Starr family a living tribute to Alabama quarterbacks
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has become a household name since bursting onto the national stage with his coming-out party last January, leading the Crimson Tide to a thrilling overtime win to secure the national championship against Georgia.
Tagovailoa has enhanced his resume this season in leading Alabama (13-0) to a wire-to-wire No. 1 ranking, earning the sophomore lefty an invitation to the Heisman Trophy presentation tonight in New York.
While Tagovailoa hopes to become the first Alabama quarterback to win the Heisman, Scott Starr is pretty sure there weren’t any children named Tua in his hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee, during his childhood. But if were up to Starr’s father, that wouldn’t be the case if the quarterback were born today rather than in the early 1970s.
Starr, a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army, moved with his family to Prattville, Alabama, this year and since then has come to understand the unique legacy he and his two brothers carry.
He is one of three sons of George and Joyce Starr of Cleveland, and all three boys were named for former Alabama quarterbacks due to their father’s love for the Crimson Tide.
Starr’s full name is Scott Hunter Starr, a salute to the Tide signal-caller who concluded his Alabama career in 1970 and played eight years in the NFL, primarily with the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons.
His older brother was named George Bartlett Starr and always has been called Bart in honor of the Montgomery native who played at Alabama before compiling a Hall of Fame career with the Packers.
And the youngest Starr son was given the name Joe Willie, a tribute to Joe Namath, who likewise went from Tide stardom to Super Bowl glory and the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
“I think I got the best name of all three of us, because I haven’t had to answer to a lot of people explaining my name,” said Scott Starr, 45, who oversees the Army ROTC commissioning program at Marion Military Institute. “I think my mom is very special because she embraced having three boys with unique names and everything that came along with it.”
After spending the past three years in England, Scott Starr didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of his father’s passion until arriving in Prattville.
“Since being here, obviously you tell somebody you and your two brothers are named after Alabama quarterbacks and it’s automatic credibility,” Scott Starr said. “It’s always been neat. People always ask if I’m related to Bart Starr with my last name, so there’s your automatic conversation starter. I tell them, ‘Not the Bart Starr you’re thinking, but he’s my brother.’”
Carrying the name of a football icon has brought about some unsought recognition for Bart Starr, but it also has created some confusion over the years.
Bart, now 46, is a minister of music at First Baptist Fisherville outside of Memphis, and he recalls a vendor hanging up on him, assuming it was a prank call when ordering some music materials.
“It wasn’t an issue when I was a kid, but when I got older people would ask, ‘Your name is really Bart Starr?’ They wouldn’t really believe that we were named after Alabama quarterbacks. I always said I had a football fanatic father and a gracious mother,” Bart Starr said.
Joe Willie, 43, is the general manager of Chatata Valley Golf Course in Cleveland. He comes by his name legitimately in that his paternal grandmother was named Willie, and he’s mostly known as simply Joe by those who haven’t known him since childhood.
“I never thought it was a curse — it was just something unique,” Joe said. “A lot of people assumed it was short for Joseph William or something like that, but I would always say, ‘No, it’s just Joe Willie.’ It’s a conversation starter for sure.
“Young people today don’t have a clue who Namath was, so they just think it’s a silly name. It’s a pretty neat story, but as a kid it wasn’t always great to be named after Namath with some of his crazy wardrobe choices and the pantyhose ads.
“Everybody that follows football knows Joe Willie and Bart Starr, but only the true Alabama fans remember who Scott Hunter was.”
George Starr is now 75 and has been a longtime sports fixture in Cleveland. He retired last year after serving as the sports information director at Lee University for over two decades, but he continues in his 31st year of serving as the Flames’ radio play-by-play announcer.
He previously had a 30-year newspaper career, the bulk of it spent as sports editor of the Cleveland Daily Banner and a stint with the Chattanooga News-Free Press. George Starr has been inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, the Lee University Athletic Hall of Fame and the Bradley County-Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.
His passion for Alabama football stemmed from a friendship cultivated while playing summer baseball in 1961.
“The connection was Steve Sloan,” George Starr said. “Steve was from Cleveland, and I got to know him when we were baseball teammates. I always had tremendous respect for him. He was the best you’d ever want to be around and a tremendous athlete.”
Sloan left Cleveland for Tuscaloosa to become a Crimson Tide quarterback from 1963 to 1965, and he eventually became the athletic director at Alabama as well as the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga following a football coaching career that included stops at Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Duke.
“I started following Steve when he went to Alabama when I came to Cleveland as sports editor, and I followed him from Alabama throughout his coaching career,” George Starr said. “I actually wanted to name Scott after Steve, but we already had three Steves on the other side of the family. If we had a daughter, though, she surely would have been named Sloan.”
There was one instance, though, when Joyce Starr stood her ground and refused to relent to her husband’s naming rights.
“I wanted to name our youngest after Ken Stabler and call him ‘Snake,’ but Joyce wouldn’t have anything to do with that because of his questionable reputation,” George Starr said. “I guess I got away with Joe Willie, though. We also had a little dachshund and I named him ‘Bear’ after Coach Bryant.”
While the Starr boys were given names from Crimson Tide heritage, growing up in Tennessee created some divided loyalties.
“When we were young, we were Alabama fans. That’s just the way we were raised,” said Joe Willie. “But I became a Tennessee fan pretty early. It was a lot easier being a Tennessee fan back then. Dad didn’t give me any pushback. Most people who know my name think I’m an Alabama fan.”
Bart has managed the unthinkable in cheering for both Alabama and Tennessee, while Scott has remained true to his roots despite his military career carrying him across the world. He still considers himself an Alabama fan and refuses to ever pull for Auburn.
Living in Alabama also has impacted Scott’s 11-year-old daughter Skylar, the youngest of four children for him and his wife, Jennifer.
“Once we got here, she automatically became an Alabama fan because that’s Papaw’s team. We had to go buy her Alabama shirts, pompons and the whole deal,” Scott said.
There is only one boy among George’s eight grandchildren, Scott’s 14-year-old Owen, who played organized football for the first time this fall as a member of Prattville’s freshman team.
George is playfully disappointed that he wasn’t consulted when it came to choosing a name.
“He could have been named Jay Barker Starr, but they didn’t bother to ask me,” George said. “I know one thing’s for sure. If he was born today, there’s no doubt they would have to go with Tua as the name of choice.”
Contact Paul Payne at [email protected]freepress.com.