“It Was A Fun Year. Maybe One Of The More Fun Years I’ve Ever Had.”
– Lynn Dickey said about the 1983 season
BY MIKE WARREN
GREEN BAY – The Green Bay Packers embarked on the 1983 season fresh off their first playoff appearance in a decade.
And with one of the most prolific passing attacks in the NFL, expectations of another post-season berth – and then some – were very high.
Forty years have passed since then, and players from that team still remember 1983 as one of their most rewarding – and most disappointing – seasons of their careers.
“We scored a lot of points (429), but we gave up a lot of points, too, defensively (439),” quarterback Lynn Dickey recalled, during our July 2023 conversation in Green Bay. “It was a fun year. Maybe one of the more fun years I’ve ever had. Disappointing we didn’t get in the playoffs because we had the prior year, and that got Bart fired, and that was, I think, a great tragedy to the organization because Forrest Gregg was not the answer,” Dickey added.
The 1983 campaign was just one of two 16-game seasons in which Dickey started every game for the Packers (1980).
He also threw for 4,458 yards, a team record that would stand for 28 years, until Aaron Rodgers amassed 4,643 yards in 2011.
Dickey also broke a 27-year record for highest average gain per pass (9.21) set by Bart Starr in 1966 (8.99). That was another team record Rodgers claimed in 2011 (9.25).
But, with the good came the bad. Dickey set a Packers record for the most interceptions thrown in one season at 29, a record tied by Brett Favre in 2005.
At one point, 24 individual or team records could be attributed to the 1983 season, some of which still stand today, either as team or NFL records.
One of those records was established by Dickey in the first game of the 1983 season – a game in which he was almost certain he was not going to play.
“Well, I remember the opening game was in Houston and during training camp I had had back spasms, which I had trouble with a lot,” Dickey recalled during our visit. “And I had an epidural shot Thursday of that week. And sometimes, like when ladies are giving birth, when they get an epidural, sometimes they get spinal headaches, and that’s what happened to me, and it was awful, and I wasn’t going to play.
“So, I’m laying on a training table in the training room. And I’m sitting there by myself talking to Domenic Gentile, our trainer, and I said, ‘You know, I think I’m gonna go out and just walk around a little bit.’ And, as I was walking around, I was miserable, and I went to Bart and said, ‘I think I’m gonna go in and dress. I think I’m gonna try and play.’ And he goes, ‘You think you can do it?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, but it’s opening game. I hate to miss.’ So I went in. Didn’t tape my ankles. Just slipped on my uniform, and went out and completed the first 18,” recalled Dickey.
The 18 consecutive pass completions were a team record tied by Don Majkowski against New Orleans at Lambeau Field Sept. 17, 1989.
Both records were broken by Favre at Detroit Nov. 22, 2007, when the future Hall-of-Famer completed 20 straight, in a 37-26 win over the Lions.
The season opener between the Packers and Oilers also established a record for most yards gained by both teams, at 977.
The record stood for six weeks, until Green Bay and Washington amassed 1,025 Oct. 17, a record surpassed by the Packers and Lions on Jan. 1, 2012 (1,125) in the final game of the 2011 campaign.
“I think I threw five touchdowns in that game,” Dickey remembered correctly. “It did go into overtime. I hit James Lofton, I think, with like a 75-yarder for us to go up 38-31, and I was done. I went to the sideline. I almost fell in a 50-gallon drum. I was just spent. Anyways, David Whitehurst came in and the game went into overtime and – boom – Jan Stenerud kicks a field goal in overtime. We win 41-38. So, that was the opening game, and I thought, ‘Man oh man, if this is any indication of how this year’s goin’ this is gonna be wild.’ The next week we played Pittsburgh and lost to them at home and it kinda just went back and forth, back and forth.”
Back and forth it went for the Packers, as they went 4-4 through the first half of the season, with five of those games decided by a combined 14 points.
After a 3-point win over the Los Angeles Rams at Milwaukee County Stadium in week three, the Packers lost to the Giants by 24 in New York, before clobbering Tampa Bay 55-14 back in Green Bay – establishing an NFL record for the most points scored in the first half.
The 56 combined first-half points are also still a team record.
The game also established a record for the most punt return yards in a game, when Phillip Epps returned five kickoffs for 129 yards.
The mark stood for 13 seasons, until Desmond Howard ran his way into the record books by returning five kicks for 167 yards in Detroit Dec. 15, 1996.
The closest of those early-season games occurred in week seven against Washington at Lambeau Field, in front of a national television audience on Monday Night Football.
“It was just electric, the atmosphere, the temperature, the fans,” tight end Paul Coffman recalled in speaking with us July 17 in Green Bay. “And here are the Redskins, you know, Joe Theismann, John Riggins, all these big-name people, it was an opportunity for us to showcase the Green Bay Packers and the community on Monday night.”
The Packers hung on for a 48-47 win, after reigning NFL MVP Mark Moseley missed what would have been the game-winning field goal with just seconds remaining in regulation.
The 95 points scored is still a Green Bay record for most points by both teams in a regular-season game.
Harlan Huckleby’s eight kickoff returns is still a single-game record which has been tied four times since. The contest also established the franchise record for most first downs via the passing game by both teams, with 38.
The Packers began the second half of the season with a 34-14 loss to the Bengals in Cincinnati, after closing out the first eight games with a 20-17 overtime loss the Vikings in Green Bay.
The Pack rebounded, though, and logged back-to-back wins against Cleveland and Minnesota, before losing back-to-back overtime games to Detroit in Milwaukee and the Falcons in Atlanta.
The 23-20 loss to the Lions ended on a field goal by Eddie Murray. The 47-41 loss to the Falcons was decided when Kenny Johnson returned an interception for a touchdown, his second of the game – establishing an NFL record which still stands.
That game also set a franchise record for the most first downs by both teams, at 57 — a record that stood for 29 years, until the Packers and Lions combined for 59 first downs Jan. 1, 2012.
After wins against the Bears and Buccaneers, the Packers closed out the season with a loss in Chicago.
Green Bay sat at 8-8 and in a three-way tie with the Bears and Vikings.
Tiebreakers gave the Packers second place. But two losses to the 9-7 Lions gave the NFC Central Division crown — and a playoff spot — to Detroit.
“It’s just a shame we didn’t go and have a better record than what we did because we had such good talent on that team. We could put up 30, 40 points every game, and we pretty much did that, but we just couldn’t stop anybody,” Gerry Ellis told Packerland.
“Just not good enough,” Dickey added. “But, you gotta be so lucky to have all of the pieces on a team and we didn’t have quite all of the pieces. And it’s not like today where you can go out and get a free agent that can come in and fill a spot or two or three. Back then there weren’t a bunch of trades. Different era. Different time.”
And while the Packers set scoring and yardage milestones, they also established franchise records on defense and special teams.
The 439 points the team surrendered is still the most by any Packers team in franchise history, and it’s 68 more than the 371 given up in each of the past two seasons, which featured 17-game schedules.
The 1983 squad also allowed the most first downs in a season (366), the most rushing first downs (171) and the most rushing touchdowns (28).
The Packers also played in five overtime games — a single-season NFL record which still stands.
After nine seasons, Packers Head Coach Bart Starr was fired Dec. 19, 1983, after compiling a regular-season record of 52-76-3 and a playoff mark of 1-1.
Under Starr, the Packers had just one winning season, posting a 5-3-1 record during the strike-shortened 1982 campaign.
With a new starting quarterback, and a somewhat revamped offense, .500 or worse is certainly not going to cut it, especially not for nine seasons.