1983 IN REVIEW
The Green Bay Packer offense in 1983 was running on high octane fuel all season. But the defense broke down on more than enough occastions to leave the Packers a .500 team at 8-8.
The step back from the playoffs in 1982 meant the end of the Bart Starr era in Green Bay. Lynn Dickey, Gerry Eillis, James Lofton, Paul Coffman and John Jefferson led an offense which
rang up 52 touchdowns, 429 points and 6,172 yards. Ellis became the first Packer to have more than 500 yards rushing and receiving in a season. Dickey cracked the 4,000-yard mark
with 4,458 yards and 32 touchdowns. The defensive numbers were equally as large - 50 touchdowns, 439 points and 6,403 yards. The defense gave up more than 300 yards in 14
games and 400 yards in 8 contests. Facing a must win the season finale to win the a wildcard berth, Green Bay saw Chicago defeat them 23-21 on a Bob Thomas field goal with 10
seconds left. Bart Starr was fired as head coach the next day.
BART STARR AND THE ARIZONA FIREBIRDS
It was the final game of the 1983 season, and the Bart Starr era. The Packers led for most of the contest in one of the coldest games ever played at Soldier Field. With less than a minute
remaining, Jim McMahon drove Chicago down the field against one of the worst defenses in the NFL and Bob Thomas kicked the winning field goal, while Starr sat on his timeouts and
watched his team out of the playoffs. The Packer legend was was fired the next day. Starr would never return to the NFL in a coaching capacity, but he did not walk away from football. In
fact, he tried to come back with a team that did not even exist when he was fired. Arizona NFL Expansion Limited was formed in 1980, and included such supporters as former AFL
Commissioner Joe Foss. The group spent more than $2 million trying to convince the NFL to place an expansion team in Phoenix. In February 1983, the group signed a lease agreement
with the Gila Indian Community for 500 acres on the Gila River Reservation, 15 miles south of Phoenix. Organizer Bob Whitlow said his group had hopes to construct a privately financed
domed stadium, seating 72,000. On January 13, 1984, less than three weeks after he was fired in Green Bay, Starr was named the head coach and director of operations for the Firebirds.
In March 1984, Firebirds officials flew to Hawaii, hoping to have a chance to press their case to the NFL. Businessman Tom Stone, who wanted a majority interest in the proposed
franchise, joined the group, while Starr stayed behind to deal with other business interests. The Firebirds were nearly driven to extinction in the fall of 1984, when Eagles owner Leonard
Tose flirted with the idea of moving his team to Phoenix. Faced with $42 million in debts, Tose had a deal in place to sell part of the team in return for a $45 million loan and a move to the
desert. Commissioner Pete Rozelle stepped in and arranged financing for Tose and the team stayed. By 1987, it appeared there was a chance the NFL would consider the Firebirds' bid,
although there were two other groups also bidding for a team. Starr's group hosted a nearly sold-out exhibition game in August 1987 between the Packers and the Denver Broncos at Sun
Devil Stadium in Tempe. The dream died for good on January 15, 1988, when St. Louis Cardinals owner Bill Bidwell announced he was moving the team to Phoenix. In February 1988, it
was mentioned in some media reports that the Bart Starr-John Colbrunn-Joe Foss group was not dead yet, and could turn up in another city, but it was never to be. That July, the younger of Bart's two sons, Bret, then age 24, was living in Tampa, recovering from a cocaine addiction. After not hearing from him for several days, Bart flew to Florida and found his son dead on the dining room floor. Police said that Bret had died three or four days earlier from cardiac arrhythmia, a complication from his addiction.