The injury plagued the quarterback during his career – and into his retirement – but had previously been attributed to an injury in practice during a punting exercise. But Cherry said her husband was beaten during an initiation Alabama’s varsity lettermen.
“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.”
One of Starr’s college team-mates, tight end Nick Germanos, agreed with Cherry’s version of events. Starr, who is now 82, has never spoken about the incident in public. “It was hell,” Germanos said. “Lord have mercy, it was a rough initiation.”
The injury was bad enough to affect Starr’s college career and the Crimson Tide went 0-10 the season after the beating. “His back was never right after that,” Cherry said. “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.”
Starr was still considered enough of a talent to be drafted with the 200th overall pick in the 1956 draft and went on to lead the Green Bay Packers to victory in the first two Super Bowls. However, Cherry said her husband still had to play in pain throughout his career. “He was in so much pain constantly,” she said. “They nearly tried anything.”
Starr is now in declining health, leaving Cherry to tell his story. She did say that he gained some relief from his injury in the 1980s after a doctor discovered a crack in his vertebrae and recommended surgery.