Packers quarterback Lynn Dickey had a rough week leading up to the Packers 1983 season opening game against the Houston Oilers at the Astrodome. He was ill with a virus and was suffering migraine headaches and had back spasms for several days before the game.
“He looked terrible at breakfast,” said Packers kicker Jan Stenerud. “I didn’t think there was any way he could play. Lynn is the toughest guy I know but he looked like death.”
Yet Dickey not only started the season opener but had one of the better games of his NFL career. The veteran quarterback completed the first 18 passes he attempted and finished the game by completing 27-of-31 passes for 333 yards and a franchise record-tying five touchdown passes.
But that wasn’t enough for the Packers to clinch the win. Dickey was finally forced to leave the game late in the fourth quarter and backup David Whitehurst came on to lead the Packers on their winning drive in overtime. The Packers won the coin toss in overtime and went on a 49-yard drive that set up Stenerud’s game-winning 42-yard field goal. The Packers won the game 41-38.
Dickey did struggle with his health in this game. He told his teammates before the game started that they should listen carefully to his audibles because it hurt him to yell too loudly. At one point, he started walking towards the Oilers huddle after a play because he was confused.
After the game, Dickey admitted, “I’m glad it’s over. In the first quarter I was wishing it was over. I don’t really remember half of it.”
What he didn’t remember was an outstanding performance. He opened the scoring with a 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Paul Coffman that put the Packers up 7-0. But Oilers quarterback Archie Manning answered back with a 47-yard touchdown toss to Tim Smith that put Houston ahead 10-7 after the first quarter.
But Dickey and the Packers responded. The former Kansas State star threw three second quarter touchdown passes, two to wide receiver John Jefferson and one to running back Gerry Ellis. The Packers led 28-10 at the half.
But the opening game of the season was almost like a blueprint for the rest of the 1983 campaign. The Packers offense put up points at a franchise record rate but the defense gave them up just as quickly.
The Packers defense couldn’t stop future Hall of Famer Earl Campbell who gained 123 yards and scored three touchdowns which all came in the second half. Manning also had a big game, completing 22-of-34 passes for 348 yards and a touchdown.
Campbell’s third rushing touchdown tied the game at 31-31 but Dickey had one more big play in him and connected with future Hall of Famer James Lofton on a 74-yard touchdown pass to put the Packers back in the lead. Lofton finished the game with eight catches for 154 yards and a score. Jefferson added six catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns while Ellis had six catches for 39 yards and a score.
The Oilers responded and tied the game again on a one-yard touchdown run by Larry Moriarty with 48 seconds left in regulation.
The Packers won the toss in sudden death overtime and Whitehurst also proved effective, completing all three passes he attempted. He kept the drive alive when he found Phil Epps on a third down for a 10-yard gain. Running back Eddie Lee Ivery carried three times for 29 yards and that set up Stenerud for the game winning kick.
After the game, Manning was impressed with Dickey’s performance. “Dickey’s amazing,” Manning said. “The last time I played against him, when I was with New Orleans, he threw for five touchdowns (that was in 1981). I don’t ever want to see him again. Ten touchdowns in two games. I’ll tell you I play two years sometimes and I don’t get 10 touchdown passes.”
Turns out Dickey had a spinal fluid leak after an injection he received earlier in the week to treat his back spasms. That causes excruciating headaches but Dickey managed to persevere.
Lofton was also amazed by the toughness his quarterback showed. “You can talk about all those injuries he’s had over the years. Today is probably as tough as he’s had anything to play with.”
This game was an offensive circus. The two teams combined for 50 first downs and 977 yards of offense with the Packers gaining 479 but allowing 498. Interceptions by linebacker John Anderson and safety Johnnie Gray were the highlights for the Green Bay defense.
The Packers finished the 1983 season with an 8-8 record. They finished second in the league in yards gained but dead last in yard allowed and missed the playoffs after losing in the closing seconds of the season finale against the Bears where head coach Bart Starr didn’t take a time out as the Bears chewed up the clock and kicked the winning field goal. Starr was fired and replaced by Forrest Gregg in 1984.
But in the season opener, the Packers felt the sky was the limit as they had an elite offense that was able to score on any play. Dickey’s strong performance against the Oilers was a big reason for that optimism.
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