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Green Bay Greats Share their Favorite Memories
By LeRoy Butler, Rob Reischel
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2013 LeRoy Butler and Rob Reischel
All rights reserved.
The Men Under Center
The job of backup quarterback isn't glamorous. It's never led to mega-endorsement deals, enormous publicity, or great acclaim.
But having a top-notch No. 2 quarterback is often vital to the success of a team.
Never was that more evident than the 1965 Western Conference Championship Game between Green Bay and Baltimore.
On the first play of the game, Colts linebacker Don Shinnick returned a Bill Anderson fumble 25 yards for a touchdown and Packers starter Bart Starr injured his ribs chasing Shinnick. But backup Zeke Bratkowski came on and led the Packers to a memorable 13–10 overtime win.
The next week, Starr was back and guided Green Bay past Cleveland 23–12 for the NFL championship. But it's doubtful the Packers would have ever been in that position were it not for Bratkowski.
"Bart and I never talked about No. 1 quarterbacks. We both had to be ready to go," Bratkowski said. "And we worked so close together and became such close friends. We studied together, we thought alike, and I think I made his job easier."
Bratkowski certainly made things easier for the Packers on that cold December day.
Bratkowski completed 22 of 39 passes for 248 yards. He also led Green Bay to a late Don Chandler field goal — one which Colts loyalists insist to this day sailed wide right — that forced overtime.
Green Bay won the game 13–10, when Chandler connected on a 25-yard field goal less than two minutes into OT.
Interestingly, the banged-up Colts were missing their top two quarterbacks that day, and had to turn to halfback Tom Matte. Green Bay held Matte to just five completions, and when Bratkowski got the better of the quarterback matchup, the Packers advanced to the NFL Championship Game.
"I'd like people to say, 'If we didn't have Zeke, I don't know what we would have done. He was always a guy who performed when Bart couldn't go,'" Bratkowski said. "You always knew you were just one play away from going in, and that happened a bunch of times. You just had to be ready."
Bratkowski was always that.
He played under the legendary George Halas in Chicago from 1954 to 1960, missing the 1955 and '56 seasons to fulfill a commitment to the Air Force. While many players would be bitter about losing two years in their prime, Bratkowski was anything but. In fact, he loved his time in the service and even served on the same flight team as future teammate Max McGee.
"I wouldn't trade my wings for anything," Bratkowski said. "That was an obligation I had and I'm proud I fulfilled it."
Bratkowski was Chicago's primary backup through 1960, then got a chance to start for two years with the Los Angeles Rams. But when the Rams drafted a pair of young quarterbacks in 1963, Bratkowski knew his days were numbered and shortly thereafter he was traded to Green Bay.
"I was really excited," Bratkowski said of the move. "The day before, I had gone in and won the game for us. The next day I got traded. I knew I really didn't fit in their plans."
But he was a big part of the Packers' plans. Green Bay's backup quarterback situation was in flux, but the addition of Bratkowski stabilized the position.
Over the next six years, Bratkowski started eight games when Starr was injured. And in that time, he threw for nearly 2,800 yards, 16 touchdowns, and completed 53.5 percent of his passes.
In addition to being one of the NFL's elite backup quarterbacks, Bratkowski was also Starr's trusty sidekick, his best friend, and sounding board.
"He was the best backup quarterback in the league," Starr said. "We were really blessed to have him."
What Bratkowski gave the Packers was more than just a security blanket. He also brought a level of professionalism, dedication and work ethic that rubbed off on teammates.
And his contributions went a long way toward Green Bay winning four championships during his seven years with the team (1963–68 and 1971).
Bratkowski certainly made Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi's life easier, although you wouldn't always know it. Because Bratkowski played under Halas and served in the Air Force, his skin was thicker than most players. And Lombardi was legendary for knowing who he could get on and who needed to be handled with kid gloves.
"I remember there was one year we were playing Dallas in the preseason and we scored two really quick touchdowns," Bratkowski said. "I came off the field feeling pretty good and Lombardi hollers at me, 'What the hell are you doing? You're scoring too fast. How do you expect me to get this team into shape if you're scoring that fast?' But that was Lombardi, always keeping you off balance."
Lombardi had a great affection for Bratkowski, though, and even offered him a job with Washington when he left for the Redskins in 1968. But part of the deal in Lombardi's departure was that the Packers wouldn't allow him to take anyone else from the organization.
That certainly didn't stop Bratkowski from a long and successful coaching career, though. Over the next 26 years, he worked as the offensive coordinator in Chicago, Baltimore, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, and with the New York Jets. He was also a quarterbacks coach with Cleveland and the Jets and worked two stints as a Packers assistant.
Bratkowski was Green Bay's offensive backs coach under Phil Bengtson in 1969–70, then came back to work for his old friend Starr from 1975 to 1981. Along the way, he worked with standout quarterbacks such as Randall Cunningham, Boomer Esiason, Lynn Dickey, and Jim McMahon.
