From shootouts to defensive stands to rallies, Green Bay Packers fans have been treated to plenty of memorable season openers in recent memory. But if you want all of that craziness in one game, you can find it in the team’s 1982 season opener against the Los Angeles Rams.
Let’s set the scene: Following an underwhelming showing in the first half, the Green Bay Packers are trailing by multiple possessions at halftime at home in their season opener with no signs of hope.
Then, out of the intermission, things start to click. The high-powered offense begins to fire again and starts putting points on the board. Meanwhile, the defense is getting key stops and, before you know it, the Packers have pulled out an unlikely victory.
You think we’re talking about that 2018 classic, right? Not so fast. We’re going back a little further – to 1982.
That year, the Packers were slated to open the season in Milwaukee against the Los Angeles Rams. For Green Bay, the 1982 season was a make-or-break season for head coach Bart Starr, who had led the Packers to six seasons of sub-.500 play in his seven years at the helm. Conversely, Los Angeles was looking to rebound back to playoff form following a disappointing 6-10 showing in ’81.
Early on, everything was going LA’s way. The Rams scored on their opening possession with a four-yard run from Wendell Tyler, then added an eight-yard pass from Bert Jones to Mike Barber early in the second along with a trio of field goals from Mike Lansford.
On the other side, it couldn’t have gone much worse. The Packers turned the ball over on each of their first three possessions and five times overall in the first half. Lynn Dickey was responsible for four of those giveaways (two interceptions, two fumbles lost) and put up a paltry stat line of 9-of-15 passing for 80 yards and two picks – good for a 34.7 QB rating – by halftime.
Not helping matters was a knee injury to running back Gerry Ellis, who left the game and did not return. That put the bulk of the running duties on Eddie Lee Ivery, who was coming off a season-ending knee injury from the year prior, and rookies Mike Meade and Del “Popcorn” Rodgers.
The end result of this nightmare half: Rams 23, Packers 0. Boos rained down from the Milwaukee County Stadium stands and things looked pretty bleak for the Green and Gold.
Green Bay showed signs of life in the third quarter, when Dickey capped a 55-yard drive with a four-yard scoring strike to Paul Coffman to get the Packers within 23-7. On their ensuing possession following a Ram three-and-out, a 42-yard Dickey-to-Coffman connection set up Ivery’s three-yard touchdown run. With the third quarter nearing its end, the Packers trailed just 23-14 and still had some glimmer of hope.
That’s when matters really turned crazy.
Dickey threw a third interception to LA’s All-Pro safety Nolan Cromwell near midfield. Yet, the suddenly stout Green Bay defense again forced a Ram punt to keep hopes alive. In fact, the defense had held LA without a first down for the first 17 minutes of the second half. Green Bay quickly moved back into LA territory when Dickey connected with John Jefferson on a 50-yard bomb. Moments later, Dickey found James Lofton from 15 yards out to trim the deficit to 23-21.
On the ensuing kickoff, reserve linebacker Guy Prather fell on a fumble from LA’s Kermit Alexander to set the Packers up with a first-and-goal situation at the Rams’ 10. Within one play, Dickey connected with Coffman again and the Packers had their first lead of the day at 28-23 – doubling their point total in a matter of 17 seconds.
Now needing to preserve a lead, the defense again was up to the task. Following the go-ahead score, the Rams moved the ball to the Green Bay 31, but two runs for minimal gain and a third-down sack forced LA to punt. Later in the quarter, George Cumby snagged an interception at the Green Bay 30 to stymie another deep drive.
The Packers converted that turnover into another score, as Ivery finished the drive with a 27-yard run right through the LA defense for a 35-23 edge. Though the Rams once again moved into Packer territory, John Anderson put the game on ice with an interception – Green Bay’s third takeaway in the quarter.
“That’s the greatest comeback I’ve ever witnessed,” Starr said after the game.
The 23-point comeback was the largest rally in franchise history (since tied in 2013 at Dallas), surpassing an 18-point comeback in 1965. Additionally, the 35 second-half points are the second-most points scored after the half in franchise history and the sixth-most scored in any half.
The following week, the Packers picked up another win before a strike wiped out the next two months. Upon returning to the field, Green Bay would finish the year 5-3-1, with that come-from-behind win over LA being key to them hosting a playoff game at Lambeau Field for the first time since the famed Ice Bowl.