing passes to them for hours after all the other players had gone home and were probably in bed before he called it quits.


Bart’s passes were sharp and hard. He always threw so hard no one was going to catch the ball except his ends who knew how to catch it.


It is hard for anyone to comprehend the hard work and dedication Bart Starr put out to become an outstanding college player and later quarterback five NFL Championship teams. You had to see it to believe it. 


The Bear had seen it and talked to others who had seen it. So when Bart’s senior year was over and it was time for the decision to where he was going to college, the Bear let it be known that the quarterback’s job at Kentucky was Bart’s if he so desired. Everyone was so sure he would attend the University of Kentucky.


But politics got into the mix. The governor of the state of Alabama invited Bart and his family to dinner one night at the Governor’s mansion. “Bart, the people of Alabama want you to stay at home so they can see you play. Don’t run off to some distant university,” the Governor Bart made the decision to say yes to Alabama and no to the Bear.


The Bear did not lose too many players that he truly wanted.


The rest is Alabama football history.