"I wish I could have been a head coach," Bratkowski said. "I was just never in the right place at the right time."
But Bratkowski was certainly in the right place during the 1965 NFL Championship Game. And without his steady hand, the Packers may have gone without a title that season.
"That's a nice thing to be remembered for," Bratkowski said. "Those were great teams with terrific guys. And that championship in '65 was important, because it was the first of three straight.
"To be part of that was really neat. And to have had a hand in such a big game is pretty special."
Lynn Dickey was covered in sweat. He was physically and mentally exhausted.
Dickey had left everything he had on Lambeau Field. And as the Green Bay Packers quarterback looked up at the scoreboard, all he could do was shake his head.
"I walked over to [kicker] Jan [Stenerud] and I said, 'Do you believe this? We're going to lose this game. What a shame.'"
Not so fast.
Dickey's Packers led Washington 48–47 during a 1983 Monday Night Football game that ranks among the most exciting ever played. But the Redskins had driven into field goal range, and ace kicker Mark Moseley was set to try a 39-yard field goal on the game's final play.
"Moseley was automatic," Dickey said. "You always hope he might miss, but really, I thought we were done."
Moseley had been the NFL's MVP in 1982, when he connected on 20 of 21 field goal attempts. And with Moseley off to another terrific start in 1983, it looked like the efforts of Dickey and Green Bay's high-powered offense would be wasted.
Amazingly, though, Moseley missed this kick as time expired. And Green Bay and its sellout crowd celebrated on a chilly October 17 night.
"We kind of rushed it," Moseley said afterward. "Maybe we should have taken more time. I just missed the kick."
Moseley's miss allowed Dickey to walk off the field victorious in one of his finest moments as a Packer. Dickey threw for 387 yards and three touchdowns that night, as the Packers beat a Washington team that would go on and play in the Super Bowl three months later.
"Listening to people talk about that game today, you'd think about 250,000 people were there that night," Dickey said. "Almost everyone I talk to tells me they were there."
Dickey was just happy to be there himself.
Back in 1976, Dickey was a backup in Houston and simply wanted a chance to prove he could lead an NFL team.
Packers coach and general manager Bart Starr gave Dickey that chance when he sent washed-up quarterback John Hadl, defensive back Ken Ellis, and a pair of mid-round draft picks to the Oilers for Dickey.
"Bart's the guy who gave me a chance," Dickey said. "Bart's one of the few guys out there who believed in me."
Turns out Starr's leap of faith was a pretty wise one.
During Dickey's nine-year stint in Green Bay, he threw for 21,369 yards and 133 touchdowns. He still ranks No. 2 in Packer history for most passing yards in a season (4,458 in 1983) and most passing yards in a game (418 against Tampa Bay in 1980). He's also No. 2 in most consecutive completions (18 vs. Houston in 1983) and most consecutive 300-yard passing games (three in 1984).
"Playing in Green Bay was a great experience for me," Dickey said. "I enjoyed it immensely. I wanted to get out of Houston and get the opportunity to play and Bart had enough confidence in me to give me the chance. It was a wonderful time in my life."
Dickey led some of the most exciting offensive teams in the NFL during the early 1980s. With pass-catching targets such as James Lofton, John Jefferson, and Paul Coffman, Green Bay averaged 26.8 points per game in 1983, the most since the 1962 bunch averaged 29.6 on their way to an NFL championship.
Between 1981 and 1985, when Dickey started 63 of 73 games, the Packers averaged 23.4 points per game. Unfortunately, they also allowed 22.4 points per outing.
For the most part, that meant mediocrity, as Green Bay went 8–8 in four of those seasons. The 1982 campaign, in which the Packers went 5–3–1 and reached the second round of the playoffs, was the lone exception.
"How many years in a row did we go 8–8?" Dickey asked, knowing the answer, but electing to forget. "We had a decent team, but it was always one thing or another.
"One year, the offense would roll but the defense would give up a lot of points. Then the defense would play well and the offense wouldn't.
"Year-in and year-out, if you have a defense that can stop the run and an offense that can run the football, you're going to be one of the better teams in the league. And we didn't do well in those things."
Which meant Dickey stayed plenty busy. With a leaky defense and without a 1,000-yard rusher, Dickey and his sensational receiving targets were often asked to carry the team.
While Dickey embraced the opportunity, opposing defensive players often embraced him. Through the years, the less-than-agile Dickey suffered great punishment and would eventually have 10 different surgeries — four on a broken leg, three on his knee, two on his right shoulder, and one on a dislocated hip.
Dickey had plenty of weapons at his disposal. Lofton and Jefferson were as dangerous as almost any receiving duo in football. And while Coffman didn't possess great speed, his moves were second to none.
"I had no problem with my weapons," Dickey said. "That was a fun offense to be part of."
