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And not just for his courage and calm. "He's got this intensity on the field," says Packer Tackle Greg Koch. "I remember a game against the 49ers when he got sacked and he was screaming at the offensive line all the way to the sideline. All of a sudden I heard a helmet go whizzing over my head. Lynn had thrown it at all of us. Most quarterbacks couldn't get away with that, but Lynn can. We live and die with him."
By kickoff time of the opener against the Oilers, Dickey felt like he was going to die of his headache. He hadn't practiced on Saturday, and Sunday morning he had told his roommate, Kicker Jan Stenerud, that it felt like "ball peen hammers are pounding behind my temples." Stenerud was worried. "Lynn is the toughest guy I know," he says. "But he looked like death."
During pregame warm-ups Dickey just jogged, grimacing with every step. Though his head was killing him, he decided to play. Before the game got under way, however, he told his receivers and backs to listen closely to him on the field, particularly on audibles, because he would not be able to yell. Doing so hurt too much.
At the end of the first quarter, despite continually grabbing his head in pain, Dickey was 10 for 10 for 90 yards and a touchdown. By late in the second quarter he had completed 18 passes in a row, tying him with Denver's Steve DeBerg for second place in NFL history for consecutive pass completions. The record is 20, by Cincinnati's Ken Anderson. Dickey's 19th pass fell incomplete, however, as did his 20th. Both probably would have been completed if the receivers had heard Dickey's faint audibles or been able to read his lips.
Dickey finished the day with 27 completions in 31 attempts for 333 yards and five touchdowns, the last figure tying a Packer record. The Packers edged Houston 41-38 in overtime, but Dickey wasn't around at the finish. After his last pass, a 74-yard TD throw to Lofton late in the fourth quarter, he staggered to the sideline, told backup Quarterback David Whitehurst "I don't feel good," and lay down. An ambulance cart took him to the Astrodome dressing room.
Dickey spent that Monday in a Green Bay hospital taking tests to find out what was wrong with him. The headache turned out to be the result of a spinal injection he had been given the week before for his bad back. Spinal fluid had been leaking from the puncture into the tissues surrounding the spine. What Dickey had done was play a brilliant football game while suffering from a post-spinal-puncture headache, which can be horribly painful. Dickey, of course, had feared something worse. "With my luck," he said, "I figured they'd find a baseball in my head."
The headache is gone now. On Sunday against the Rams, Dickey had a hot hand in the early going, completing 13 of his 19 first-half passes for 161 yards as he moved Green Bay to a 17-3 lead. L.A. eventually got rolling against the Packers' patchwork defense, however, and by the fourth quarter the Rams had gone ahead 24-17. The Packers tied the score on a four-yard run by Eddie Lee Ivery early in the final period after Dickey had marched them 65 yards, 59 of them on 4 for 4 passing. The Rams had a chance to regain the lead in the final minutes when Kicker Chuck Nelson lined up for a chip shot field-goal try but the Packers' 6'5" Tight End Gary Lewis leaped high to block it. L.A. subsequently forced Green Bay to punt but on the following play Ram rookie Running Back Eric Dicker-son's fumble was recovered at Los Angeles' 19-yard line with 33 seconds left to play. Stenerud then drilled a 36-yard field goal to win it for Green Bay.
For Dickey, the question of pain remains, as it always will. Gentile says Dickey will have to lift weights the rest of his life to compensate for his injuries. Packer Coach Bart Starr says Dickey is a throwback to the old days, when players lived by a tougher code. "We don't want anybody to play injured," says Starr. "But play hurt, yes, you have to."
Dickey, who keeps his souvenir surgical rod and screws in a hardware drawer in his house, says he has kept playing for several reasons. Part of it, of course, is for his brother. "Larry loves sports, and I was always his arms and legs," says Dickey. And part of it is for the glory and the cash. But most of it is just because it feels right.
And the pain?