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Feb 29, 2016 12:15 PM EST

Bart Starr: Wife Cherry Claims Vicious Hazing Injured QB's Back, Derailed His Life

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Bart Starr is one of the greatest and most respected quarterbacks in football history, but suffered throughout his career and retirement from a balky back first injured during a punting exercise at the University of Alabama, allegedly.

In an interview with AL.com, Starr's wife Cherry said her husband was the victim of a vicious hazing incident at Alabama that changed his playing career and the rest of his life, though neither disclosed the real reason for the injury until now.

Cherry Starr said her husband was trying to join UA's A-Club in the summer of 1954, just a few months after they eloped. Club members beat him with wooden paddles and left his back looking "like a piece of raw meat," Cherry told AL.com.

Starr, now 82, saw scant playing time in his junior and senior seasons at UA due to his injury, which plagued him all the way through his NFL career with the Green Bay Packers. Since his retirement, more so recently, Starr has been unable to appear at a number of public ceremonies for the Packers and the NFL.

USA Today reported he had to decline an invitation to the Super Bowl, where the NFL assembled at Levi Stadium all the Super Bowl MVPs it could get together. Starr won the honor for the first two Super Bowls.

Cherry Starr told USA Today earlier this month she and her husband were sad to miss the event, but had no choice due to his health. The newspaper outlined some of those ailments, which included (but was not limited to): two strokes, multiple seizures, a bronchial infection, the flu, a hip injury, and more.

"But his back was never right after that," Cherry Starr told AL.com. "It was horrible. It was not a football injury. It was an injury sustained from hazing. His whole back all the way up to his rib cage looked like a piece of raw meat. The bruising went all the way up his back. It was red and black and awful looking. It was so brutal."

Nick Germanos, a UA teammate of Starr's, was a senior captain in 1955 and said he too was hazed upon his entry into the A-Club.

"It was hell," he said. "Lord have mercy it was a rough initiation."

AL.com reported Starr violated A-Club policy by getting married, especially since his wife went to Auburn, though it is not clear if that had anything to do with the severity of his beatings. Hazing was also not stigmatized at the time, and Cherry Starr indicated her husband did not want anyone to think less of him for talking about it.

"He was hospitalized at one point in traction," Cherry told AL.com. "That was in the days when they were initiated into the A-Club, and they had severe beatings and paddling. From all the members of the A-Club, they lined up with a big paddle with holes drilled in it, and it actually injured his back."

Read AL.com's full report for a more in-depth look at how the media covered Starr's injury at the time compared to Cherry Starr's account.

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