George Starke '71: From Head Hog to School
By Jonathan Lemire '01
George Starke '71 leads Washington Redskins teammates onto the
(PHOTO: WASHINGTON REDSKINS)
football and basketball star. Offensive lineman in the National
Football League. "Head Hog." Super Bowl champion. Network TV
commentator. Restaurateur. Car dealer. School builder. Role
To say that
George Starke '71 has led an interesting and varied life would be,
to put it mildly, a gross understatement. Returning to campus last
fall to speak with students at an Alumni Partnership Program event,
he spoke of the need for students to balance enjoying their college
days with preparing for a productive future.
four years, but be sure to learn a skill which will let you
accomplish something out there in this world," he said.
Or, as in
Starke's case, many things. An accomplished athlete and businessman
as well as the founder of a program to help troubled youths, Starke
credits the College in preparing him to lead a successful and
you work real hard," he said, "but it was worth it. My time here
was a very positive experience, and I like to give something back
to the school when I can."
raised in suburban New Rochelle, N.Y., Starke turned down a number
of scholarship offers from schools with major football programs to
attend Columbia. "I wanted to go to a place where academics came
first," he said. "My mind was my most important asset, and I wanted
to develop that as much as possible. I've never had any regrets
about my decision."
as "an interesting time, to say the least" to be at Columbia,
Starke recalled the 1968 student demonstrations and the
community-building efforts of the small number of black students on
campus. He also stressed that he focused equally on academics and
athletics while on the Heights.
"I took every
course I could find," he reminisced with a chuckle, "and they
eventually had to kick me out."
claim to fame as a Lion, however, was on the football field and
went on to play on the offensive line in the NFL, Starke was
utilized primarily as a tight end while at Columbia. At 6-5 and 235
pounds, he made an inviting target in Columbia's passing game and
he led the team in receptions in 1969. His teams never won more
than three games in any season, however, and suffered two of the
worst losses in school history, a 51-0 drubbing against Harvard in
1969 and a 55-0 debacle against Dartmouth in 1970.
came much more frequently to his basketball squads. Starke would
join coach Jack Rohan's basketball team as soon as football season
ended and step in as the starting center on a front line that
included All-American Jim McMillian '70. Although opposing centers
often towered over him, Starke used his strength and athleticism to
help Columbia to 20 wins apiece in his junior and senior years,
when the Lions battled Penn and Princeton for Ivy supremacy. At one
point in the 1968-69 season, after a 74-70 win over Purdue in the
1968 Rainbow Classic in Honolulu, Columbia's basketball team was
ranked second in the nation, behind only the legendary Lew
Alcindor-led UCLA Bruins.
though, would be Starke's professional future. An 11th round draft
pick of the Washington Redskins in 1971, Starke spent time on the
taxi squads of the Dallas Cowboys and Kansas City Chiefs before
winding up with the Redskins, where he was a starting offensive
tackle for nine seasons. The team's outstanding offensive line
became known as "the Hogs" during a sweltering summer training
camp, when offensive line coach Joe Bugel said the tired, hot
lineman looked like "a bunch of lazy hogs." Starke and the others,
with little to do at the rural Pennsylvania campsite, quickly had
T-shirts and hats printed with the moniker, and equally bored media
members carried the message back to the D.C. area.
the line became the most dominant unit in the league, sending John
Riggins to the Pro Bowl and prompting hundreds of grown men to
dress up in skirts and hog noses for Redskin home games. While
Starke, dubbed the "Head Hog" because of his seniority and
leadership, was pleased with his individual accomplishments and the
fame of his unit, he was never totally satisfied with his career
until the Redskins got a chance to compete for the championship.
That chance came in Super Bowl XVII in 1983, and Washington
captured the crown with a 27-17 win over the Miami
"It is an
amazing feeling to be on top," Starke said. "We were the best in
the world at what we did, and nothing could ever top that. It made
everything else I did in my career seem less
has done since retiring from football in 1984 has hardly been
trivial. Almost immediately after hanging up his cleats, he began
to broadcast football games for CBS, and moved on to a number of
other networks before settling in as color commentator on the local
Redskins radio network.
to his announcing duties, Starke opened the Head Hog BBQ Restaurant
in suburban Maryland and also ran a car dealership, George Starke's
Ford. He eventually sold the dealership, but his involvement in the
auto world continued.
Starke founded the Excel Institute Automotive Program, which
combines academic programs geared toward helping students pass the
high school equivalency exam with lessons in auto
"There is a
worldwide shortage of mechanics, especially inside the Beltway,"
said Starke. "We're going to create the best there are."
There is much
more to the plan than just an attempt to fill a need for trained
mechanics, however. With support from the D.C. Superior Courts,
Starke has created a school whose primary mission is to turn
at-risk teenagers away from crime, drugs and other horrors of the
myself a school builder now," he said. "There are a lot of troubled
kids in our cities, and while almost everyone assumes they are all
illiterate, orphaned and doomed, there is a percentage of kids who
want out and who want to live.
"I built the
school for those kids."
primarily through grants and donations, the Excel Institute hopes
to expand to include over 50 students within a year. The early
results have been promising, with most students eager for the
chance to improve their chances of obtaining legitimate employment,
and the school's founder is already busy setting lofty goals for
to build a car next summer," Starke said. "Then we're going to
drive it down Pennsylvania Avenue on July 4."
Author: Jonathan Lemire '01 is a long-time Washington
Redskins fan who pines for the Super Bowl success enjoyed in the
era of the Hogs.