Week one has produced its fair share of memorable games in Green Bay Packers history. Even in just the team’s most recent stretch of success, a pretty substantial list could be compiled of great contests.
The most memorable season opener in franchise history? It’s a hard call, but an argument could be made for a game right in the thick of the team’s 24-year drought between Lombardi and Holmgren.
Coming off a playoff berth – the team’s first in 10 years – in the strike-shortened 1982 season, the Packers had promise heading into ’83. Not only did the team’s defense show improvement in ’82, but each of the main offensive weapons – Lynn Dickey, James Lofton, John Jefferson, Paul Coffman, Gerry Ellis, Eddie Lee Ivery – all returned.
There was one problem, though, heading into that opener in Houston against Earl Campbell and the Oilers: Dickey, the central figure in the offensive attack, had been dealing with migraines most of the week leading up to the game. They were so bad he missed practice on both Friday and Saturday and was still enduring them heading into gameday in the noisy Astrodome.
Despite questions on whether he’d even be able to play, Dickey soon became a headache for the Houston defense. The Kansas State alum led Green Bay on an eight-play, 71-yard opening drive that culminated with a 25-yard strike to Coffman.
While Houston momentarily took a 10-7 lead after a 47-yard Archie Manning toss to Tim Smith, Dickey responded with back-to-back touchdowns to Jefferson to put the Green Bay Packers up, 21-10. By late in the second quarter, he was a perfect 18-of-18 passing for 172 yards and three TDs. Though his streak ended right before halftime, Dickey added a fourth scoring toss to Ellis to give Green Bay a comfortable 28-10 advantage at the break.
The 18-point advantage, though, didn’t last too long. With three rushing touchdowns from Campbell (who himself had 123 yards and the three scores on 27 carries) and Manning finding plenty of holes in the Green Bay defense, the Oilers managed to draw to a 31-31 tie midway through the fourth quarter.
With his headaches worsening as pre-game treatment was wearing off, Dickey’s status was once again in doubt on the ensuing drive after a hard hit resulted in his head bouncing off the unforgiving Astroturf field. Yet, on the next play, he hit Lofton on a 74-yard bomb to put the Packers back ahead, 38-31.
Dickey’s line at that point was 27-of-31 for 333 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception – good for a 137.6 passer rating. However, the migraines became too much for the veteran passer and he was sent to the locker room as Houston drove 81 yards to score the tying touchdown in the final seconds to force overtime.
Without their passer in the midst of a career day, the Green Bay Packers turned to David Whitehurst in the extra session. Kickstarted with a third-down conversion to Phillip Epps, Whitehurst guided Green Bay down the field to the Houston 27, where Jan Stenerud hit a 42-yard field goal for the win.
The day, though, belonged to Dickey – even if he didn’t remember it.
“I don’t remember half of it,” he said after the game. “I felt like I was reacting a lot of the day. Reacting to situations. All I could think about was that I hoped the game would get over in a hurry. I’m just glad it’s over and glad we won.”
“You can talk about all those injuries he’s had over the years,” Lofton said postgame. “Today is probably as tough as he’s had anything to play with.”
Dickey’s performance, migraines or no, wasn’t lost on Houston, either.
“Dickey’s amazing,” Manning said. “The last time I played against him — when I was with New Orleans — he threw for five touchdowns. I don’t want to ever see him again. Ten touchdowns in two games. I’ll tell you, I play two years sometimes and don’t get 10 touchdown passes.”
The game itself became a harbinger for things to come for the Green Bay Packers that year, both positively and negatively. Dickey and the rest of the offense rewrote the Packers’ passing record books as one of the NFL’s most prolific offenses. However, a porous defense (third-worst in scoring defense, worst in total defense) and narrow losses (three overtime defeats, plus two more by four points or fewer) resulted in a disappointing 8-8 finish and the dismissal of Bart Starr as head coach.