There was joy Sunday night in Western New York after hometown favorite James Starks helped propel the Green Bay Packers to a 21-14 victory over the Chicago Bears. That earned the Packers the National Football Conference championship and a trip to Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 in Arlington, Texas.
Starks played football at Niagara Falls High School. He went on to the University at Buffalo but missed his entire senior season with a shoulder injury, and for a while it looked as if his rookie year as a pro would be washed out by a hamstring injury.
But going into Sunday's game, he was the leading rusher in the National Football League playoffs.
Starks is the only Western New York native who will play in the Super Bowl this year. His mother, Lillie Hall, stood with tears of happiness in her eyes as the running back's family shared hugs with one another in a corner of the Old Falls Sports Bar & Grill in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, where they watched Sunday's game on three of the room's 15 television screens.
Starks' older brother, Sanquin Starks, announced: "I am going home and make plans to go to Texas. We are going to the Super Bowl!"
The father, James Starks Sr., led the family in a prayer circle. "Thank you, Jesus, for letting us be here today and for the victory within. God bless the Packers, and welcome to the Super Bowl. God bless us all," he said.
Starks' aunt, Valerie Starks, said: "Now I can relax for a while and can save my hair, because I've been pulling it out all week" in anticipation of Sunday's game.
The cheerleader-in-chief, Mayor Paul A. Dyster, visited with the Starks family, applauding with each Green Bay advance on the field.
Sanquin Starks said his three sisters and two of his three brothers were in the sports bar, while another brother was watching the game at home.
Starks' mother said that "everybody went wild" when her son scored a touchdown early in the game. She divided her time between watching the TV screens and talking on her cell phone.
With Green Bay leading, 14-0, in the third quarter, the audience in the sports bar numbered about 75.
A few late stragglers added to the size of the audience with the Starks family at the sports bar, bringing more cheers and applause as a fourth-quarter touchdown by Green Bay made the score 21-7. Moments later, the Bears scored to make it 21-14.
There still was plenty of time for the Bears to turn the game around, but a Green Bay interception late in the fourth quarter put an end to it, bringing the Starks family and Packers fans everywhere to their feet in celebration.