The crowning moment came during that Monday night game against Washington.
On that night, the two teams combined for 1,025 yards of total offense, 552 from the Redskins and 473 from Green Bay. The fourth quarter featured five lead changes, and to this day, remains the highest-scoring contest in the history of Monday Night Football. That's no small feat considering the 43-year show has produced nearly 700 games.
Washington entered as a five-point favorite. The Packers, on the other hand, were a mediocre team that would finish the year 8–8 in what would be Bart Starr's ninth and final season as head coach.
Before the game, the mild-mannered Starr gathered his team, turned out the lights and put on an overhead projector. Up came a quote from Redskins tight end Don Warren that read, "The game is going to be a rout."
"Bart showed us all the quote again," Dickey said. "But then he said something new. He said, '[Warren] thinks it's going to be rout. But he never said which way. Now let's go kick some ass!' Now that was cool! Bart just never said stuff like that. I'll never forget that."
The night was unforgettable on many levels, though.
Packers tight end Paul Coffman, who caught six passes for 124 yards that night, had two first-half touchdowns as Green Bay raced to a 24–20 lead at intermission.
"I remember getting home after that game and friends of mine from around the league had left messages like, 'You're going back to the Pro Bowl,'" Coffman recalled. "That was a great game."
The second half was a see-saw affair, and Washington took a 47–45 lead after Theismann threw a five-yard TD pass to running back Joe Washington. Back came the Packers, though, marching 56 yards to set up Stenerud for a 20-yard field goal with just 54 seconds left that gave Green Bay a 48–47 lead.
That drive capped an unforgettable night for Green Bay's offense. Coordinator Bob Schnelker had a terrific game plan, the Packers' skill players were outstanding, and the offensive line stymied Redskins standout defensive end Dexter Manley.
"Dexter had kind of spouted off in the papers before that game that he was going to wreak havoc," Packers left tackle Karl Swanke said. "Well, there were no disruptions with Lynn.
"And that night was a culmination for Bob Schnelker and our offense. Everything he called worked to perfection. It was an incredible night."
After the 1983 campaign, Starr was replaced by Forrest Gregg. And following two more 8–8 seasons, Gregg had pretty much cleaned house.
That meant Randy Wright was Gregg's quarterbacking choice in 1986 and Dickey was gone. Two seasons later, Gregg was gone himself.
"Bart and Forrest were like night and day," Dickey said. "Bart would work you extremely hard physically. I've never worked harder than I did under Bart. But he treated people with decency and treated you like a man.
"Forrest came in and he yelled at you and he insulted you in front of the team. Some things went on with him that would never work at any level.
"I remember our first meeting with Forrest, he was berating guys he didn't even know. He said, 'Some of you guys have been living on easy street. Like you [Larry] McCarren.' Well, Larry McCarren was probably the hardest-working guy on the team, making about $220,000 a year.
"Forrest knew his X's and O's, but he had no idea about people skills. And he brought in his own guys and they walked all over him.
"They were late for meetings and Forrest would say, 'If that happens again you'll be out of here.' Well by the 10 week of the year, it was the same idle threats. They knew they weren't going anywhere. It was a bad situation."
Dickey still watches the Packers, and the entire league for that matter, religiously.
He's a member of the Packer Hall of Fame and still attends several Packer-related functions. And he'll always reflect on his days in a Green Bay uniform with a smile.
"The fans there are like no other," Dickey said. "I always said if you're 14–0 or 0–14, the stands are going to be full and the people will support you.
"And to be honest, while I was playing I realized how lucky I was to be doing the thing that I wanted to do. How many people can say that? It was a great time."
Here's why there will never be another Brett Favre in the world — ever — and I tell people this all the time. He broke the mold. I've heard the rumors about him not studying and all that, but believe me, that's completely untrue.
He was maybe one of the smartest quarterbacks to ever play the game. I don't know who put those rumors out there, but I remember a writer — a national writer — asked me about it in 1997. He said, "Is Brett just getting by on talent?"
I said, "Dude, the guy gets there early, he stays late, and he loves his teammates."
He knew the playbook. He knew it as well as anybody in that building. And if you know the playbook like that, do you really need to be there 15 hours? You know your stuff, you run the same offense every year, so what if you're not sleeping at the facility.
But here's why they'll never be another Brett Favre. When Brett Favre got there, you had black guys playing a game of spades, white guys playing backgammon, the younger guys playing video games, the older guys playing hearts.
But it was different once Brett got there. Brett fit in with every culture.
He'd go over to the brothers and listen to hip-hop. He'd go over to the white guys and listen to country. He'd go hang out with the hunters, he'd go hang with the young guys. There was no guy that ever did that.
Excerpted from Packers Pride by LeRoy Butler, Rob Reischel. Copyright © 2013 LeRoy Butler and Rob Reischel. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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