From the sports editor: Meade, Starr had a long friendship

“(Bart Starr) was straight forward but he would crack a joke in a minute. He could do it all. That’s what made him a great leader,” Dover native Mike Meade said. TNS photo

Mike Meade was sitting in his Penn State apartment when the phone rang that evening.

Almost four decades later, the former Dover High star football player can still hear the conversation.

“I get a call — ‘Hi Mike, this is Sherry from the Green Bay Packers,’” said Meade. “‘I have Bart Starr on the other line. We just made you our draft pick.’

“And he gets on, I’ll never forget it — ‘Good evening Michael. We’ve selected you with our fifth-round pick. …’ on that little black, rotary-dial phone. Yeah, to hear that was pretty awesome.”

The two men couldn’t have known it at the time, but that was the start of a long-lasting friendship between them.

So Meade was saddened by the news last Sunday that Starr — the former Packers’ star and NFL icon — had died at the age of 85. He had been in failing health since suffering a stroke in 2014.

“There are very few people that are blessed on this planet to be universally accepted like Bart Starr was,” said Meade. “It’s amazing.”

Meade played for Starr in both 1982 and ‘83 — Starr’s last two seasons as Green Bay’s head coach. Meade said the Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback was always upfront with his players.

“If you were having a bad practice, or whatever, he’d scold you,” said Meade. “He’d look you in the eye and just tell you the way it is. ‘You’re not going to be playing on Sunday if you continue to perform like that.’

“And he’d do it in a way where it did nothing but motivate you. But when you were doing good and you were doing your job, he made sure to tell you that you did that.”

But Meade also got to know Starr away from the field. Meade became friends with Starr’s youngest son, Bret, and while he was recovering from a broken leg in his second season, he’d watch games in Bart Starr’s basement.

A few years later, when Bret died of a drug overdose at the age of only 24, Meade said one of the most difficult phone calls he ever had to make was calling Bart Starr to offer his condolences.

“You could tell he was distraught,” said Meade. “But, at the same time, he accepted it as gracefully as could be.

“I told him that I knew that Bret was having some problems and we kind of fell off. Bart said, ‘Michael, that wasn’t your responsibility. Don’t feel any guilt.’ I can almost hear that conversation.”

Meade can also recall Starr insisting on meeting all the parents of his players at a team gathering before the season began.

“He meets my parents and he looks them in the eye,” said Meade. “‘Mr. and Mrs. Meade, you have a fine son. He’s going to be with this organization as long as I am.’ You could tell how sincere he was.”

Unfortunately, that statement ended up being true. Starr lasted only one more season and Meade left to play for Detroit the following year.

There are a lot of things that Meade can still hear Starr saying.

“One of his favorite lines was, ‘Gentlemen, they couldn’t script a day better than this,’” Meade recalled. “And he’d just be talking about the weather. … He was straight forward but he would crack a joke in a minute. He could do it all. That’s what made him a great leader.

“I could tell you Bart stories all night,” Meade added. “He’s the best there ever was.”

Ex-Blue Hen killed

David Mackall, who played linebacker at Delaware in 2012-13, was shot and killed in his hometown of Baltimore on Wednesday.

A father of two sons, ages six and two, he was only 28. He also played at Maryland before transferring to UD.

In high school, Mackall played for former Dover High football coach Dante’ Jones at Baltimore’s Edmondson High. Mackall helped Edmondson win a Maryland state title in 2006.

“He was just a good kid,” Jones was quoted in the Baltimore Sun. “When I went up to Delaware to coach (in 2012), he would come and talk to the players.

“We’ve got to do better in the city. At some point, we’ve got to realize that death is it. You’re ending somebody’s life, and you’re ruining a whole lot of other people’s lives. For what? Nine times out of 10, it’s for really nothing.”

Odds & ends

• Smyrna High proved there’s more than one way to win a softball state title.

Last year, the Eagles scored a total of 27 runs with five homeruns in their last three state tournament games. This year, though, Smyrna plated a mere four runs in its final three contests with no homers but still won all three of them.

The Eagles, and sophomore pitcher Payton Dixon, allowed just 26 runs with 11 shutouts in 21 games.

• Dover’s Henlopen Conference champion baseball team was pretty good at winning close, low-scoring games this season, too. At one point, the Senators (16-4) won back-to-back 1-0 decisions.

The trouble is, Dover scored two runs or less in five of its last seven contests. That included its 3-1, season-ending loss to Cape Henlopen in the state quarterfinals.

“Look at all the arms we faced in the last month,” said Dover coach Dave Gordon. “Every kid’s going to college to play baseball. There was never a day off for us.

“We like it that way. That’s the way I made the schedule to try to prepare us for this moment.”

• Softball remains one of the Henlopen Conference’s most competitive sports. Downstate squads have now won seven of the last eight DIAA state crowns in the sport with five different Henlopen schools winning titles in that stretch.

Furthermore, the last school north of Caravel in Bear to win the softball state crown was St. Mark’s in 1997.

• When DSSAA first start allowing eighth-graders to play varsity sports in Delaware, the idea was to give small schools enough players to fill out their rosters. But eighth-graders have gone on to win state titles in individual sports like tennis and golf while also playing leading roles on championship-caliber teams.

There’s no question that those are impressive feats for the youngsters. But it also means that students at only a handful of schools get five years of varsity eligibility while everyone else gets four.

Reach sports editor Andy Walter at walter@newszap.com

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