Thursday, December 6, 2018

Correcting the Record: Bart Starr's INT-free Streak

By Eric Goska

This story by Art Daley appeared in the Dec. 5, 1964
edition of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.
It’s time to publicly state my case.

Against the Cardinals at Lambeau Field this weekend past, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers extended to 336 his personal best for most consecutive passes attempted in the regular season without an interception. He broke Bart Starr’s team record.

Sunday against the Falcons, Rodgers can snap the NFL mark (358) held by New England’s Tom Brady.

Kudos to Rodgers. As the quarterback who has thrown interceptions at the lowest rate in league history, supplanting Brady would solidify Rodgers’ standing as the most interception-averse passer ever.

Starr also limited the number of passes he threw to the opposition. In the mid-1960s, No. 15 had a remarkable run that spanned parts of two seasons.

The question: How many interception-free passes did Starr throw during that time?

The Green Bay Packers say 294. Check out the Stat of the Week on page 6 of the team’s Dope Sheet for the upcoming Atlanta game.

The Elias Sports Bureau says 294. It is the keeper of league statistics.

I’m convinced the number is 293. I’ll explain why.

In October 2014, Packers historian Cliff Christl emailed a fan’s question to me. In helping answer the query, I took a closer look at Starr’s passing during the 1964 and 1965 seasons.

Please check my work. Elias apparently can’t or won’t. Two letters and an email to them have resulted in nothing but crickets.

On Sept. 28, 1964, the Packers defeated the Lions 14-10. Starr completed 12 of 16 passes for 160 yards.

The play-by-play for that game included halftime statistics. Starr’s numbers after two quarters were exactly the same as his game totals: 12 of 16 for 160 yards.

If Starr threw a pass in the second half, it was wiped out by penalty. If not, his first-half numbers and his game numbers could not possibly agree.

According to the play-by-play, Starr’s first 10 passes in Detroit either wound up in the hands of his teammates (eight) or were incomplete (two).

Starr’s 11th toss was picked off by Detroit cornerback Bobby Thompson. The theft ended a promising Packers’ drive and cleared the stage for Starr’s record streak.

Starr fired five more passes before halftime. Not one of those was intercepted.

The nine-year veteran did play one series for Green Bay in the second half. He did let fly a pass intended for fullback Jim Taylor.

The attempt, however, did not count because of a 22-yard Lions penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct.

So Starr left Detroit having thrown his last five passes (Nos. 12-16) without an interception.

By early December, Starr had gotten close enough to Milt Plum’s then-NFL record (208 consecutive) to get some ink. As the Packers prepared to play the Bears on Dec. 5, Art Daley of the Green Bay Press-Gazette noted that Starr’s streak had reached 186.

Or had it?

In order, here are Starr’s attempts for the games that fell between the Lions in late September and the Bears in early December: Vikings (21), 49ers (22), Colts (33), Rams (23), Vikings (18), Lions (20), 49ers (5), Browns (18) and Cowboys (20).

No matter how often I add those numbers, I always get 180. Throw in the five from Detroit and that’s 185 in a row, not 186.

Daley, the NFL and I all agree on the number of throws that occurred during the Bears contest and those in the games that followed. Starr’s amazing run ended when Jim Johnson of the 49ers intercepted him on Oct. 10, 1965.

Starr’s achievement remained the NFL record until Bernie Kosar (308) surpassed it in 1991. Starr’s remarkable run occurred during a time when passers and receivers were far more vulnerable than today.

That second-half pass in Detroit – the one erased by penalty – has to be the reason the league and I disagree. I surmise that as Starr got closer to Plum, someone looked back through the play-by-plays to get his totals and inadvertently counted that play.

Twice I have sent Excel printouts to Elias showing Starr’s every pass for the 1964 and 1965 seasons. Someone there signed for my second mailing.

I am not in the habit of contacting Elias. I prefer to avoid the arrogance I have encountered there.

When I have made contact, I have been right. Late in 1991, I demonstrated that Don Hutson’s streak of 95 consecutive games with at least one pass reception was, in fact, two streaks of 50 and 44. Six years later, my line-by-line review of the play-by-play for Super Bowl I resulted in Jim Taylor getting credit for an additional three yards on a carry that had been missed.

So what, you may ask? What’s the big deal? Who cares if Starr’s streak is 293 or 294?

At one time, Elias might have. Brett Favre was originally listed as having attempted five passes as a Falcon in 1991. Years later, the bureau went back and determined he had thrown only four.

One pass made a difference then. Why not now?

I rest my case.

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