Family names sons after Alabama quarterbacks
Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has become a household name since bursting onto the national stage with his coming out party last January, leading the Crimson Tide to a thrilling overtime win to secure the national championship against Georgia.
Tagovailoa has enhanced his resume’ this season in leading Alabama (13-0) to a wire-to-wire No. 1 ranking, earning the sophomore lefty an invitation to Saturday’s Heisman Trophy presentation in New York where he’s considered a favorite along with Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray.
While Tagovailoa hopes to become the first Alabama quarterback to win the Heisman, Scott Starr is pretty sure there weren’t any children named Tua in his hometown of Cleveland, Tennessee during his childhood.
But if were up to his father, that wouldn’t be the case if he was born today rather than in the early 1970s.
Starr, a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army who moved with his family to Prattville earlier this year, has come to embrace the unique legacy he and his two brothers carry since arriving in Alabama.
He is one of three sons of George and Joyce Starr of Cleveland, a bedroom community situated a few minutes north of Chattanooga.
While his name may seem rather common on the surface, the truth is he and his brothers were actually named after former Alabama quarterbacks due to their father’s love for the Crimson Tide.
Starr’s full name is Scott Hunter Starr, a salute to the Crimson Tide signal caller that concluded his Alabama career in 1970 before playing eight years in the NFL, primarily with the Green Bay Packers and Atlanta Falcons.
His military career has somewhat hidden this distinction, with his last name and his rank serving as the identity markers. While he has been able to navigate through his adult life with a rather benign name, the same can’t be said for his two siblings.
His older brother was named George Bartlett Starr, and has always been called Bart in honor of the Montgomery native who played at Alabama before compiling a hall of fame NFL career with the Green Bay Packers.
And the youngest Starr son was given the name Joe Willie, a tribute to Joe Namath who excelled at Alabama prior to his NFL career mostly with the New York Jets that led to his enshrinement in the NFL Hall of Fame.
“I think I got the best name of all three of us because I haven’t had to answer to a lot of people explaining my name,” said Scott Starr, 45, who oversees the Army ROTC commissioning program at Marion Military Institute. “I think my mom is very special because she embraced having three boys with unique names and everything that came along with it.”
After spending the past three years in England, Scott Starr didn’t fully grasp the magnitude of his father’s passion until arriving in Prattville.
“Since being here, obviously you tell somebody you and your two brothers are named after Alabama quarterbacks and its automatic credibility,” Scott Starr said. “It’s always been neat. People always ask if I’m related to Bart Starr with my last name, so there’s your automatic conversation starter. I tell them ‘Not the Bart Starr you’re thinking, but he’s my brother.’ ”
Carrying the name of a football icon has brought about some unsought recognition for Bart Starr, but it has also served as the catalyst for some confusion over the years.
Bart, now 46, is a minister of music at First Baptist Fisherville outside of Memphis, Tennessee, and he recalls a vendor hanging up on him assuming it was a prank call when ordering music materials.
“It wasn’t an issue when I was a kid, but when I got older people would ask ‘Your name is really Bart Starr?’ Bart Starr said. “They wouldn’t really believe that we were named after Alabama quarterbacks. I always said I had a football fanatic father and a gracious mother.
Joe Willie, 43, is the general manager of Chatata Valley Golf Course in Cleveland. He comes by his name legitimately in that his paternal grandmother was named Willie, and he’s mostly known as simply Joe by those who haven’t known him since childhood.
“I never thought it was a curse, it was just something unique,” Joe said. “A lot of people assumed it was short for Joseph William or something like that but I would always say, ‘No, it’s just Joe Willie.’ It’s a conversation starter for sure.
“Young people today don’t have a clue who Namath was, so they just think it’s a silly name. It’s a pretty neat story, but as a kid it wasn’t always great to be named after Namath with some of his crazy wardrobe choices and the panty hose ads.
“Everybody that follows football knows Joe Willie and Bart Starr, but only the true Alabama fans remember who Scott Hunter was.”
George Starr is now 75 and has been a long-time sports fixture in Cleveland.
He retired last year after serving as the sports information director at Lee University for over two decades, but he continues in his 31st year of serving as the Flames’ radio play-by-play announcer.
He previously had a 30-year newspaper career, the bulk of it spent as sports editor of the Cleveland Daily Banner. George Starr has been inducted into the Greater Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, the Lee University Athletic Hall of Fame and the Bradley County-Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.
His passion for Alabama football stemmed from a friendship cultivated while playing summer baseball in 1961.
“The connection was Steve Sloan,” George Starr said. “Steve was from Cleveland, and I got to know him when we were baseball teammates. I always had tremendous respect for him. He was the best you’d ever want to be around and a tremendous athlete.”
Sloan left Cleveland for Tuscaloosa to become Alabama’s quarterback from 1963-65, and he eventually became the Crimson Tide’s athletic director following a coaching career that saw stops at Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Texas Tech and Duke.
“I started following Steve when he went to Alabama when I came to Cleveland as sports editor, and I followed him from Alabama throughout his coaching career,” George Starr said. “I actually wanted to name Scott after Steve but we already had three Steves on the other side of the family. If we had a daughter, though, she surely would have been named Sloan.”
There was one instance, though, when Joyce Starr stood her ground and refused to relent to her husband’s naming rights.
“I wanted to name our youngest after Ken Stabler and call him ‘Snake’, but Joyce wouldn’t have anything to do with that because of his questionable reputation,” George Starr said. “I guess I got away with one with Joe Willie, though. We also had a little dachshund and I named him ‘Bear’ after Coach Bryant.”
While the Starr boys were given names from Crimson Tide heritage, growing up in Tennessee created some divided loyalties as they matured.
“When we were young, we were Alabama fans,” said Joe Willie. “That’s just the way we were raised. But I became a Tennessee fan pretty early. It was a lot easier being a Tennessee fan back then. Dad didn’t give me any push back. Most people who know my name think I’m an Alabama fan.”
Bart has managed the unthinkable in cheering for both Alabama and Tennessee, while Scott has remained true to his roots despite his military career carrying him across the world. He still considers himself an Alabama fan and refuses to ever pull for Auburn.
Living in Alabama has also impacted Scott’s 11-year old daughter Skylar, the youngest of four children for him and his wife, Jennifer.
“Once we got here, she automatically became an Alabama fan because that’s Papaw’s team. We had to go buy her Alabama shirts, pom poms and the whole deal,” Scott said.
There is only one boy among George’s eight grandchildren, Scott’s 14-year old son, Owen, who played organized football for the first time this fall as a member of Prattville’s freshman team.
George is playfully disappointed that he wasn’t consulted when it came to choosing a name.
“He could have been named Jay Barker Starr, but they didn’t bother to ask me,” George said. “I know one thing’s for sure. If he was born today, there’s no doubt they would have to go with Tua as the name of choice.”