BY MARK W. HENDRICKSON
What is this, you ask—the odd couple? What could Bart Starr, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback of the 1960s Green Bay Packers’ dynasty, and Jimmy Page, the English guitarist/composer/producer who took Led Zeppelin to the pinnacle of the 1970s rock universe, possibly have in common? Quite a bit, actually, despite undeniable differences.
One thing they have in common is their birthday. Both men will celebrate milestone birthdays on January 9: Starr is turning 80; Page, 70. More significantly, both are soft-spoken, reserved, hardworking, driven perfectionists. Under gentle exteriors they each had wills of iron. They each had a goal—a vision of excellence that they pursued relentlessly, ultimately culminating in success for themselves individually and for the teams (Packers, Zeppelin) of which they were the leaders.
The decade difference in their age is crucial. They found themselves on opposite sides of the cultural/countercultural divide. Starr’s heyday was in the 1960s. The Green Bay quarterback represented the old guard of cultural conservatism in America. Starr was a neat, crew-cut, “yes, sir; no, sir” Christian gentleman who lived his life with military self-discipline (probably inevitable, since his father was a master sergeant on active duty during Bart’s boyhood).
Page was famous a decade later. He epitomized the countercultural youth movement that, though born in the mid-1960s, flourished in the 1970s. Like Starr, Page was polite and respectful in interviews; in his private life, however, he reflected the ‘70s abandonment of traditional morals and mores. Page was drawn to sensual philosophies rather than to conventional religion. His self-indulgent lifestyle included sexual license and, at one point, drug abuse. In contrast to Starr’s view of himself as having a responsibility to behave as a role model and encourage kids to stay on the straight and narrow, Page lived and exemplified the ‘70s anarchic do-your-own-thing attitude. (To his credit, in his later years, Page, like Starr, has become a generous supporter of charities.)
In his highly readable biography of Starr, “America’s Quarterback,” author Keith Dunnavant narrates how a tragedy resulted in a difficult relationship between Starr and his father. Later, despite missing his junior year football season at Alabama with an injury, then playing only sporadically on a team that didn’t win any games his senior year, a scout persuaded the Packers to draft Starr in the 17th round of the NFL draft. The rest, as they say, is history. Starr forged a unique relationship with the legendary coach, Vince Lombardi, and led the Packers to five NFL championships in seven seasons, including three in a row—an achievement never equaled by any other team.
Not as much is known about Jimmy Page’s early life other than that he, like Starr, grew up in a working class family. Whereas Starr benefited from the advice and tutelage of several experienced quarterbacks, Page’s musical prowess was self-taught. The zenith of Page’s career—the sensational twelve-year run of Led Zeppelin—is chronicled most ably in Keith Shadwick’s 2005 book, “Led Zeppelin: 1968-1980.” Just as Starr took the Green Bay Packers to the top of the pro football world and helped establish the NFL as the dominant sports league in America, so Page guided Led Zeppelin to the top of the rock music world and solidified rock music as the most popular art form in American culture. Like Beethoven (a sacrilegious comparison for some of you) whose versatility ranged from the thunderous Fifth Symphony to the ethereal “Fur Elise,” Page’s music was a striking combination of heavy (“led”) and light and soaring (zeppelin)—giving listeners a musical panorama running the gamut of human emotion.
Both the Starr’s Packers and Page’s Led Zeppelin set the standard in their respective entertainment industries. In both cases, their careers tracked the emergence of new technologies that amplified fans’ ability to appreciate their remarkable talents—Starr’s career benefiting from the advent of instant replay and Page’s from major improvements in sound amplification and recording equipment.
The two men are iconic figures to millions of Baby Boomers. While they are as widely different as the two decades in which they were dominant they both remind us that some things never change: Success and lofty achievement are won by hard work and commitment.
“Happy birthday,” Bart and Jimmy. And thanks for the great memories!
The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor, Mark Hendrickson, is Adjunct Professor of Economics at Grove City College, where he has taught since 2004. He is also a Fellow for Economic and Social Policy with The Center for Vision & Values, for which he writes regular commentaries. He is a contributing editor of The St. Croix Review, sits on the Council of Scholars of the Commonwealth Foundation, and writes the weekly “No Panaceas” column in the Op/Ed section of Forbes.com. Mark’s published books include: America’s March Toward Communism (1987); The Morality of Capitalism (editor, 1992); Famous But Nameless: Inspiration and Lessons from the Bible’s Anonymous Characters (2011); and God and Man on Wall Street: The Conscience of Capitalism (with Craig Columbus, 2012). Mark Hendrickson’s Archives at The Moral Liberal.