Posted: Friday January 28, 2011 2:17PM ; Updated: Friday January 28, 2011 2:47PM
Jeff Pearlman
Jeff Pearlman>PEARLS OF WISDOM

In pantheon of great Packers QBs, few mention Lynn Dickey

Story Highlights

Though he played on horrible teams, Lynn Dickey was one of alltime great Packers

From 1976 through 1985, Dickey was one bright spot in horrific era in Green Bay

Dickey's statistics weren't overwhelming, but he knew how to make plays

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With no running game and a horrible defense, opponents could tee off to try and stop former Packers QB Lynn Dickey.
Water Iooss Jr., SI

The talk will begin soon because, if nothing else, we media folk are a predictable (and jarringly unimaginative) lot come Super Bowl week.

What does it mean for Mike Tomlin to become the first African-American to coach two Super Bowl teams?

What did Big Ben learn after his four-game suspension?

What lessons did Clay Matthews, Jr. take from his famous father and uncle?

The storylines are already set; mostly dull, paint-by-number, deep-as-a-dime narratives that will consume the mind-numbing days and nights spent repeatedly talking about a single 60-minute football game. Why do we put ourselves through such painful rituals? Because we are a simple people, designed to do simple things.

Hence, prepare to see the following at least, oh, 50 times over the next seven or eight days: The classical music plays in the background. The image is a frigid Lambeau Field. A narrator speaks of Green Bay Packers' storied history, and of the proud heroes who have guided the team from the quarterback position. Bart Starr, the cool, understated gunslinger. Brett Favre, the ironman who refused to leave a game. Aaron Rodgers, the new kid with the Steve Bartkowski arm and Peyton Manning IQ. "These men," the narrator will almost certainly say, "are what the Packers are made of. Together, they ..."

And, as always, Lynn Dickey will be ignored.

He's used to it by now. With all the talk of the greatest Packers gunslingers, none of it will be about arguably the most physically gifted of them all. "I don't lose any sleep over it," Dickey says. "If you look throughout the history of the game, there were guys in the right place at the right time and other guys in the wrong place. I was kind of the second."

Indeed, Dickey happened to quarterback the Packers during a time period when nobody would want to quarterback the Packers. From 1976 through 1985, he was one of the few bright spots in an otherwise horrific era of Green Bay football. During that span, the team made the playoffs once. During that span, the Packers' defense was horrific. During that span, Dickey was brilliant.

"People have no idea how tremendous Lynn was," says Paul Coffman, the Packers' star tight end from 1978-85. "A quarterback has to have a lot going on for him to succeed. He has to be surrounded by a really good team. He has to have a running game, he has to have an offensive line, he has to have a great defense. We didn't have all of that."

If one only looks at Dickey's statistics, he is blown away by little. In 13 seasons (four with the Oilers, nine with the Packers), Dickey threw 141 touchdown passes and 179 interceptions. His career completion percentage is 55.9 and his lifetime record is 45-63-3. Yet a closer examination tells the story of a would-be superstar done in by bad circumstances. Upon joining Green Bay in 1976, Dickey found himself thrown into an offense without either a top-tier running back (the immortal Willard Harrell led the team with 435 yards) or a Grade-A receiving threat (the Steve Payne-Steve Odom duo hardly scared people). The following season Dickey broke his leg, forcing him to miss the entire '78 season -- the only year in his Green Bay career that a Packer, in this case Terdell Middleton, ran for 1,000 yards.

"Imagine playing that long and never once having a back with 1,000 yards," says Dickey. "I mean, not one time? How was that possible?"

Every year, Dickey would report to training camp talking up his team's chances of competing for a Super Bowl. He'd brag to the media about an improved secondary, rave about this hot young runner or that flashy new receiver. He'd even convince himself for a spell -- maybe, if this works out. Perhaps, if that comes through. By the second or third regular-season game, however, Dickey would inevitably find himself sitting on the bench, watching a defense that -- year after year -- stopped nobody. He finally thought his luck might be changing in 1980, when the Packers used the fourth pick in the draft to select a gifted Penn State defensive lineman named Bruce Clark. "So what happens?" says Dickey. "Bruce Clark goes off to play in Toronto. In Toronto? Who the heck turned down the NFL to play in the CFL? Well, Bruce Clark did."

As a result of Green Bay's defensive ineptitude (During Dickey's healthy seasons, the unit never rated higher than 10th in the league, and on four occasions ranked 20th or worse), Dickey morphed into a genre of quarterback he never wanted to become. Back in his collegiate days at Kansas State, he had mastered protecting the football. Sure, he let it loose. But Dickey rarely made the dumb throw into double and triple coverage. Now, however, with the Packers unable to stop opposing offenses, Dickey let loose.

Throughout the early '80s, he was blessed with three excellent receivers (Coffman and receivers James Lofton and John Jefferson), so Dickey rarely hesitated in throwing the ball high and hard and far. The result? In 1983, Dickey's most noteworthy season, he threw for a team-record 4,458 yards, 32 touchdowns and 29 interceptions. "Did I like throwing picks?" he says. "No, I absolutely hated it. But if I didn't take gambles and try squeezing balls in there, we'd have to punt. And when we punted, we didn't get the ball back for seven or eight minutes. When I was young I used to come off the field and stand on the sideline, anxious to get back in. With Green Bay, I came to the bench and sat down, because I knew it'd be a while. I was almost always right."

In the 26 years since his final game, Dickey has distanced himself from the sport he once cherished. A Kansas resident, he briefly hosted a sports radio show, but now works for a pharmacy benefit management company. Through the decades, he's answered his fair share of questions about Starr and Favre and Rodgers, knowing that while he's a part of the Packers quarterback club, he's rarely thought of as a leading member. "It's OK," he says. "I don't take it personally. I want Aaron and the team to win this thing."

Sometimes, however, Dickey looks back and wishes people understood his plight. Yes, the others are all splendid quarterbacks. But Starr had Herb Adderly and Ray Nitchke, Favre had Reggie White and Gilbert Brown, Rodgers has Matthews and Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams.

Dickey had ... Dickey.

"I used to watch Reggie White and think, 'Man, if we possessed a guy like that,'" says Dickey. "That would have been something.

"It really would have been something."

 
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